I like writing about walking–to work, and around New York City, for instance–on these pages. I like walking through new cities, for it remains the best way–at the right remove–to experience their offerings. One walk that combined commuting with exploration was one I undertook, sporadically, for a few months, in Sydney, Australia, while living in Bondi Beach and working on a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of New South Wales in Randwick.
My normal commute to work was by bus: I rode any one of a number of buses to Bondi Junction, and then transferred to the 400, which dropped me off at university. I soon tired of waiting at bus-stands for buses that didn’t offer me a seat; I tired too of the hassle of a transfer. I realized, quickly enough, that Sydney–situated in a particularly salubrious temperate latitude–had gorgeous weather aplenty that was simply going to waste by my riding in buses; I should walk instead.
A quick calculation with maps showed the most direct route–Bondi Road to Council Street to Carrington Road to Frenchman’s Road to Avoca Street to the university entrance on High Street–would take some fifty minutes. If I left home at 8AM as I usually did, I would arrive at my desk at about the same time as I did when I rode in by bus. And in the evenings, I would be back home by six.
My walks, of course, soon became much more than simple commutes. I had moved to Australia from the US and left many friends–including a long-distance girlfriend–behind; I was in an uncertain phase of my life as far as my career was concerned; walking each day for close to an hour on each leg of my work commute gave me ample time to think about emotional crises, intellectual anxieties, and to endlessly, and fruitlessly at times, examine and speculate about my many insecurities in both the personal and professional domains. I would be lying if I suggested that my walks were merely taken up by a leisurely examination of whichever problem in the logical modeling of human reasoning I was working on in those days.
But I was in Sydney, and Sydney is a beautiful city. I could take small detours–visiting the many beaches that lay on my way back home–to explore more of its offerings and I often did. Sydney’s light in the evenings was golden; the eastern suburbs I was walking through were framed at their prettiest by its rays. Sometimes, storms would threaten, and then, I would be treated to dazzling sunsets–the most colorful manifestation possible of the seemingly mundane phenomena of the scattering of light, to ominous clouds and to deep, persistent rolls of thunder. Somehow, I felt reluctant to hurry up and seek shelter, sensing that even more spectacular visions were soon to be available if I could brave a soaking to the skin. And then, of course, in the evenings, on my return home, as I walked down Bondi Road, there was the first sight of the breakers of the mighty Pacific, rolling in relentlessly against Bondi’s crescent-shaped sands.
It wouldn’t have looked the same from a seat in the bus.