Old Habits . . . Die Surprisingly Easily

For years, my daily routine when I’m at home has been unvarying:  when I get up in the morning, I take a brisk walk, on the same route, in the same direction, to get the blood pumping and the brain engaged.  I did it rain or shine, hot or cold, without exceptions, with no ifs, ands, or buts.

When we lived in New Albany, my route took my around the Yantis Loop.  When we moved to German Village, my course changed to circumnavigation of Schiller Park.  But in either case, the early morning walk was a key component of the day, mixing inner compulsion, simple enjoyment, and a desire to be sure to get some exercise before plopping myself down behind my desk.

I would call my morning walk routine a “habit.”

But when we came to Maine recently and had to self-quarantine on the footprint of our cottage for two weeks, I was unable to take my morning walk.  The first few days I got up early anyway, but in short order I realized that I there was no need to do so because I couldn’t take my walk, so I might as well roll over in bed and sleep a little longer.  And that turned out to be pretty enjoyable, actually. 

By the time the 14 days was over, I found that my routine had been shattered.  On the first day after the quarantine ended, I took my walk, but on the second day it rained, and I decided I should just stay home, without really giving it much thought.  But when I did think about it, I thought:  “What the hell?”

So clearly, my long-standing habit has been broken to pieces and needs to be reestablished.  I thought the saying was, “old habits die hard,” but that turns out to be totally wrong.  Maybe it should be, “good habits die easily.” 

At Quarantine’s End

Some time ago, earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Maine’s Governor imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all “non-essential” people entering the state. We’re deemed non-essential — which delivers a severe blow to my sense of self-worth, incidentally — so we’ve been complying with the order and have kept to the footprint of our little place for the last fortnight. We understand and respect why the Governor issued the order, and we want our neighbors here to see that we do. It’s important for “summer people” like us to acknowledge and abide by the sensitivities of the year-round residents.

Some time last night the quarantine period ended, so this morning I seized the opportunity and took an early walk to experience the newfound freedom and get some fresh air. It’s hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to stretch your legs and get some exercise after two weeks of being cooped up, and to see some different scenery, too. I enjoyed the flowers, the abandoned boats, the deep whiffs of harbor air, and just about everything I saw.

You can’t fully appreciate the simple pleasures of a walk until you’ve been deprived of one for days on end.

Seemingly Designed For Social Distancing

How many times has this scenario happened to you over the past few weeks?  You’re out of the house on a walk, enjoying some fresh air and a much-needed change of scenery.  But in the distance, at the end of the block, you are acutely aware of a couple walking their dog heading your way and seemingly committed to hogging the sidewalk.  So you’ve got to make a decision — do you pop out onto the street and circle around them, or do you jaywalk to the sidewalk on the other side of the street where you hope you won’t run into other pedestrians?

In German Village, there’s often a third option:  many blocks have a little alley positioned at about mid-block, providing you with a new route to avoid the dog-walkers.  Sure, the alleys are quaint and picturesque and interesting, but more importantly right now they have turned out to be very handy walking alternatives that permit you to maintain that six feet of clearance from the other potential virus vectors that might be out for a stroll.  And our neighborhood is honeycombed with them, all ready to accept turn-ins by pedestrians who are trying to follow governmental guidelines and avoid unnecessary exposure.  It’s almost as if German Village was designed with pandemic social distancing in mind — or the need to occasionally dodge a process server or veer around that incredibly talkative neighbor.  

As a result of these weird times, Kish and I have been spending as much time walking in alleys as we have walking on main streets.  We’re not going anywhere as the crow flies anymore, and if you mapped out our walks they would look as indirect and rambling as the roaming of a loose dog who is easily distracted by squirrels.  And we’re getting to know every inch of the neighborhood a lot better.    

Who knows?  In the future, savvy realtors who are always eager to find something positive to say might just build pandemic preparation into their set speeches, and tell  potential buyers that German Village is an ideal place to keep that social distance.

Duck Walk

It was raining when I took my walk this morning — so much so that this drake decided to leave the immediate vicinity of the Schiller Park pond and venture out to the driveway of one of the houses along the park.  

Here’s a tip for those of you who are taking “coronavirus walks” every day:  rainy days see less people out (but more ducks), so you don’t have to do so much social distancing zigging and zagging.  I would say my walk this morning is easily the most direct walk I’ve taken since the whole social distancing regime took effect.  In fact, I’d guess that all of the veering has added quite a few steps to our standard walks.  Nobody walks as the crow flies anymore.

As for our waterfowl friends, they practice social distancing as a matter of course.  You can’t get too close to a duck without it waddling off to an assured clear distance, shaking its tail feathers and muttering under its breath all the while.  It’s as if they had coronavirus training long ago.

Rewriting Right-Of-Way Rules

Our legislators and regulators, on both the federal and state level, have been busy with “big-picture” coronavirus issues.  It’s therefore not surprising that they haven’t yet turned their attention to a small, yet vital area:  namely, determining the right-of-way of pedestrians who are eager to get out of their houses and stretch their legs and who are turning our sidewalks into increasingly clogged traffic arteries.  In short, in this era of social distancing, who gets to stick to the sidewalk, and who must yield and swerve onto the grass or into the street to maintain the six-foot buffer?

Having thought carefully about this crucial issue over the past few days, I offer the following suggestions:

  • People pushing baby carriages or strollers have the absolute right-of-way over everyone else because it’s really unreasonable to expect them to veer out into the road or onto grass.  C’mon, folks — that’s just common courtesy!
  • People walking with little kids have the right-of-way over everyone except the stroller set.
  • People walking overly friendly, excitable dogs who might jump up on other pedestrians must yield to everyone, and probably should just stick to the grass in parks, to be on the safe side.  
  • Anyone walking with any kind of coffee cup or container must yield to everyone else on general principles, because they’re clearly not serious about taking a walk in the first place.
  • Joggers and runners must yield to any walker, faster walkers must yield to slower walkers, and people approaching other walkers from behind must always yield.
  • Single walkers must always yield to walking couples, or groups.
  • Younger people must yield to older people, especially the codgers who seem oddly oblivious to the concept of social distancing or who are projecting a “to hell with it all, I’ve got an absolute right as an American to walk on this sidewalk because my taxes paid for it” attitude.
  • If yielding hasn’t occurred within 15 feet of passing on a narrow sidewalk, you’ve got to yield irrespective of the rules — because it’s safety first out there, people!

No need to thank me.

Spring Break 2020 — III

It’s always important to be sure to get some exercise, even when you’re on spring break.  Fortunately, our destination this year offers ample opportunities for walking, jogging and hiking.  This morning we decided to stimulate our appetites by taking a brisk, pre-breakfast walk on the quaint, scenic, flagstone-covered hiking trails.

The morning’s hike gave us the opportunity to examine some of the exotic, brightly colored local plant life and enjoy the merry chirping of the songbirds that seem to naturally cluster at this vacation paradise.  We also admired the workmanship of the native artisans who carefully cleared and built the hiking trail, as well as the distinctive and picturesque wall surrounding the facility. 

With our appetites fully stimulated by the morning’s exercise, we went back inside to eagerly await the opening of the ample yet rustic brunch that is a trademark of our resort.

Signal Change

Sometimes little changes can make a big difference — in your attitude, at least, if not in absolute reality.  Take the light at the intersection of Third Street and Livingston Avenue, for example.

street-light-sign-2334158_1280I walk through that intersection every day on my way to work, and I’ve memorized the traffic light and walk signal progression.  First the cars turning from Third to head east on Livingston get the green light, then the cars streaming from the highway off-ramp and east on Livingston moving through the intersection, and then finally the cars moving south on Third — which is when pedestrians like me finally get the walk signal.   The green light for eastbound Livingston traffic lasted forever and the walk signal that followed it was very brief — probably about 15 seconds, tops.

If you missed the walk window of opportunity you’d have about a two-minute wait, staring at the annoying red hand, breathing car exhaust fumes, and marveling at the willingness of cars to power through red lights until the walk signal came around again.  Two minutes might not seem like much in absolute terms, but it seemed like an eternity as we waited, for permission to cross.  As walkers approached the intersection, we hoped that our timing was right and we wouldn’t have that long wait.  Once in a blue moon you’d luck out and hit the intersection at just the right instant, but usually you’d end up stuck in Red Hand Land.

Recently, however, they changed the signal progression.  Now the green light for eastbound traffic on Livingston is much briefer, meaning that the whole progression is faster and the super-long wait for the walk signal has been eliminated.  Now I don’t fret about the signal status when I approach the intersection, and I get to work faster without having to cool my heels in front of Katzinger’s Deli, watching the traffic zoom by.

I’m guessing that the traffic engineers didn’t make the change to help out pedestrians, and probably decided to alter the timing to do something about the speeders and red light runners barreling through the intersection on Livingston.  But whether they were thinking of me and my fellow German Village walkers or not, I’d still like to say thanks for the signal change.  It’s a small thing, but it’s made a real difference in our day.  It’s amazing what not staring at a red hand for minutes at a time will do for your mood.

Sidewalk Roulette

I’m in New York City today for a quick trip, staying just next to Times Square.  Last night I went for a walk before dinner and realized, again, what a special experience it is to take a walk in Manhattan in the midst of its extended pedestrian rush hour.

real_estate_160129960_ar_-1_bwybxpzmohfmIf you’ve only been walking recently on the sleepy streets of a city like Columbus, you’re really not prepared for the Big Apple pedestrian experience.  Not only are there fewer people walking around Columbus — by a factor of about 50 or perhaps even 100, I’d estimate — but there aren’t as many sidewalk obstacles, either.  No pop-up vendors shilling stocking caps, no dirty water hot dog stands, no mounds of trash bags waiting to be collected, no building scaffolding at some point on every block, no bike messengers zipping in and out. When you go for a walk in Manhattan, in contrast, you’ve got to be aware of all of those things as you navigate the crowded sidewalks.  Your mental reflexes had better speed up considerably, or you’re going to find yourself in trouble.

Walking to work in Columbus is a reasonably pleasant experience, where you can put your brain on autopilot and let your mind wander a bit.  In New York City, that approach would be fatal.  You’ve got to adopt a much more active mindset, with all senses on high alert, as you calculate distances, scan for openings in the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic, and make sure you don’t tumble into an open cellar door or invade the space of a homeless guy sitting at the foot of a building who wasn’t visible until the last second when the foot traffic parted to pass him.

It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the thought processes of a race car driver.  If I speed up, do I have enough space to pass the slow-moving guys in front of me and get back to my side of the sidewalk before the people coming in the other direction start cussing me out for disrupting pedestrian flow?  Should I cut around the street side of the scaffolding to avoid the woman with the baby carriage who’s blocking the way, or if I do that will I be able to get safely back onto the sidewalk before the approaching traffic arrives?  And when you’re walking in the area around Times Square, there’s the ever-present possibility that the person in front of you will stop in the middle of the sidewalk without warning to take a selfie or a photo of the Allied Chemical Building, so that factor also has to be added to the mental matrix.

Walking in New York during a busy period isn’t for the faint of heart, but it does get your blood pumping.  I can’t imagine, however, what it would be like to try jogging in this busy place, where everything comes at you even faster.

Giving The Wave

On our recent trip to the Pine Tree State, we stopped in Camden, Maine to visit some art galleries.  “Stop Wait Wave” is painted on the sidewalk next to the crosswalks on Camden’s busy main street, substituting for a Walk/Don’t Walk sign.

The painted sidewalk notice is similar to the x-shaped “Stop, look, and listen” signs that you used to see at railroad crossings.  In Driver’s Ed class we were taught that you were supposed to stop at the railroad tracks, look both ways to see if the crossing was clear, and then turn off the radio and listen for the whistle of an approaching train before you decided to proceed.  The “Stop Wait Wave” signs are based on the same principle, except the “wave” is to ensure that you’ve alerted the oncoming drivers that you’re crossing.

As a committed pedestrian, I’m a big fan of the wave when you cross the street — especially in these days of distracted, texting drivers.  In fact, I give the wave even when I’m crossing with a “Walk” sign.   The wave is a friendly gesture, and the motion can help to get the driver’s attention.  If you wave and you get some kind of wave, nod, smile, or other acknowledgement from the driver in response, you can be pretty sure that the driver isn’t going to proceed into the intersection and knock you down.  It’s a sound defensive walking strategy, and it was nice to see that the Camden, Maine authorities agree with my view.

If it were up to me, I’d paint “Stop Wait Wave” on every downtown Columbus crosswalk.

Right Turns On Red

I’ve written before about the perils of pedestrianism in modern urban America.  Walkers really have to mind their Ps and Qs whenever they approach an intersection.  Cars rocketing through red lights, or trying to squeeze past pedestrians who are already in the crosswalk, or gliding into the crosswalk to make a rolling right turn on red, clearly aren’t thinking about us — at all — so we really need to look out for them.

no-turn-on-redjpg-8e01337c7948434eSo when I saw this article in the Washington Post about the District of Columbia’s evaluation of whether to end right turns on red, I read it with interest.  It’s been a really bad year for traffic accidents in our Nation’s Capital, with deadly crashes involving 12 pedestrians, three cyclists, and a person riding a scooter.  That’s a pretty shocking death toll, and it’s caused D.C. to reevaluate its policies — including allowing right turns on red at intersections — as part of an effort to cut down on car[people collisions.

Two points about the article were of interest to me.  The first is that right turns on red was primarily the result of a federal policy adopted in the ’70s, during the “energy crisis” days.  Right turns on red were viewed as a way to reduce oil and gas consumption, and federal policy was directed toward strongly incentivizing cities to allow that driving maneuver as an energy conservation measure.  And the second is that the impact — an uncomfortable word under these circumstances — of allowing right turns on red on the number of traffic accidents really doesn’t seem to be significant, as a statistical matter.  One early study, undertaken shortly after “right turn on red” was adopted as a policy, showed a big increase in crashes, but more recent studies, performed after drivers became used to the rules, indicate that the effect of right turn on red is negligible.

My personal pedestrian experience tells me that right turn on red is a perfectly safe maneuver — if drivers are paying attention and following the rules.  The problem is that some drivers don’t do that.  They roll directly into crosswalks and intersections, looking only to their left at oncoming traffic, without considering that there might be pedestrians entering the intersection — just as there are some drivers who routinely run through red lights.  I’m convinced that it’s not the policy, it’s the drivers who are a problem.

And for that reason I really question whether eliminating right turns on red would make a difference.  I routinely cross an intersection where right turns on red are not allowed.  That makes no difference to some of the drivers — they take a right turn on red anyway.  Unless our police are rededicated to enforcing basic traffic rules, which doesn’t seem to be a high priority for law enforcement right now, there’s not going to be a significant improvement in traffic safety, whether the policy changes or not.

Right turn on red or not, pedestrians just need to be wary.  It’s a hazardous world for walkers.

El Cheapos

Yesterday, during a torrential downpour, I felt dampness underfoot and discovered my well-worn pair of sneakers had a hole in the sole.

(Have you ever noticed that you don’t discover a hole in your shoe until you’re out in the rain? Just like you never discover you’re out of coffee until that morning when you desperately need a cup. But, I digress.)

By the time I got to the office my sneakers were water-logged and ruined. So, I added a trip to the shoe store to yesterday’s to-do list. I ended up going to Famous Footwear, where I made a beeline directly to the clearance rack and bought this perfectly good pair of size 13 walking shoes for only $35. I’m no runner or roundballer, and I really could care less about style. Shoes are a consumer good where I can easily save a few bucks by going the discount route.

I can also report that it’s nice to have some extra cash in my wallet, and that my first few walks in these El Cheapos were perfectly satisfactory.

Seeing The Way Clear

For the last year of so, every day on my walk to work and on the way home I’ve faced this same scene at the corner of Rich and Third Streets in downtown Columbus.  They’re putting up a new building called 80 on the Commons.  I’ve watched the construction of the building with interest, but walking past the site has been a royal pain.

They’ve closed the sidewalk and one lane of Third Street so construction workers and equipment have room to work.  As a result, we pedestrians have been shunted off to a narrow temporary walking lane with a chain-link fence to one side and a row of orange barriers to the other.  And just on the other side of the orange barriers, so close that walkers could easily reach out and touch them, are cars, trucks, and buses speeding down Third Street.  Third Street just happens to be one of the main ways out of downtown, and it’s always jammed with fast-moving traffic.

It’s unnerving to be so close to the traffic, and it became even more so when I was started walking down the channel one day this winter and discovered that some driver had smashed into the row of orange barriers, crushing a few of them and knocking the rest out of line — which made me have to climb over the helter-skelter barriers to get to work.  I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t walking down the lane when that incident occurred.  Interestingly, they didn’t appear to replace the crushed barriers, they just made the barrier row shorter — which means that when you emerge at the north end of the row the orange barrier row ends before the fencing does.

The temporary walking path has gotten pretty disgusting, too.  Trash gets blown into the channel or is dropped by thoughtless jerks and gets trapped there, so you’re always picking your way around the newest food wrapper or soft drink can to be added to the debris field.  You’d think that somebody on the construction crew or from the City of Columbus would be responsible for picking up and disposing of the trash, but the interests of downtown walkers apparently aren’t a high priority.

The signs on the chain link fence have been telling me that 80 on the Commons is coming in the summer of 2018.  Well, it’s the summer of 2018 already — and I’m still waiting.  It looks like they are finally getting ready to end construction and reopen the sidewalk.  I’ll be grateful to finally see the way clear to the office again.

Strolling The Dunham Loop

There are some fine walking paths and hiking trails on Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle.  Yesterday we decided to try the Dunham Loop, which follows country roads that circle Dunham Point.  It’s a popular stroll that is about three miles long.  Yesterday some of the fellow travelers on the Loop included two mothers pushing strollers and three young people who were using rolling skis to get in some summer training for the winter cross-country skiing season.

The Dunham Loop gives you a taste of some of the varied sights Deer Isle has to offer.  After you park your car you follow the road past a small marina and dock, and then bear right into the woods, where you get to breathe deep the tangy piney scent of some of the towering trees and enjoy the deep shade.  Along the way, from time to time, you catch a glimpse of the rocky coastline and the water through foliage.

The road then emerges from the wooded area into an open area where the water and hills are visible on the horizon, down across rolling pastures and pine trees along the shoreline.  This is an area of beautiful old farmhouses and barns — one of which had an antique pickup truck parked in front, to complete the image.  After the forest, you’re exposed to the bright sunshine, and it feels like there’s lot of elbow room.

Another right turn — on the Dunham Loop, you’re like a NASCAR driver in reverse — and you head up another country road to see more pretty homes, and a pond with lily pads and a croaking bullfrog.  The road dips and rises, and it”s so quiet you can hear the cross-country skiiers clattering in the distance behind you.  It’s almost a surprise when a car passes by.

Another right turn, and you’re back on the road toward the harbor and the boats.  There are kids playing with dogs at one of the houses you pass, where a mother holding a baby is filling an above-ground pool with water.  The road moves downward and ends at a pebbled beach dusted with oyster and mussel shells and a boat-filled vista overlooking some of the neighboring islands.  The Loop has been completed, and it has been a wonderfully simple and pleasant journey indeed.

End Of The Strip

This morning I walked down to Mandalay Bay, which anchors the far end of The Strip. Saturday morning is a good time for a walk in Las Vegas — the crowds are gone, and other than a few joggers and some muttering people lurching out of the casinos, you’ve pretty much got the sidewalk to yourself.

The end of The Strip is a bit strange. Unlike the other end, where the modern Strip morphs into Old Las Vegas in a haze of Strip malls, construction sites, and cheesy wedding chapels, the Mandalay Bay end is more abrupt. You’ve got a fake New York skyline, a fake castle with multi-colored turrets, a fake Egyptian pyramid and Sphinx, the golden Mandalay Bay towers, and then . . . desert nothingness. Guests at Mandalay Bay look in one direction and see a gambling fantasyland, and look in the other and see a desolate waste.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Beachwalking

I’m a big fan of walking in all of its many forms, but I think I may like beachwalking best of all.

Beachwalking has all of the positive attributes of walking generally — fresh air, exercise, feeling your body get into an almost mechanical rhythm while your mind has the freedom to roam wherever it wants to go. But beachwalking has a number of plus factors, too. It’s pleasantly hot, for one thing. There are soothing surf sounds and seagull cries in the background, rather than traffic noises. You’re barefoot, and you feel warm sand between your toes. And if you’re on the right kind of beach, you can walk for miles, uninterrupted by crossing streets or cars or traffic lights or other reminders of civilization. It’s an opportunity to work yourself into an almost trance-like, zen state.

Yesterday I walked for miles on a basically empty beach, plodding along until I came up to a stone jetty and had to turn around and trod back again. I thought about nothing but sand and sea and the distant goal. It was a wonderful journey.