Walking and What We See
I walk a lot. I always have. Always overextended and in a hurry, I’ve always walked quickly. Walking was also a way to gather my thoughts without interruption in an age when there were no mobile phones. Now, though I walk more slowly, I’m still mostly lost in my own thoughts, though I’ve once again discovered what a great adventure- and hazard- walking can be. I have realized that, as I did as a child walking in Vienna, I now have time to notice and observe all sorts of things around me. What I see now may be different from what I saw then. There weren’t a lot of cars then. No real traffic noise. I also lived in a Vienna which was very different from the New York I came to as a 6-year-old. But looking around not only helped me navigate the streets and remember where I was going but also meant discovery- and it relieved the tedium of moving from one place to another. Before I knew it, I was at my destination. And that holds true for today as well.
I live in New York City and living in New York City is a constant adventure. Looking at passersby is a favorite activity of mine. The diversity is incredible. Young, middle-aged, and older folk coming to and from work. Mothers or nannies with babies or older children. People with walkers, with or without aides, in wheelchairs or slowly moving along with a cane. But the best part is evaluating how they present themselves. Most of the young ones are slender and seem fit. Some are absolutely stunning in whatever they have on. Others don’t look so good – clothes that are ill-fitting or unsuited to them. Bad taste, good choices, avant-garde looks. I do make judgments – too many are too heavy, or too old to wear short skirts, or seem inappropriate for the time of day. What this does is give me good clues as to what is currently in fashion. Not only clothes but the hairstyles of men and women tell me how much times have changed. And that holds true for neighborhoods as well.
Construction sites are fascinating. Watching a building go up day by day, week by week – some flimsy, some looking very solid- foretells a change on the street if not the immediate area. When a hospital closed in my neighborhood, a three-year project to reconfigure the buildings into condominiums began. As much as the project was noisy and inconvenient, it has transformed three streets. Since it was clearly going to become high-end real estate, so many brownstones surrounding the project have been updated, renovated or at least have had exterior uplifts, increasing the value of these properties while also enhancing their appearance. A former triangle that the hospital used for the transit of waste is now a beautiful little park and memorial.
Then, of course, there are shops. This is not a happy observation. Grocery stores are disappearing to be replaced by all-purpose drug stores. Many storefronts are vacant for long periods of time. And even sadder, the local clothing and shoe stores, jewelers, and gift shops go in and out of business at a worrying pace. The pure pleasure of window shopping is diminished. If I fail to walk along certain streets for more than a month, the old or recently installed have disappeared with perhaps another new restaurant about to open. And the hazards of walking on city streets are many – potholes and cracked sidewalks, the bicyclists who largely ignore the rules of the road, riding the wrong way, not stopping at red lights, turning without notice; the cars, the doubled parked trucks, the delivery carts and most of all the ubiquitous construction obstructions and scaffolding.
The pleasures and benefits of what we see are many. Obviously, not every walk is a piece of wonder but it does open horizons on what our immediate world looks like. It keeps me from too much self-absorption, keeps me involved on another level in the outside world and makes my walking time interesting as well as good exercise. I know many of my readers may live in the suburbs, small towns or countryside. I hope this inspires you to collect thoughts of what you see, what you like or dislike and what provides entertainment when you are alone. The world is too interesting a place to just ignore as we walk our own way.
Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 85+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected].
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