There was a time, three and a half years ago, where my transportation options were limited to the two flat, oversized appendages at the ends of my legs.
When I first moved to Maine, as has been well documented in these pages, I wasn’t immediately allowed to get behind the wheel, a bureaucratic hurdle that influenced every decision from “which apartment to sign a lease at” to “do I go downtown for a beer, or do I go to Hallowell,” because no matter what my choice, it involved walking a couple miles at a time.
This had its benefits, though: namely that it was a type of forced cardio that warmed me up before the gym, or burned off a minuscule percentage of the calories I poured down my throat at the bar, or at the very least worked up a thirst before I arrived at the Liberal Cup after work on a Friday night.
Of course, eventually I got my license and a set of wheels, and I developed something resembling complacency towards walking. That all but continued throughout the rest of my time in Vacationland, and hung around for the bulk of my stay in West Palm Beach. Not only do Florida drivers not have the deepest of respect and deference towards pedestrians (something the actually DO have in Maine), but the weather rarely dipped below 80 degrees and that’s not exactly comfortable strollin’ weather.
But over the past couple of months, due largely to my predilection for fried chicken from Publix, the Sunshine State’s major grocery store franchise, I’ve felt the need to get out and walk again, if only in a desperate attempt to negate the thousands of calories I was shoveling in.
Aided by the dopamine-inducing feedback loop from my Fitbit (note: I am an idiot who loves gadgets), I set out to hit the American Heart Association’s recommended 10,000 steps per day, even if it meant walking an increasingly large circuit around suburban West Palm Beach at 8 p.m. on a weeknight.
I can’t say I’ve weighed myself at all since I started actively trying to extend the streak of the little green stars that the Fitbit app displays when you’ve reached your goal for another day, but honestly I doubt I’ve lost much. I’ve managed some arbitrary calorie-burning and some enormous blisters on my toes from walking five miles a day, but one of the real intangible benefits has been seeing West Palm from a totally different perspective.
It’s like this: driving to and from work, I’m going 40 miles per hour for much of the 10-minute ride, and I’m paying attention to the road for the majority of the time (unless I’m mainlining coffee at 5:10 a.m.) Businesses and houses and sights whip by faster than you can register, and when you’re driving five or six miles each way, it’s unlikely I’d be walking to work past the same sights and getting a closer look.
But on foot, you notice these things a lot more. Between diving out of the way of shitty drivers who can’t grasp the concept of yielding to pedestrians, I’ve been able to muse about the school offering citizenship education classes on Military Trail, wonder how long it’s going to take them to finish building the new Applebee’s at the next intersection, consider the sheer patience of the woman who sits for hours behind a huge cardboard sign advertising a cheap bedding store nearby, and cackle in sheer derision at the contrast of a Hustler adult store right next to a joint named American Family Furniture.
And that’s just in the neighborhood around where I was living. Yesterday, having had to vacate my apartment before departing for Denver, I left the hotel I was staying in to take a stroll towards the diner down the street for breakfast. I walked the mile and a half past the office and countless businesses that, again, I had never had the opportunity to even glance at as I was driving by.
In doing so, I learned that the stretch of S. Dixie Highway known as Antiques Row — and West Palm at large — has more Crossfit gyms and yoga studios than one would think a population of roughly 100,000 could support. But hey, what the hell do I know?
As much as all this walking showed me a side of West Palm that I hadn’t really discovered, it also shone a spotlight on the fact that I’m still leaving a little bit on the table as I depart my home of the past 15 months. Due to strange work hours and a mostly crippling lack of finances, I had a lot less inclination to explore or take a gamble on a new place when I only had so many hours and dollars to spend.
That definitely makes for a bittersweet departure, but there’s a life lesson in it: walk more, see more, take chances on new stuff. You never know when you might get another chance at it.