I'm a coffee addict. I've been cold-brewing my joe lately, which is just as well since my coffee maker carafe busted last week. Well, for a variety of reasons, most of them related to my own personal failures, I'm out of cold-brewed coffee extract. So I decided to grab a cup from one of those teeny little espresso stands near the gas station just outside my neighborhood.
I walked. Because it would have been absurd to get into a car to go there. It is impossible to overstate how short this walk is, people, and how easy it should have been. But I found myself picking my way through a muddy field just to avoid taking my chances on the busy road that would have taken me to Microscopic Espresso Stand had I been silly enough to climb into my car to go there. There is an overwhelming sense, when you try to walk somewhere in settings like this, that you are some sort of vagabond operating outside the bounds of social acceptability.
Bill Bryson said this in A Walk in the Woods:
It was a warm afternoon, and it felt wonderful -- you can't believe how wonderful -- to be at large without a pack, bouncy and unburdened. With a pack you walk at a tilt, hunched and pressed forward, your eyes on the ground. You trudge; it is all you can do. Without, you are liberated. You walk erect. You look around. You spring. You saunter. You amble.
Or at least you do for four blocks. Then you come to a mad junction at Burger King and discover that the new six-lane road to Kmart is long, straight, very busy, and entirely without facilities for pedestrians -- no sidewalks, no pedestrian crossings, no central refuges, no buttons to push for a WALK signal at lively intersections. I walked through the gas station and motel forecourts and across restaurant parking lots, clambered over concrete barriers, crossed lawns, and pushed through neglected ranks of privet or honeysuckle at property boundaries. At bridges over creeks and culverts -- and goodness me how developers love a culvert -- I had no choice but to walk on the road, pressed against the dusty railings and causing less attentive cars to swerve to avoid me. Four times I was honked at for having the temerity to proceed through town without benefit of metal. One bridge was so patently dangerous that I hesitated at it. The creek it crossed was only a reedy trickle, narrow enough to step across, so I decided to go that way. I slid and scampered down the bank, found myself in a hidden zone of sucking grey mud, pitched over twice, hauled myself up the other side, pitched over again, and emerged at length streaked and speckled with mud and extravagantly decorated with burrs. When I finally reached the Kmart Plaza I discovered that I was on the wrong side of the road and had to dash through six lanes of hostile traffic. By the time I crossed the parking lot and stepped into the air-conditioned, Muzak-happy world of Kmart I was as grubby as if I had been on the trail, and trembling all over.
The Kmart, it turned out, didn't stock insect repellent.
Tell me not of how this goes against the interests of the establishment. I know that already; if sidewalks put money into the pockets of the oligarchs, I wouldn't be able to swing a cat without hitting one. I have a radical suggestion -- probably the exact sort of thing that got my Dad accused of being a Communist sympathizer by one of his grade school teachers in the 40s: Let's structure society around what's good for ordinary folks just trying to get their hands on a little bit of coffee in the morning. What say?