How to Walk (Like A Man)
You may have learned how to walk when you were one, but chances are you’re still doing it all wrong. Maybe because of its very ubiquitousness, walking has become a neglected art—familiarity, after all, breedeth contempt. Or, more probably, we’ve become sloppy walkers because of cars. Whatever the reason, you’re in dire need of some perambulation re-education.
It’s no coincidence that numerous authors were inveterate walkers—people like Charles Dickens and Henry David Thoreau and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others.
First let us address velocity. Pick up the pace, people. Unless you can unequivocally count yourself among the elderly or infirm, you have no excuse shuffling about like a zombie outpatient on downers. Speed it up, sway those arms, stretch those legs—look as if you actually appreciate the fact that you exist.
For even though you might be in a crummy mood, if you walk with zest, that same zest will start sinking in to your psyche. You may at first only seem to be happy to be alive as you stride through the streets or down the hallway, but once your heart starts pumping faster and your limbs begin doing the work they were meant to do, you may actually find yourself happy to be alive in reality.
A walk puts everything in perspective; it’s a palate-cleanser for the soul. Marital problems? Go for a walk. Financial woes? Go for a walk. A/C on the fritz? Go for a walk. Existential ennui? Go for a walk. FBI probe? Go for a walk.
It’s no coincidence that numerous authors were inveterate walkers—people like Charles Dickens and Henry David Thoreau and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others. Walking, unlike driving or biking or even running, gets the human body working just hard enough to stimulate creativity.
Running taxes the body a little too much to produce coherent thought. Biking is also a little too fast to serve as a platform for fruitful cogitation; plus, you’ve got to pay attention to too many things on the road. Driving makes everything a kind of blur and, even more than biking, one must focus on too many external things: signs and stoplights and other cars and your speedometer.
Only walking provides the perfect amalgamation of the physical and mental. You are in motion, but not moving too fast. You can look upon minute details in the outside world to spur your thoughts, but you can also disregard them without physical danger should your thoughts turn inward. And if you’re a writer, you can easily pause, pull out your notepad, and write down the fruits of sudden inspiration.
Walking is rich, real experience—as opposed to, say, driving or spending time online (this present post excepted). Proof of this: you can probably remember your last walk better than your last drive or internet click session. Like Marshall McLuhan has taught us, media—and, for that matter, and just about any “way of doing things”—create their own reality. Walking, by its very slowness, has the benefit of slowing time down. For anyone over thirty, this is a precious gift—because as you grow older time seems to become more of a thief than a friend. Walking can make time your friend again.
Cars, for all their convenience, have cut up our existences into discrete, distinct domains. So many of us go from home to work to the supermarket to home again, and all the space and glorious variety of life existing between these domains is erased or at least woefully distant. So much of the ground we inhabit has become “fly-over country,” and it is only when we walk that we fully reclaim the in-between areas for our own.
Cars have also made us lazy. The Stoic philosopher Seneca, who lived nearly two thousand years ago, could have easily been talking about the effect automobiles have had on us when he said: “Nature gave us legs with which to do our own walking, and eyes with which to do our own seeing. Our luxuries have condemned us to weakness; we have ceased to be able to do that which we have long declined to do.”
He was speaking of the ideal Roman rich, who often traveled in litters—but what’s really sad is that your average American has become even lazier and more sedentary than your typical ancient Roman decadent. This is the reverse of progress.
So if you don’t live obscenely far from work and you always drive there, next time try walking to work instead and you’ll experience a world you thought you knew but really didn’t. Not only will it be good exercise, but you will find that the stretches of earth you used to whiz through on a daily basis have become wonderlands of strange and maybe even macabre sights.
But back to the mechanics of walking. It’s important to sometimes be conscious of how you look when you’re walking and the image you present to others. Nothing is more becoming in a man than to have a strong, confident walk. A straight back, an erect chin, an energetic stride—these will elicit more respect than any pompous words or elegant attire.
I’m not a big fan of advice—I tend not to give it (this present post excepted) and I even more infrequently tend to listen to it. But some of the best advice I ever acquired was from a person I had little respect for—a loud-mouthed acquaintance who I really couldn’t stand to be around. He said I always looked so care-worn and downtrodden when he saw me walking, with my back hunched and my head held down. “Hold up your head, straighten your back!” he said to me, and I took the words to heart. It’s both humbling and life-affirming to know that wisdom can dribble not only from the mouths of babes but also from the mouths of assholes.
A couple more tips on the purely technical aspects of walking. As a pedestrian, what you must do is think of the walkway—whether it’s a sidewalk or aisle or hallway—as a road. Which means, stay on the right and move to the left only to pass. Ironically, the only time you should not walk on the right side is when you’re on an actual road. At least that’s the way I was always taught—for if you’re walking against traffic, this enables you to jump out of the way if a vehicle comes careening towards you.
And, just as you shouldn’t cut into the opposite lane if you’re making a left turn, don’t cut corners if you’re turning left. Don’t know how many times I’ve run into people because they’ve just automatically assumed that nobody else could possibly be coming around a corner the same time as them and have therefore hugged a corner despite the fact that common sense dictates that whoever is turning left around a corner needs to give sufficient space to anyone who might be making a right turn around said corner. What hubris.
Pedestrians must also keep their hubris in check when jaywalking. Jaywalking is a venture that should only be embarked upon should the coast be totally clear and one accept total responsibility. Like Bob Dylan said, to live outside the law you must be honest. If you’re jaywalking, you should not expect cars to stop for you or slow down. If a car suddenly appears and you find yourself in the middle of the street, run.
This post of course would remain incomplete if the whole cell phone thing weren’t addressed. As sedentary as most folks’ lives are, apparently the time they spend seated is still insufficient to view a friend of a friend’s newly-uploaded photos of food and emoji-filled exchanges about who gives a shit—these important activities must be carried over into the times when one is walking. How you waste your time is your own business, but when you aimlessly weave about like Frankenstein’s monster on Quaaludes, you become a public nuisance.
People who walk while using their cell phones, if they have their backs to you, invariably start veering toward whatever side you are passing them on. They don’t mean to annoy you, but they unfailingly do. It’s almost a law of Nature. And if, on the other hand, they are facing you, they almost always come right at you, blissfully unaware of all physical reality in their mobile phone-induced bubbles—pedestrian kamikazes of the Information Age.
You can either swerve out of the way or stand your ground—and if you choose the latter you’ll be the one ending up looking like the aggressor. Because he who is on his cell phone must be deferred to at all times—because he who is on his cell phone demands the very thing he is not giving: attention and respect.
What asswipes these devices have made of us.