published in Volume 6, Issue 2 on June 1st, 1999I feel like a cheat every time I admit that walking is my sport of choice. I get a "workout" doing the very activity that also gets me to places like Krispy Kreme, my living room couch, and bed. Three to five times a week, I just put my feet one in front of the other for at least 45 minutes without stopping, and, because of a vigorous swinging of arms, I get to call it exercise. It seems cheap . . . ineffective . . . impossible! But in truth, it works like a charm.
Even more exciting than the fact that this simple activity controls weight while taking little toll on wallet or knees, is the fact that walking as I do it regularly and in the same neighborhood delivers a greater sense of membership than any expensive gym card every could.
I walk in a small neighborhood near central Omaha a little pocket of quiet and big hills and huge old trees. Its a place my fiancÚ and I will at least look for a home someday, but for now, Im happy to drive there, park, stretch, and go.
As an outdoor walker, the one on the move in a stationary neighborhood, it was easy to feel transitory at first. When I started my walks in old Ralston, one house blurred into another and another as I enjoyed the scenery and fresh air. Once my walk was over, I simply extracted myself from the setting and went home with a "thanks for the use of your hills."
But of course, it wasnt long before I started to notice things. Who cares for their home and who doesnt. Who cares for their kids and who doesnt. Who has a new truck, a new mower, or no desire to cook (theres always a pizza delivery car idling in someones driveway along my route). Theres a father who plays catch with his young daughter nearly every night. She has an erratic arm, and every time her throw misses him and ricochets off the house he yells from across the yard, "Do I LOOK like Im standing in the living room??" Theres a little arthritic, visually impaired dog who hears me coming and never fails to snarl and "chase" me down the street in a rather non-threatening, wandering figure-eight pattern (I always tells him that he scares me, though, because I really admire his effort). Theres what I call the "Bob Villa house" . . . somethings always being ripped apart and renovated. This year their backyard has been dumped in their front yard as they prepare for what looks to be a new deck and pool. And of course there are the practicers . . . piano, voice, drums, twirling, and flute . . . every night until someone yells "Dinner!".
And in an unexpected twist, I have not been the only one becoming aware of and attached to my "workout neighborhood." They the permanent residents have become attached to me as well, it seems. It took awhile for it to happen, but I have become a neighbor in this community, even though all its residents ever see me do is walk through it. At first, I was greeted by those who were outdoors, working in their gardens or on their cars. Now, people wave at me from their kitchen tables and their recliners. A little girl once yelled, "Hey Mom, its the walking lady!" People stop mowers and move sprinklers for me. They ask my advice. To date, Ive been questioned about my opinions on the new color a house was being painted, the placement of a tree that was being planted, and the weather ("What do YOU think . . . are we gonna get rain like theyre sayin?"). I receive kind offers one woman tries to give me cucumbers and tomatoes from her overgrown garden; an older gentleman always tells me that I should feel free to drink from the spigot on the side of his house whenever Im walking on a really hot day and I have been called upon to mediate fights. One mother turned to me rather frantically one evening, and said, pointing to her son, "YOU tell him how important it is that he wear a damn helmet when he rides that damn bicycle!" And just recently, a couple piled out of a car in their driveway with her shouting, "Because its a pain in my ass, thats why!" Seeing me, they stopped arguing for a second, and then the woman reiterated while gesturing toward me, "IT-IS-A-PAIN-IN-MY-ASS, and shed agree with me!" I have no idea what they were fighting about, but in that moment, I was the familiar face she needed on her side.
Of all the benefits Ive gleaned from my walking, this "membership" is by far the most prized. Without evening living there, Ive become part of a community Ive always loved . . . just by walking around in it. To the residents of old Ralston, my "home" is the patch of sidewalk in front of each of theirs. I may only pass by, but I do it often.
Last weekend, I was striding along, when a couple of kids yelled, "Hey, can you come over and play?" I was home.