All I needed was toothpaste.
There's a drugstore that's a three-minute drive from my apartment, but driving seemed like a waste of gas just for toothpaste. It was such a nice day out that I decided to walk. It was only a half-hour leisurely stroll -- most of it on the Fall Line Trace -- but when I got back, toothpaste in hand, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. I'd gotten to the store and back home without ever cranking up my car.
There was a time when I walked almost everywhere. I didn't have a car during my first three years of college. I lived on campus in the center of town, so getting to class and getting to a downtown store, restaurant or bar was not a problem. Getting to the grocery store was a little trickier -- this was Athens, Ga., not New York City -- but with some planning, I could go on the weekends.
I learned to read a bus schedule and arrived most places 15 minutes early, because the next bus didn't come for another half-hour. I bought more comfortable shoes and always carried a water bottle, an umbrella and a cell phone. I discovered which roads had sidewalks and which stores within walking distance sold shampoo and food that didn't come out of a vending machine. I made friends with people who had cars, so I was never stranded anywhere.
While I didn't always enjoy walking and taking the bus everywhere -- especially in the summer -- being a pedestrian did have a certain charm. A walk gives you a chance to clear your head and it's great for people-watching. You get exercise, and you celebrate a little whenever you discover a new destination you can reach. You look at all those people in their cars waiting at red lights and feel smug. You are out discovering the world, while they are paying $4 a gallon for gas and battling road rage. Of course, they also have air conditioning, a radio and feet that aren't sore.
I've been thinking about my pedestrian past lately, after reading a series of articles in Slate last week about walking. Statistics show that people in the U.S. walk less and drive more than people in any other industrialized nation. If you tally the cost of gas, repairs and insurance, you know that owning a car is expensive. How did we become so dependent on something so costly?
Cars may represent the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want, but to me, it's never really felt that way, even after I got my own. I was more impressed when I traveled to Oxford for a study abroad program and realized that all I needed to get to London in under an hour was a train ticket.
With my job, giving up my car would be fairly close to impossible. But I think I am going to try to walk more, particularly on the weekends, and see where else I can travel on my own steam. Who knows what I might discover?
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469 or email@example.com. For more commentary, read her 20-something blog.