Minus a few disruptions, this summer I fell into a decent walking routine. I covered four miles a day, sometimes more if I could swing a sunset encore. This was all in the name of sanity and fending off oxidation, with a side benefit of enlightenment.
There were indeed times I’d break into a more efficient jog. But occasional zings of pain were like a tap on the shoulder, via other joints: Pssst, don’t mess with the limited-miles cartilage warranty.
It’s been more satisfying to walk anyway. And as I said, way more enlightening.
A gentler pace pulled my eyes to the suburban underbelly. There’s intrigue on almost every block and a surprising amount of critter drama. A flying bunny, courtesy of a hungry hawk’s clutches. A frog with bad timing turned into the Flat Stanley of the amphibian world. And too many poor squirrels play chicken, and lose, to Goodyear treads.
Never miss a local story.
But along with some gruesome roadkill hopscotching, I’ve been partaking in some other outdoor CSI. Upon closer examination, manicured streets reveal nature can really flip off the tidy visions of HOA leaders and city planners. Birds take aim on tasteful mailboxes. Weeds squat amongst the pricey fescue. Emerald ash borers steal sun-mottled shade.
Then there’s human nature. What a show.
Earlier in the summer I noticed boozy “empties” artfully scattered on the skinny grass strips along the curb lines. On one well-traveled road, I’d often come across the equivalent of a six pack. The specimens were spaced out nicely, so if one were driving around with, say, a real estate agent, one wouldn’t notice.
But on foot there was a remarkable amount of containers per-square-Pleasantville-mile. I’d wonder. Who is doing this? Underage drinkers on their way home from parties? Adults who should know better? Both groups? It was mostly beer cans with a smattering of vodka or whiskey bottles. Never wine labels, though, so we can’t point fingers at a rogue Bunco group.
Now that it’s September, the politely spaced litter I’ve been spotting has sobered up a bit. Bud Light cans have given way to breakfast biscuit wrappers and Starbucks cups.
But one major behavioral glitch from this walker’s eye view remains constant: Stupidity behind the wheel. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Two things are infinite: the universe and a human need to take advantage of unlimited texting plans.”
Despite tragic evidence everywhere, people are still transmitting digital gossip with eyes on the screen and a foot on the gas. I’d estimate 5 percent to 10 percent of drivers at any given observation point. That’s a lot.
A few months ago I witnessed the ultimate trifecta: 1. An idiot barreling around a sharp curve. 2. Directly into the sunset. 3. With both thumbs hacking away on a phone perched atop the steering wheel. The iSunVisor 6.
Another danger I dodge daily on these streets is equally baffling.
Even the two-hands-on-the-wheel types make this serious mistake. When turning right onto a busy road, too many drivers fail to look right before turning right. It’s all “check left, hit the gas and go!” Ever since, I almost fell into the back of some dude’s convertible, I’ve been prepared for these reckless turners. (I was certain he saw me, but by God there was an opening in traffic.) Seriously, we should worry about kids on foot, bikes and boards. Blind right turners are out there in droves.
Warn the little ones! Warn yourself!
Other than these complaints, every step I take feels glorious. Just the other day I cheered on a wooly caterpillar as he made it across the sidewalk. A harbinger of colder months, I suppose. Bring it on. I plan to be out there, keeping an eye on things.
Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell