The Grasshopper #66: The Pedestrian
Observing the world one step at a time
Iggy Pop has a song called The Passenger about a person who rides the train. He rides and he rides and we don’t know why. But he sees the other side of places, the ‘ripped backside’ and any train fan knows exactly what that means. Trains go through the parts of town we seldom see, those backyards with junked cars and boats, and the industrial ugliness you seldom see from the road. It’s fascinating.
Just before Covid I took a train from Rochester to San Francisco via Chicago. It passed through Gary, Indiana, the epitome of a rust belt town. Most people might know it from a song in the musical The Music Man where Gene Kelly belts out an anthem about its glories. I always thought this was a joke by the writers because Gary, Indiana is a dreadful looking place, an industrial wasteland of rust and abandoned structures left to rot away.
Nowhere is this more evident than when you pass through on a train. I have one memory of those moments rolling through that wasteland, besides the incredible display of red rust. A cat sitting on a rundown porch watching the train go by. I wanted to stop and pet him before moving on, though I doubt he would have cared.
These are the odd moments you retain from traveling the slow way. If you’re paying attention, which most people are not. I’ve come out of Manhattan on a train going up the Hudson with a spectacular sunset over the river and no one else in my car even looking up from their phones.
If you’re going to write well you have to look up and see that cat on that rundown porch. That is something that literally goes by in an instant. Yet it sticks in my memory.
“Paying for a $17 martini or a $8 Starbucks latte we drink in 10 minutes feels normal. At the same time, paying less than that each month for an app or website we use every day feels like heresy. It feels foreign to pay for anything we’re accustomed to getting for free —even if the real cost has been handing our privacy to advertising companies.”
Robert Glazer Friday Forward
I am a pedestrian, by choice. I take pride in that role. I no longer own a car, also my choice, because I had a nice one and was barely using it. And I love to walk, have a love hate relationship with public transit in my town, and use Uber a fair amount. Honestly, it’s a lifesaver when you’re tired or the weather is not cooperating.
Last week I wrote briefly about the use of a good walk to break up mental logjams like writer’s block. I am fortunate that I do not have that particular problem but still find the slow pace of walking useful for getting me out of a creative rut, and problem-solving.
But it is the ability to see more of the world around me that is a major attraction of the pedestrian lifestyle. In recent years I find myself up much earlier in the morning and when I get out for a quick spin around the block early, my day is always improved.
Right now, as I write this, it’s hot and muggy out, nothing like the south or the west but bordering on uncomfortable. But early this morning the air was very cool and clean and it felt good to get out before the heat closed in.
I’m always surprised by how many people I see out walking, with or without dogs, riding bikes, and zooming by on various motorized scooters and bikes. The city has scooter rentals that have seats and the kids are all over these things, riding at breakneck speeds on sidewalks despite there being bike lanes on most streets.
These things are silent so getting startled by someone zooming up on you without warning is unfortunately common. But that’s a minor complaint. It’s more than made up for by the company of other early risers getting out to see the sunrise.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, my ability to walk was constrained last year by a back injury. It’s much better now and I’m headed to New York City next week, a trip I skipped for a year because not being able to roam around in the City is inconceivable. It’s the ultimate pedestrian paradise, city wise.
I stay in the West Village near the Highline and the walking path along the Hudson, both wonderful walkways with no cars, just throngs of international tourists. During the waning Covid times I was there and experienced these favorite routes empty of crowds, just one more advantage of being a walker.
This year I’m looking forward to walking the new timber bridge connecting the Moynihan Train Hall to the Highline. It means I can walk most of the way to my friend’s place above the traffic in a green belt with interesting views everywhere. Can’t wait.
My other writing platform, Medium, just announced a slate of changes to their Partner Program, which is the way writers get paid, based on read time. The changes are designed to encourage more thoughtful writing and reward pieces that go further in depth.
By implication, it will also penalize those who write imitative junk about getting rich writing online and vapid self-help articles that are just rewrites of other people’s work. Or obviously AI created junk. That kind of writing is pollution to me and I hope their curation changes discourage it.
That’s probably wishful thinking. A lot of these writers are content to make a buck or two from their ‘writing’ and then brag about their side hustle. Good grief.
The changes also interest me because I’ve been wanting to dig in a little deeper on some topics, notably climate issues and a bit of futurism related to their effect on us at a personal level. Judging from my numbers there are a lot of people asking themselves the same questions I am about this new and weird normal.
In particular, I want to try and get away from purely alarmist observation pieces, though they have their place as wake up calls. I’ve started one on the changes we will face and why and finding ways to see them as opportunities . Something a little more forward looking.
Which brings me to the notion of positive and negative outlooks in writing. Because I write a lot about the alarming state of American politics, it is easy to drop into the doom and gloom school of observational writing. Which is understandable given the state of those issues today.
But I am by nature an optimist and if I can’t find something positive in a topic, I always feel like I missed something important. Balancing negativity and positivity is always a challenge. Some choose the saccharine all positive route while others revel in darkness and the aforementioned doom and gloom.
Like all extremes they don’t reflect reality or the human spirit.
My 92 year old mom went into the hospital last night with a serious lung infection, something she has dealt with on and off for years, but she is much weaker these days. She has been living in the house I grew up in and is mentally still 100% but I admit I am not very optimistic this time.
A reminder that we need to pay attention because life is beautiful and ephemeral at the same time.
Did you write today?
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