Friday, April 27, 2012

Writing the Write on Walking the Walk

I walk about two miles every day. It’s just about one mile from my house to the community center, so there and back makes two miles. I hope to increase it. I used to walk in the mornings, after putting Baby Bear on the bus, but this being Florida, at this time of year it’s now too hot to walk that distance at nine in the morning. I can’t do it any earlier because the Bear himself is frequently up around six. So now I go in the early evening, when it’s relatively cooler.

There are just two little things I don’t like about the walking, both of which come from having a hopelessly introverted personality: Having to go around people ahead of me who walk slower than I do, and greeting strangers walking or biking in the opposite direction.

Anytime I set out walking and I see someone else on the sidewalk ahead of me, my heart sinks. I don’t have to run to catch up to them. I’ve always walked very fast, and Mr. Lucky is always exhorting me to slow down and wait for him. It’s my normal pace. If I walk at my normal pace, I will always catch up to whoever is walking in front of me, even if they’re a hundred feet ahead. Sometimes I think if other people walked any slower, they’d leave a trail of slime.

I can’t slow down myself. I’ve tried. It drives me insane. My legs must move faster, only not fast enough to run. As I catch up to the person in front of me, for some stupid reason I always dread having to go around them. I’m afraid they’ll hear me coming up behind them and turn to look—and then I’ll have to smile and say something to them (oh, God forbid) as I hasten around them.

Yes, I know. Just go around them, Karen! It won’t kill you to smile and say, “It’s just me,” and then go around them!

This wouldn’t be a problem for me if I ran, or rode a bike. Runners and bikers go around me in the same direction, and we’re all cool with it. But this is walking. No one ever walks around me. I have to walk around everyone else, or take baby snail steps and make slime.

And then there’s what I call “The Pamela Tudsbury Effect.” In a scene from one of my all-time favorite novels, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War (I can’t recall if it’s also in the mini-series, not having seen it as many times as I’ve read the book), protagonist Victor Henry is enjoying an early morning stroll around the deck of a passenger ship taking him to his new assignment in Germany. He figures five laps around the ship add up to about a mile, and he means to walk up to fifteen or twenty laps if he can.

Ambling in the opposite direction is Pamela Tudsbury, who has a similar objective. On each side of the deck they run into each other, so they smile and say hello. After this happens two or three times, Henry suggests joining her in going the same direction. Pamela is grateful for this, confessing that every time she sees him coming towards her, she feels like a fool preparing to grin and greet from so many paces away.

How I can empathize!

Every time I see someone coming up the sidewalk in the opposite direction, I find myself clearing my throat and pushing any stray hair back from my face. I try not to make eye contact till we’re within ten paces. Then I force all the muscles around my mouth to stretch back into some semblance of a pleasant expression, and with a deep breath I manage to push a pathetically mealy-mouthed “Hi” out of my throat.
Ninety-nine percent of the time they’ll say something first, but I always respond even if it kills me, or I think it will. Sometimes I worry they might not have heard my response and they’ll press on wondering what my problem is. But would it really make sense for me to say “Hi” again, only louder—just in case they might not have heard me the first time?

One percent of the time I might actually be first to grin and greet, but let me tell you, for the introvert, that’s death.

Especially when the other person doesn’t respond, or even look at me. Then I get to wonder what their problem is.

Do such people have any idea of how much effort it takes for me to stretch my facial muscles into something approaching a smile? To force that choked “Hi” out of my mouth? And most importantly, of how stupid I feel to have socially exerted myself for nothing?

I wonder if this is why treadmills are so popular? Are they just preferred by introverts, or people who don’t want to have to walk around obstacles and someone else’s slime?

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