Saturday, October 15, 2016

On Foot

First, let me say that walking home from the hair salon does feel weird. I don't live in a booming metropolis where women who "feel like they just stepped out of a salon" emerge onto a bustling city street to breezes in their tresses, cabs honking in approval and wolf whistles. I don't throw my head back over my shoulder with my gleaming smile and am never captured in the exact moment of unbridled, sun-kissed, womanly beauty.

I walk out of the salon in the Memphis heat to my car, where if I'm lucky, I will be able to touch the steering wheel without risking serious burns. I will crank up the air conditioning, thereby destroying my new style, and I will pull my hair off the back of my neck to dry the sweat.

That's the Meg life.

But Thursday I found myself without a car (in the shop) and living in that time of year in the Bluff City where the weather isn't too hot or too cold. So instead of calling an Uber to carry me the .7 miles from Gould's to my apartment, I walked.

I walked past the International Market, onto Cordova Road, past Harding Academy and straight to my front door. I even stopped to check my mail. And I did it all on a sidewalk in broad daylight, in plain view of dozens of drivers and their passengers.

I thought nothing of this walk except that I should do it more often. But when I told friends what I'd done they were shocked and immediately concerned.

"You should have called me!" "It was cloudy outside! What if it rained?" "Are there sidewalks?" (a very real issue here) "Please let me know the minute you get home!"

I am extremely grateful for such caring people in my life, but frankly, their level of concern had me looking at them like they had ten heads. I could not understand why they were so worried about such a short stroll. And after more thought (and research), I suppose I can see why.

Memphis is not exactly the most "walkable" city. Yes, it has come a long way to accommodate an outdoor lifestyle since I lived here nearly ten years ago, but Memphis is a city of pockets: downtown, South Main, Overton Square, Cooper Young, Binghampton (just to name a few). Personal experience has taught me that it is just not feasible to head off on foot from one to another. The path either takes you through areas that are not pedestrian-friendly from a personal safety standpoint (yes, I have paid $12 for a one-mile Uber ride from Overton to CY on a Saturday night), or they're just too far. And by too far, I mean farther than one to one-and-a-half miles. Of course even that is a relative thing. I told a visitor to Cleveland once that we were walking to lunch just a few blocks away.

"It's not even a mile," I said.
"Your definition of 'not too far' and mine are two completely different things," he responded.

So the question remains: why couldn't I walk .7 miles without a degree of worry from my loved ones that bordered on paranoid?

The short answer: safety.

All things considered, Memphis and an army of community associations have done amazing things in their respective pockets. The Shelby Farms Greenline is beautiful, the park's own renovations and upgrades are a marvel, and there are bike lanes winding across the area. But once I'm out on foot, it's probably in my best interest to stick to their "designated" walking areas.

I can walk plenty of places in my own suburb (hence my trek home from the salon), but even then I have to consider which route to take due to the lack of sidewalks. And it did not escape my attention that I was the only one walking in my whole neighborhood that day. People just don't seem to do that around here.

I did not feel unsafe at any point during my walk home, but judging by my friends' reactions, I might as well have wandered into the street to play in traffic.

I could brush them off as neurotic, but I know there is a degree of truth to their concern. As a single lady, I believe in letting someone know where I will be if I head off the beaten path. That's just good sense. But the fiercely independent side of me rejects the notion that I can't walk less than one mile without alerting the media.

I guess the theory is if the boogeyman doesn't get me, the bad drivers will.

When I tried to find information on Memphis area sidewalks, I came across this nugget from Livable Memphis: The 2016 Memphis Walkability Toolkit designed to make neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly!

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