The hardest thing about coming back after a year of travel is the way my life keeps trying to bend me back into routines. Traveling made me crave unpredictability. It made me feel free. One of the ways I felt most free was walking. When I was in Yangon or Havana or Ho Chi Minh, I walked the way most people did, in the streets. Sidewalks were rare, a thing of the developed world. I got used to doing without them.
There are plenty of reasons to walk in roads. They offer the best unobstructed views for one. Most times though, they are the only way to get anywhere. In old Delhi, actual sidewalks are just places to store things. Streets are the only way pedestrians can exist. In Yangon too, sidewalks get filled with so many food vendors and markets, that the street is the only viable option.
I’m back in the U.S. now, land of reliable sidewalks, but somewhere in my travels, I embraced walking in the street. Now I can’t stop. I try to be careful, try to stay near the edge, near parked cars. I try to be smart about it. Still, I find myself stepping down off curbs more than I used to. Before my trip, if the sidewalk was full of people, I would step into the street, get around the crowd, and then hop back onto the sidewalk. Now I just stay in the street.
Like tonight. It’s about 8 o’clock and I’m off work. The streets are quiet. Not many cars pass. I step off the curb and take to the street. My computer bag bumps my hip as I go. I look up at the moon, then glance into the window of the Mexican restaurant next door, its windows plastered with green painted Christmas trees and yellow bells. I keep alert for cars in case an SUV comes whipping around the corner. After a few more strides, I move away from the parked cars. Stepping into the road unleashes something unscripted inside me. I’m not walking a narrow band of pavement. I’m in the middle of open asphalt. The sky feels bigger. I feel bigger.
I pass the camera shop and take a right into the Safeway parking lot. A car turns in behind me. I move
over, but when it passes, I steer back toward the center. I’m almost at my car. The hood gleams from
the night’s condensation. I stop short and stand in the middle of the open road. I feel as if
I’m not really here – in the U.S., or in Oakland, or in any specific place.
I look down the hill at the busy street below, where most of the cars drive up from – nothing. I
fish my keys from my bag, open the car and stash my bag under the front seat. I step back into the
road. When I do, I get a small dopamine hit of freedom.
The moon is out. The night is young. Time to walk.