Monday, November 15, 2010

Pedestrianism as System Revolt

When I am walking late at night, and by that I mean early in the morning, I do not use the side-walks. Instead I walk in the left lane; it’s safe enough, even if I failed to see a car behind me I would certainly hear it, that hour is the quietest time of the day. Walking thus the street appears differently, we are so accustomed to seeing the road from the side that to view it from the middle, and not through a window (which is to not see it at all) is an odd experience. One almost feels as though in the middle of the road, one almost feels as though in the middle of The Road. As if with pistol, rusted shopping cart and the last god in your care, you should be paying better attention to your surroundings that you ever have in your life.
I have said before that one does not know a road until one has walked it, so much is missed going 35 miles per hour. And so in the normal course of things one never knows the road, only the side of it. When driving one does not think in terms of land - elevation, terrain, exposure - one thinks in terms of traffic lights and stop signs and a double yellow line. Travel is reduced down to a grid, observation at the mercy of momentum.
I have read that the human body withstands collision quite well up to around twenty miles per hour - the upward limit of the unaided man. Past that speed our bodies break in exponentially gruesome ways. We are not built for faster travel; normal, accepted life should not require a harness.
One comes to understand, walking at night, the alienness of our roads, that we are not built for them, because they were not built for us. They were built for oil and steel and the madness of industry. And by their form the structure of our world is dictated. Here the urban is totally victorious, the rural - self-sufficient and traditional - has no place. The horse, requiring no mechanic for its maintenance and no international commerce and industrial infrastructure for its feed, is too slow and too dirty (leaving its feces in a heap on the pavement instead of in particles in the air). The serfs too have no place, those who cannot afford a car cannot function in this system, theirs is not a plight, they simply do not exist, they function in another system, oceans and seas away from their lords.
And so at night, when I cannot see headlights behind or front, I walk on a road not made for me. I jaywalk with impunity, ignore stop signs, laugh at navigational aids (road turn reflectors passing at ten second intervals) and try to teach myself what it should feel like to walk the straight path on a curving earth.

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