Thoughts on Walking and Nodding

One of the characteristics of studying can, often be a difficulty in having ‘enough’ money to get by. Or “buy” so the pun would go…

Study can soak up both your money, as well as time. For example the term ‘Social Life’ which may cause distress and familiar angst to some of you who understand too well the instance of phrases like this being bandied around: “Oh man, would love to come out but have to study tonight.” Or, “Wish I could drop by the party but this essay is due tomorrow morning and it’s worth [bla bla] percent.”

Or, as was in my case, “I’m sorry I can’t come tonight because I have to work all day tomorrow, yes I know tomorrow is Sunday but weekend work is all I can take because I’m a – yes that glamourous word again – Student!”

Having (I think quite unsuccessfully but never mind!) established the matter of limited funds being available to many students, particularly those taking a postgraduate arts degree, deemed unworthy of any Centrelink assistance, I would like to share some anecdotes of this subject which are on the “lighter side.” (Do you also think of whipped-to-perfection-chocolate-mousse when you read the term “lighter side” or is it just me? Perhaps South Beach people would disagree but I wish them luck in life, and potatoes as well.)

So, on the lighter side then, in my last days of being a student I couldn’t afford to pay my car registration.

“Pay us almost six hundred dollars,” demanded Vic Roads, in a coldly worded letter address signed by a computer, not a person.

It’s got a slight Marie Antoinette ring to it, doesn’t it. N’est pas?

“Hmmm, let them eat cake?” It’s reputed the big-haired-sweet-toothed queen once huffed in solution to the problem of starving peasants.

Mmmm cake. I wonder what kind of cake it was? Uncannily, I’ve delved into this infamous incident further and discovered that something may have got lost in translation because perhaps back then eating a little cake was akin to eating bread. Or something like that. Please, all you French-Revolution-Quizzed-Up readers, advise me on this issue. Samples of cake, illustrative of such historical signifance would also be well received.

Anyway, I know this is a huge beat-up and Creative Licence is one licence I am never without but I felt Vic Roads’ letter to me was “out of touch” with the people (me) and they were demanding and mercenary and, had I the capacity I would have staged a kind of revolution against the cost of car registration, complete with strikes and picket signs, very French.

Let me paraphrase the essence of VicRoads’ communication: “Give me six hundred dollars bills or Pretend your car is dead!” All done in a Robert de Niro voice because this is a ransom note and I’m Tom Cruise. While I’m here talking about VicRoads let me be clear: All these things said about VicRoads has all been completely under the expression of satire. For those of who you don’t know, Australia’s media laws are getting tighter and tighter, like [insert simile here.]

To cut a long story short (snip snip go my editing scissors. Obviously they are under-used! ) I didn’t eat cake. Actually, take two – that’s a lie but I didn’t drive my car.

Suddenly I was carless. And I wasn’t living in a buzzing metropolitan city, either, with trams and jetskis and Monarails abounding. No uber duber cool magool subway stations around either; filled with people who wear hoodys and people who wear suits and, possibly, people who wear a new avant garde invention called the Suit Hoody.

I was living in a suburb where bikes were hardly seen except for by the most committed riders, due to the sloping hills. Up, down, up, down go the hills in my suburb, perfect for sudden-get-fit-raise-your-heart-rate-Look-at-me-I’m-actually-wearing-the-workout-clothes-tucked-away-in-my-cupboard moments. So, because I wasn’t in this year’s Olympics and never will be unless I start my own Olympics (potential business idea?) I decided not to ride my bike around.

Mmmm, rollerskates. Rollerblades. Anything with roller in the title and I didn’t own it. My average of breaking a bone (based on historical evidence, ’91, ’93 and ‘95) while trying to navigate around on these things was quite high and I didn’t want to be that Broken-Arm-Sign-My-Sling girl again. I needed a new challenge.

So, the answer, what did I do?

I did what you would do. What Joe Citizen would do …

I cancelled uni for the month and just stayed home and watched dvds. Became a connoisseur, a regular Masterchef, in the ancient and little-noted art of microwave popcorn making.

I met my husband on the Internet, who – amazingly! – turns out to be Elvis Presley. (Why would he lie to me?) who lives in Alaska and we had a flourishing online romance.

I responded to those annoying emails and pop-ups and things that you see often sticky-taped to traffic light poles. The ones that say, “Fire your boss! Make $20,000 a week from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a computer, phone line and a sense of gullibility.” So logically then, I quit my studies because that all seemed unnecessary now I had the perfect dream job. My dream job involved me going onto forums and Facebook pages and Myspace accounts and anywhere where Real People on the internet talked and spamming them: epitomizing more Spam than the actual Spam the ham, if that was really ham after all. It was discrediting and insidious work but to tell people  (my internet Elvis husband) that I’d “fired my boss” was certainly empowering. I was feeling a bit like Donald Trump: who else could I fire?

So that’s what I did when I lost my license. Because I didn’t want to walk everywhere. Walking was for other people and I couldn’t be bothered.

OK OK I confess. The first scenario was a Sliding Doors kind of experience, what could have happened… What may have happened…

And what really happened?

I walked.

I walked. Not as in the cricket term “He’s walking” or something like that (Forgive me, I am now in murky water here with cricket terminology) but literally, walked.

And guess what? It was great. It was fantastic. I ended up loving it.

I used to drive my car along a road and see a person walking along; purposive walking to what looked like university or work or the shops and I used to feel sorry for them. It’s an unimaginable, bizarre and quite subtle feeling but basically the driver feels: Oh! Poor thing. They’re walking. Hmmm. I feel sorry for them but I’m not sure why.

Why? Because, where I live: in leafy, lovely and car-filled suburbia walking is seen as a pleasurable thing to do with a dog, an Ipod or a sense of motivation to “get fit.” Or, if you’re already there (you there! You who gulps protein at every possible chance to gulp it which is probably quite a lot if this is your thing and runs twelve miles each morning before you get out of bed) then, increase your fitness.

But walking in the ‘burbs seems to be mainly about fitness, not functionality. Of course, you see elderly and formidable power-walking people wearing windbreakers and school-children walking around. Sometimes mamas with prams stroll along too, sometimes talking, sometimes juggling prams, dog leads and mobile phone calls.

But, is it as common to see other people walking too? Other people being anyone who aren’t these mentioned groups?

Sadly, in my observation this is not the case where I live.

When I had my month of walking, it was October and I saw a lot of things I didn’t notice had I been car bound.

Like the families of snails on pavements washed up by recent Spring rains. They had found themselves in the precarious position of being haphazardly positioned across a pedestrian footpath. You could see them, slowly slowly slowly trying to slug themselves away from the footpath, to the safety of the grass but many met their impending doom from careless footsteps. I saw shells cracked, in pieces, decimated and snail slime covering the footpath. You can’t notice this when you’re driving, unless you have Superman vision.

Walking to university, I came across a lake I hadn’t seen before and saw a small family of ducks who were quite happy to keep their anonymity. Oddly enough sharing their lake was a kind of robot/water-robot contraption I later found out belonged to an engineering whiz, as part of his experiments. I wouldn’t have seen that had I not walked down this unknown path.

One day when I walked home it was raining. Pouring. The ground became like a milkshake, slippery as a waterslide and unexpected as marsh territory. I stomped my way through it and my sneakers became drenched. My socks were soggy, my hands cold but I didn’t slip once, and I breathed in the wet, fresh air. I had an umbrella and I was dressed appropriately. Why then, had I been so scared of the rain? Why had everyone, including me, always admonished against it walking in it, like it was some taboo? Or some great threatening puzzle, like the Bermuda Triangle. The message was always clear: Don’t walk in the rain, if you can help it.

But, I did. I walked twenty minutes in the rain wearing non-slip shoes and I was protected with a spiraled pink umbrella. I felt free. Liberty! This was my revolution, perhaps! I came home and acted like a crazy person: “I love the rain!” I told anyone who I could tell, as I took my shoes off before I walked on the carpet.

Had I been driving in these circumstances, I would have quickly dashed to my car, been impatient if my key took too long to turn, sidled into a sedentary position for six minutes, listened to a CD I have already heard 39 times and walked in my front door.

Other things you miss out when you’re all behind the wheel and contained in a bubble-box of steel and glass and the strange things inside the bonnet are the simple but important things, like human contact.

Generally, humans inside cars do not usually have very pleasant interludes with one another. You might communicate a message to someone who has cut you off at a roundabout or perhaps you might receive a non-verbal gesture from a car behind you who is trying to connect-four with the back of your car. Or sometimes, you might even wind down your window to the person next to you. They’re desperately tapping for you to do so, and so you do, enchanted by what they could say to you.

“Something, Something,” they mouth to you.

Pardon?! You say, smiling with confusion. What are they trying to tell you?

“Your back headlight is out,” says your neighbour before speeding off. And you’re somewhat crestfallen. Is that all? You thought maybe they’d wish you a pleasant greeting, maybe they’d seen the Cherry Ripe bar you’d been munching on at the traffic lights and wanted to say kindly, “Bon appetite!”

When you’re walking, however, you’re forced to engage with other people. Well, there’s no gun-holding Social Manners police with guns (glue guns) in their hip buckles, patrolling the streets for civility and Jane Austen-esque manners.

No. But when you walk directly facing someone, at a crossing of two different walking directions which eventually meet, there’s a perfect opportunity to, for one moment, say hello. You don’t need to quickly scribble down their postal address for future Christmas cards or wish their goldfish a happy birthday. No, you can just say hello. “Good morning!!” nice cheery phrase. You always feel better after saying, “Good morning!” than “Good afternoon.” Why is that?

Anyway, “Goodmorning!” “G’day” or even “Hey.”

Or you could simply smile or, my personal favourite, just nod at them. It’s amazing how easy nodding it. And once you and the person, this amicable stranger, develop a nod rapport it’s very likely you might actually use words too. “Nice day, isn’t it.” For the advanced (I didn’t do this but I’ve observed it in others) “Looks like it’s going to rain later.” Nod. Nod. Nodding all round.

So what, you’re think. Nodding – what’s the big deal? If I want to nod I’ll download Noddy on my free pirate movie websites or I’ll go buy some Noddy’s soft drink. Nodding is not going to change the world.

I agree with you. Nodding is not going to change the world. Unless you’re a chiropractor who specializes in neck injuries. But, it’s an acknowledgement of someone else in the world. What if the person you nod to lives by themselves, gets no outside world contact except from a walk once a day and they’re starting to think humans are just selfish people who operate in their own spheres and worlds and, what if they are alone but – what if? – a nod or gesture from a stranger means more to them than you think.

What if, by you slightly going out of your comfort zone and saying hello to someone you don’t know, you made them smile. Wouldn’t you have changed the world for the better by changing your world?

So this is the end to my rambling story. In my month of driving exile I learnt, I suppose, that it’s not the destination but the journey…

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