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Walking is Better Exercise - Oh Yeah?

The TV health gurus say walking is better for you than pedaling an exercise bike. I'm not apt to voluntarily venture out in cold weather so I tried walking inside my condo last week. I tuned both televisions to the Golden Girls and figured out a dumbbell-shaped lap track. Around the bike in the bedroom, down the hall, around the platform rocker in the living room, back down the hall. Four golden eyes of my cats perched on chair arms followed me as I went by. I could almost hear them asking each other, "Is she nuts?" That limited lopsided track got old fast but I managed to last through one adventure of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia.

Yesterday the lovely weather coaxed me outside to a longer lopsided track. Down the sidewalk to Palmetto, up the sidewalk to the back fence, around two blocks of patio homes, home again to my condo. One lap takes fifteen to thirty minutes doing it my way, stopping to pick up cigarette butts and speak to a neighbor here and there. I tried to ignore them, I really did. I know I can't get much physical training if I start and stop, but training my brain to ignore litter and other people might take a while. I figure bending down to pick up trash must count for something good, right?

Nearing the stand of pine trees in front of our complex, I heard a multitude of early spring birds singing, and suddenly memories of early spring walks in the late 1950's came flooding back.

When I started McClenaghan High School very few teenagers drove to school. Most families owned just one car. Bicycles were the preferred mode of transportation for guys, girls were driven to school by moms or dads, and some classmates walked from nearby neighborhoods. Other students were collected and deposited by big yellow buses around the side of the building. Since we'd moved into town the year after Hurricane Hazel, Daddy had been dropping me off at school amidst all the other cars and kids and bicycles and buses.

Groups of twos and threes gathered here and there around the grounds, motivated only by the late bell to move inside. Usually arriving at the last minute I had no chance to chat with friends before school. I decided if I walked, I could arrive early enough to catch up on the gossip, so I made the case with my parents and one Monday morning headed to school on foot.

One interesting route led down Cherokee Road for a block, through Timrod Park, up Coit Street for a block or two, then a right-angle turn to get across Irby and early morning traffic, allowing me to arrive at McClenaghan in twenty minutes or so. That is, if all I did was walk.

Yep, I couldn't resist distractions along the way. Litter didn't annoy me then like it does today but stopping to sniff daffodils and jonquils or examine tulip trees and cherry blossoms kept slowing me down. The scent of wild onions in fresh-mown grass made me want to smell them up close. Birds sat twirping on tree limbs across the park, and of course I had to crane my neck and squint to see where those chirps were coming from, didn't I?

School gossip didn't seem quite so attractive when I spied sliding boards and playground swings, collected a couple of jonquils and listened to the stream under the bridge at Timrod. I thought it interesting how different were the styles of houses along Coit Street. Some had two stories, some had one, some were brick and some were wood. Hmmm. I barely made it to McClenaghan by the first bell.

I promised myself I'd do better about getting to school early on Tuesday so the next day I varied my route and walked down Cherokee toward Irby and Dargan Streets. I passed the grocery store with a handful of cars parked way out by the sidewalk. Wonder who's shopping so early, I mused as I ambled by. Well nobody, silly, those belong to the folks who work there. Then I wondered what do grocery store employees actually do. I imagined cool activities inside the store as I walked on by.

"Look both ways" they always said in grammar school. Conscientiously I did that at Irby Street. Traffic was sporadic and nobody was watching so I figured it didn't matter if I walked like a lady I skipped across and hopped up on the curb. A few uninteresting structures came next, and then there was Mount Hope across the road. Through the fence I spotted vague shapes of grave markers. It was only natural to cross over and peek down the driveway at the obelisks and tombstones - so many, so different. Suddenly realizing my time was getting too close for comfort, I fast-walked the last few blocks and tried not to look at the two-story houses, landscaped flower beds and trees on Dargan Street. I barely made it by the bell, again. No gossip today either; oh well, maybe tomorrow. It took a week or two before I actually arrived early enough to chat with chums about school news.

I still have this curiosity, nosiness, sense of wonder at what I don't know yet. Why are weeds growing down in the driveway drain? Who are my dog-walking neighbors? Dandelions and pink-bud trees attract my attention as much as cigarette butts along the way. Maybe I'd be better off to watch Golden Girls and peddle my stationery bike for physical exercise, and reserve walking to exercise my imagination.


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