I’ve always been a walker, the type who goes out of his way to enjoy a mosey down 55th Street, even (and especially) the occasional jaunt to the Point. I take the bus to save time when I have to, but I’m of the opinion that reliance on the bus system can make anyone the worst kind of traveler: a mule person.
I’ve harbored a secret grudge against the mule people ever since I hiked the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago. I could hear them coming before I saw them; their thick throats brayed complaints about the heat, the loose saddles, and the uneven earth, as the beasts beneath them hung their heads in shameful silence. The sun glinted off the gold watches draped around their wrists and tinted Ray-Bans hung from the pockets of their Burberry button-downs. The mule people were the canyon bourgeoisie, there to remind me in voice and vision that the world belonged to them. I found their sense of entitlement baffling.
I had been walking for four miles so far on a precariously sinuous path, with a gallon of water strapped to my back and a beaten pair of boots, the same reddish color as the surrounding rock, strapped to my feet. The sound of shuffling hooves blocked out the canyon’s ponderous silence more and more and more, until the noise grew so loud that I was finally forced to step off the path and make way. The mule people had arrived.
I imagine they would have been on their cell phones talking shop had they not been so busy trying to keep their sneakers free of dust with frantic, off-balanced swipes. They tilted their straw cowboy hats at ridiculous angles as their blind eyes ignored the beautiful jags and juts of the canyon. I am still unsure whether any of them actually saw me, and when the last one had passed, I raised a hand to shade my eyes from the sun, watching tails whip rhythmically back and forth until I could no longer hear even the faintest hoofbeats.
You might be a mule person if O-Week was the last time you heard the haunting echo of Rockefeller bells. You’re probably a mule person if you can walk down 55th Street blindfolded with ease but you’re lost on 53rd east of Kimbark Plaza. You’re definitely a mule person if you’re willing to stand and wait for the bus for half an hour instead of taking a ten minute walk.
I used to try to give bus riders the benefit of the doubt. I sometimes still imagine that they take the bus because they believe the roads to be made of lava (the free lava ferries that come around every quarter-hour prevent lethal burns), but I feel that this credits their creativity far too much. They’re just your standard mule people. You may have noticed that they’ll sneak onto the 171 for a Treasure Island trip even during a beautiful spring day when the ground is undeniably lava-free.
Frequent walks lead to intimate familiarity with a broad area. If you take the same bus every day, you’ll know that route—but that route alone—extremely well. Walking is about exploration, about taking the path previously untraveled because a spire on a Kenwood Street house catches your eye. Walking is about alley shortcuts and sitting down in a trash-chair to try to imagine what it would look like in your apartment’s living room. It’s about finding the houses where the cutest dogs stand guard in the yard and finding the stores that give you a free drink with your UCID. It’s about learning what it’s like at midnight behind the boarded-up church on Blackstone and staying just long enough to hear the eerie creaks that reverberate inside.
So what are you waiting for? There’s always a pair of lava-proof shoes sitting right next to you. Now pull them on and get to walking.
Chris Stavitsky is a second-year majoring in economics and English.