Like most people, I’ve been walking since I was a year old. I started doing it seriously when I was 13 or so, and as a result my calf muscles are massive, like hams. My family’s house was at the furthest edge of Raleigh, North Carolina – in the last suburb there was – so in the beginning, I’d walk in the country. Then, like an overturned bucket of molasses, the town grew. One development followed another, and I found myself wandering through neighborhoods so new they smelled of plywood, which actually smells of formaldehyde. Driving didn’t appeal to me for some reason. Working didn’t either, but my parents forced me to earn my own money when I turned 16. I found a job in a cafeteria – washing dishes – and would most often walk there and back. “That far!” my friends would say. It surprised me to learn that none of them would think of covering that distance on foot.
’ve always had an active fantasy life, so that’s what I devoted my walking hours to: daydreaming. The life I imagined for myself trudging through Raleigh, soaked through with filthy dishwater, was exactly the life I wound up with. “I’m going to write books and live overseas with a ridiculously good-looking, artistic boyfriend. Then I’ll buy a beach house everyone can use and …”
I don’t know what it is with Americans yelling out their car windows at cyclists and people on foot, especially in the country. It’s happened to me only once in the UK – out of all the miles I’ve covered. I was collecting rubbish along the side of the road outside the village of Storrington when a guy – red-faced with rage – stuck his head out the window of his white van. “Bin man!” he yelled.
As someone who runs regularly, I also hear random insults shouted at me from drivers. Depending on the time of day and how often I run, I’m heckled almost once a week.
Personally, I’ve never felt the urge to yell at someone who is walking or running. So, I don’t understand the impulse.
And unlike David Sedaris, I’ve never been propositioned on a run, but his article did remind me of a unique incident that happened to me a few weeks ago.
I was running by a house that is on my usual route. The house was across the street from me, and I happened to notice a young boy out front playing with a bright orange air-soft gun–or maybe it was a NERF gun? It was hard to tell. But it sounded like an air-soft gun, and that was enough to make my hairs stand on end.
At the same time, I also noticed that the garage door was opened and I could hear adult voices. The kid skipped to the end of the driveway when one of the adults (a large man by the sound of it) yelled, “Shoot ’em, boy! BANG! BANG! Haha!”
I picked up my pace just as I heard the kid cock the gun yelling, “I’m gonna shoot you! BANG BANG!”
I put my head down and didn’t look back.
A couple days later, I went for a run and, without surprise, someone heckled me as he leaned out his car window. But this time all I could think was, “At least he’s not shooting at me.”