The View From the Street

I needed to walk 11 miles on Monday.. I decided to get up early and “run my errands” on foot. I walked from my house in Live Oak to my local video store to return a couple of movies, took the long way downtown, through the harbor and Frederick Street park and around the Boardwalk and back to Front Street, to mail a package to Lizzy at the post office. Lizzy is at sleep-away camp and I’m trying to send her a package for each of the three weeks she’s there. This one had some friendship bracelets Karyn had brought back from India with instructions on how to use them and a novel to read. I put the goodies in a brown mailing envelope and carried it the 7 miles it took me to get to the post office. By the time I got there, the envelope had grease stains all over it from sunscreen and sweat. The woman at the counter said she wasn’t sure she could mail it because it looked like something toxic was leaking out of it. I explained that I was training for a breast cancer walk and that my daughter was at camp and really needed this package. The clerk took pity on me and plastered the envelope with Priority Mail stickers to cover the grease spots and threw it in the big canvas cart to be mailed.

I’d told my mother I’d meet her at the Silver Spur for breakfast at 10:30. By the time I finished my business at the post office, it was 9:30. I figured I could make my way the few miles up Soquel Avenue to the restaurant in an hour and I set off at a good clip. But by 10:15, having been held up by numerous traffic lights, it became apparent that my estimate was way off. I wasn’t going to make it there until 11:00. Times are a lot more difficult to gauge when you’re on foot, and I couldn’t call my mother to let her know I’d be late because she doesn’t carry a cell phone. I knew she’d worry and I didn’t want to keep her waiting, so I decided my only alternative was to hitchhike.

Now I haven’t hitchhiked since I was a teenager, when I hitchhiked all the time. I hitchhiked to Long Branch High School. I hitchhiked up Norwood Avenue to my friend Robbie’s house. I hitchhiked pretty much everywhere I needed to go. But everyone hitchhiked then. Now you rarely see hitchhikers. Really, how often do you see hitchhikers in Santa Cruz? As I considered my options, I looked down at what I was wearing. A pair of micro-short running shorts which barely covered the top of my thighs, grey with a pink ribbon breast cancer logo splayed across the front. Bare legs that went on for miles (I’ll never forget the time a woman I’d never seen before looked me up and down and said in a slow Southern drawl, “You’re a long, tall drink of water.”). My new pink and black running shoes with short white wicking socks. A skin-tight synthetic  white and black exercise tank with cutaways on both shoulders. A fanny pack with two water bottles, a blister relief kit, a chocolate-mint Lara bar, a bit of cash for an emergency, a tube of lip gloss and one of Glide to prevent chafing on the upper arms or between the thighs, a pair of headphones and my phone. A black breast cancer walk visor with two pink buttons pinned on, one that said, “Walker 2009” and another that said, “Survivor.”

What were the drivers going to think? What kind of story would they tell themselves about me?

Maybe a friend would drive by and recognize me. Maybe a nice man in a truck, someone who wasn’t a degenerate, a rapist, or a sadistic serial killer would stop, a nice blue-collar guy on his way to work, a father working on a household project. I stuck my thumb out and wondered what kind of spirited defense I would put up if a driver put his hand on my thigh or attacked me. I wondered if I’d be a headline in tomorrow’s paper.

I walked backwards and kept my thumb up. Nobody stopped. They looked, but they didn’t stop. And so I walked and I walked and I walked.

The perspective from the street is so different. Usually, I have a car and the means to get anywhere I want when I want. Now I was late to a place I really wanted to be and getting later all the time. I was depending on the kindness of strangers to give me a hand. But to them, I was just some weird woman standing by the side of the road. They were absorbed in the worlds inside the bubbles of their SUVs.

When was the last time I picked up a hitchhiker? A few years ago and she ended up being a battered woman. She and her avalanche of problems climbed up into the front seat of my white minivan and disrupted my quiet, well-planned morning. I immediately had to assess how involved I was going to get in her life and the immense cracks that she was falling through. How much easier my morning would have been if I had just driven by, listening to NPR, driving peacefully to the grocery store.

When you pick up a hitchhiker or hitchhike, you roll the dice, never knowing whom you’re going to meet or if you’re going to get a ride. The other day, I didn’t. No one stopped. Hundreds of cars went by. I walked and walked and finally got to the restaurant, late, of course. But I was struck by the shift in perspective…how it feels to not be in control, to not be encased in a car or a truck or a van, to not have the power to create my own environment or manage my time. To be interacting with the world from a much more vulnerable, uncertain point of view.

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