Comment of the Week: On being judged just for walking

“A close acquaintance asked me if I was on ‘hard times’ or wondered if I needed any financial assistance because I was frequently seen walking.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight notable comments. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you deem worthy.

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Lacorota’s comment on our Betsy Johnson I-5 crossing article read like a meditation on getting around by foot. Was I reading Whitman, or Thoreau?–no, this is BikePortland! Nevertheless, I wanted to find a comfortable chair and read more.

Lacorota brings up a way of thinking about cars that even well-meaning people express — that there must be something wrong if you are not in one. Here’s the comment:

A close acquaintance asked me if I was on “hard times,” or wondered if I needed any financial assistance because I was frequently seen walking. Walking in foul weather sometimes, with all my rain gear on. Neighbors mentioned seeing me many miles from home. They felt “sorry” for me, older person, walking home in the dark, cold and rain, with a headlamp. I felt sorry for them when I walked by and waved as they were stuck in traffic a half-mile from home. It’s often a parking lot as far as I can see. Many looked fatigued and depressed, sitting there, waiting. Made me pause and consider who was the real loser.

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One neighbor I hadn’t seen in a few months wondered if I’d lost my home. I was walking home from a grocery store 4 miles away. I had my groceries in my backpack, rain gear on, and headlamp on high beam. Nope, home is paid for, in good repair, and electricity still on. A-okay.

I assured everyone, I’m doing fine, but appreciate their concern for my non-motorized, well-being. Though I have a sight disability preventing me from driving, it’s equally a conscious choice. Before disability, I walked, cycled, or hopped on transit the same.

But somehow my social status was judged as compromised, mediocre perhaps, because I’m not driving a car. A nice car. Something must be “wrong.” We discussed it later and I told my acquaintance that in some countries it’s not unusual to see bank presidents, the mayor, physicians, and a common laborer sharing the same trains, busses, or cycling the same streets. And even chatting together with a beer.

Thank you lacorota.

Read past COTW here.

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maxD
maxD
4 months ago

In case anyone wants to get really excited about walking, I recommend Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

ivan
ivan
4 months ago
Reply to  maxD

co-sign

curly
curly
4 months ago

I read the quote and immediately felt validated. I have a neurological disorder (epilepsy) and was forced to be car free during parts of my life. Had I not had my two feet (and a bicycle and Trimet Honored Citizen bus pass) I would not have been able to get to work, meetings, Dr. appointments, or shop for groceries.
I had a 7 mile one way commute to my employment which I took by bike unless the weather was icy, or snowing. Thank you Trimet. It was faster to bike than ride the bus. Busses only run as fast as rush hour traffic.
Thanks for selecting this as comment of the week. Glad it’s back.

stephan
stephan
4 months ago

Thank you for this comment, lacorota! I was also struck by how beautifully it captured both the view of people who drive everywhere, and how that’s at odd with the actual experience of walking or biking. Thank you for sharing, I come back to words when I am out and about and smile.

James N
James N
4 months ago

A story I like to share is about walking in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There was a brewery there that I was interested in visiting so I booked the closest hotel that was just one mile away. There were no sidewalks so I was just walked in shaggy grass on the shoulder. Two different people stopped to check on me. Not in the “I don’t recognize you so you’re suspicious way.” They we’re concerned in the “hey, everything ok?” and “hey, do you need a ride or some help?” way. It was charming in some ways but also wild that they thought nobody would choose to walk unless they had lost a ride in a car through some kind of misfortune.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  James N

I had a similar experience in Missouri.