Walking -- 05/17/04

As I have mentioned from time to time, I enjoy reading The Diary of Samuel Pepys, keeping up with his life in London in the 1660's, posted online each day for the equivalent date (i.e., the most recent entry as I am writing this is for Thursday, 16 May, 1661). In addition to Pepys' daily entry, there is a comment section (called annotations) where people make comments, ask questions, provide answers and explanations, etc.

A few days ago (Sunday, 12 May, 1661 -- or, Wednesday, May 12th here in 2004) Sam's entry described his peregrinations about London: "At noon went with my Lady Montagu at the Wardrobe, but I found it so late that I came back again, and so dined with my wife in her chamber. After dinner I went awhile to my chamber to set my papers right. Then I walked forth towards Westminster and at the Savoy heard Dr. Fuller preach upon David’s words... From thence homewards, but met with Mr. Creed, with whom I went and walked in Grayes-Inn-walks, and from thence to Islington, and there eat and drank at the house my father and we were wont of old to go to; and after that walked homeward, and parted in Smithfield and so I home, much wondering to see how things are altered with Mr. Creed, who, twelve months ago, might have been got to hang himself almost as soon as go to a drinking-house on a Sunday." Among the various annotations were questions as to how many miles he had covered that day and were there short-cuts or did he take a coach for parts of the trip, etc. It was suggested that he covered twelve miles or so that day and some expressed amazement at that.

It had seemed to me when I got to this entry on Thursday that it wasn't all that amazingly far to walk when I considered how much walking we used to do when I was a kid, but I was too busy to have time to leave a comment. On Friday I noticed that the number of annotations was still increasing as people continued to comment on it. I did have time on Friday, so I posted this comment: "We used to walk that kind of mileage when I was a teenager. On a Saturday we might walk from our neighborhood to the main business district (the area usually called the High Street in the UK?) to hang out in front of the stores (no shopping malls in those days), then walk back home for dinner... and then walk back to the shopping district that night to see a movie and then back home again afterwards. Twelve to fifteen miles total for the day. Of course once we began to be old enough to drive, the automobile replaced shoe leather as the prime means of transport. Pick up a copy of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and see how many miles the characters in that book walked on a casual basis. I have no difficulty in imagining Sam covering that many miles. Also consider that (just as in my teenaged years) a lot of this walking for Sam was in the company of others, so it was a continuation of the social interaction, chatting as they walked."

I've just used mapquest to double-check my memory and my description was accurate. It was about a three mile walk to the "uptown" shopping district. Our neighborhood was about as far east as you could go without falling into the Rondout Creek (which was, indeed, Kingston's eastern boundary) and "uptown" was the area that had been the original stockade-walled settlement of 1652 -- where North Front Street got its name because it was the northern wall of settlement -- and continuing on just a few more blocks westward could take you outside of the city limits.

So, indeed, it was not unusual for us to hike those three miles, spend much of the afternoon wandering about the uptown area (hanging out in front of Woolworth's until the cop walking the uptown beat would comment "Set sail, boys, set sail." or "Move along now, you can't stand around here all day." and we would circumnavigate the block, perhaps wandering into Montgomery Wards ("Monkey Wards"), stopping in at a little ice cream parlor that not only still sold nickel Cokes in 1958, but would even mix flavors (other shops would also mix a Cherry Vanilla Coke but only on a ten cent size), and then, half an hour or so later, would take up position in front of Woolworth's again for another fifteen or twenty minutes until the cop once again chased us away. We'd have to leave by four o'clock because we all knew we'd be in big trouble if we weren't home by five o'clock for dinner. (Ours was a very blue collar neighborhood.)

After dinner we might meet again and three or four or five of us would go off to the movies. If we went to the Community Theatre -- in the midtown area, just a few blocks past the high school -- that would be two miles each way, bringing us to a total of ten miles of transportation walking (plus whatever "social" walking we might have done while hanging out uptown). However, the best shows were at the Kingston Theatre (on the same block of Wall Street as Woolworths). Not the finest films. The big movies would be at the Community, but the movies teens loved, the sci fi aliens from outer space "B" movies tended to play uptown. That would bring us to twelve miles of transportation walking. We didn't always go to movies. A few blocks past the uptown shopping district was Dietz Memorial Stadium where, in summer, we might go to watch a drum corps competition or an automobile daredevil show, and in autumn, to watch our high school football team play. For a few days in August the county fair would be at Forsythe Park, just on the other side of the stadium. And, maybe a mile or so from uptown, was Spring Lake, a good place for swimming and, nearby, was an area where at least once a year a carnival would come to town. As always, walking saved the price of bus fare -- once ten cents, then it went up to eleven cents and then twelve cents -- but you could buy ten tokens for a dollar -- but who would spend money on a bus when you could walk and save that money for spending on important things like cokes and movie tickets and cigarettes.

Nancy and I are both walkers. We enjoy going for walks together right around our own town -- a mile, two miles, even three miles. When we find ourselves playing the role of tourist in a city (Boston, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, London, Toronto) we love to walk from site to site. And I'm that way when I am somewhere on business travel, I like to walk around and see things. I've walked miles through Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, New York and Boston, Toronto and Minneapolis, Honolulu and Sydney, Vienna and Nice. I enjoy walking. (Of course I'm also the type who can't see the point in taking an elevator just to go up or down one or two floors; I'd rather take the stairs.)

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