If you have a little imagination, and you haven't just bought $20 worth of Farecard, one of life's pleasures is just outside your door. It's called Walking to Work.
It is not unlike being back in a small town again, where everybody knows everybody and people say things like, "Top of the morning." And when was the last time you heard that here?
Okay. So you don't say "Hi Bill. Hi Margaret, how's the little one." In fact, you don't speak at all. At most you smile and nod. But the principle's the same. They're there every morning, in the same spot, you recognize them, they recognize you. And you're a liar if you can't admit feeling better for having seen them.
In a small fragile way, what you feel is a sense of closeness, the kind of thing city folk flock to the suburbs to recreate and never find, of course.
Of course, you've got to live close, although there are people who walk to Farragut Square from Southwest, and one woman I know walks in from Cleveland Park, Once, when D.C. Transit was D.C. Transit, and on strike, I walked to 18th and I NW from out past Catholic University. Took me an hour and a half.
That's extreme; 30 minutes is probably the maximum, but don't forget how long the bus can take on a wet Wednesday or a Friday in July. You'll still beat most commuters' time by half an hour. And the rewards!
You don't believe me? I'll show you.
I can walk straight down Connecticut from R to H. I leave home about 8:10 and arrive at work around 8:30. I don't like to leave much earlier or later because I might miss my people. First is The Man Who Lost His Motorcycle. A big guy, strutting majestically around the fountain at Dupont Circle, wearing white shirt, black leather pants, black boots, and carrying a motorcycle helmet. His eyes carve a plane just over your head. He peers out over the morning waiting for his cycle to come roaring riderless up New Hampshire Avenue or 19th Street and carry him off.
A little further down, near The Old Stein, I meet my favorite, The White-Haired Lady. I can miss some of the other regulars and still have a good day, but not The White-Haired Lady. She's got to be there. She must be near 60, very pretty, a near smile on her face, the nicest person you'd want to meet. Somebody's grandmother, no doubt. Lucky kids.
Then I meet Mr. Plastic, between M and L, near The Mayflower. Middle 30s, always a suit and a brown briefcase, every hair in place. I know he recognizes me, but as we pass he always looks away. What's he afraid of? A woman I sometimes walk with says he always smiles at her when she's alone.
Then there's The Odd Couple, a threesome actually. I meet them near Russell Stover's. A dumpy guy, plain face, dull clothes, a heavy-treader, no light in his eyes. His woman, pretty, slight, talking a blue streak. And a third guy, on the outside near me, sharp dresser, nice-looking, affable. This can't last long. The woman's all wrong for the guy. Dumpy better keep an eye on her and the man on the outside.
Next is Sammy. I meet him in the same block, closer to K Street, in front of the Trover Bookshop. A young guy, coat and tie, bouncing along. Once I was waiting for a tennis court out in Arlington and there he was playing tennis. It was strange meeting like that, like I'd found out something I shouldn't have. I heard his friends call, "Hey, Sammy!" So now I know his name. I don't say it, of course; I don't even nod to him. But it doesn't matter. We know each other.
Then, finally, I meet Her, in Farragut Square, near the statue of the Old Admiral himself. Tall, fantastic skin, great eyes, a walk just this side of legal. I slow down like I'm pushing against a wave or a gale from the Gulf. She passes, hardly sees me, and I put myself back together in her wake.
And then I'm at work.
I've taken the bus, the subway, a taxi once in a while. But it's not the same. I miss them. These are my people.
What's best is coming back from a vacation and seeing them on the first morning out. It's like you're back among old friends, like some things really don't change.
But don't get me wrong. it isn't that nothing ever happens. One morning about six months ago, for example, the woman wasn't with The Odd Couple. She could have been sick. I didn't think so, but it was possible. She didn't show all week. Just the two guys, Dumpy looking more gone than ever, the man on the outside trying to cheer him up. He might be fooling Dumpy, but he's not fooling me. She's never come back.
And then about a month back, I couldn't believe it. Mr. Plastic was sporting a very tiny, blink-once-and-you'd-miss-it, honest-to-God dab of bristle under the nose.I looked twice to make sure my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. It persisted and was there the next day too. I could be wrong, but his step seemed a little lighter.
Just when I thought I had these people figured out.