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125 miles

I walk to work. And I think that’s pretty lucky.

Since June 14, I have commuted over 125 miles by foot. Not only does it give me the opportunity to learn the [non] roadmap of Madison, it also affords me a more intimate understanding of the city. The people. The culture. The perfect. The mundane. And the aspects that don’t fit the Madison aesthetic. It teaches me about myself and the people I share this space with – about 4 mi² of the 196.9 million mi² that is  Earth.

A few things are always the same. I wear Birkenstocks; actually the best gift I have received (from Mama Amy). They are dreamy. I could sell these to anybody. Good for the body. A solid investment. Practical. Comfy. I could go on. Secondly, I wear a backpack. Ain’t nobody got time for crossover bags and back problems. Evenly distributed weight is where it’s at. Because #scoliosis.

But while there’s consistency, there’s also intentional inconsistency. I mix it up. I like to take new routes, because new routes mean new discoveries. I also learned it’s helpful to switch up which side of the street I walk on. Because I love Jimmy John’s. And it took me almost 2 months to realize there’s a Jimmy John’s on State Street… because for the longest time I walked on the same side of the street. Too close to see it. #perspective Good news though, I probably saved money. Also, yesterday I walked through the Humanities Building on campus, rather than around it. I have largely ignored it up until this point, even though it’s huge. Apparently it’s considered a product of the Brutalist Architectural movement. Who knew? And I was told it was built to be riot-proof, but for better or for worse, that’s not real. The more you know.

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Walking to work has taught me how to anticipate traffic lights. Which is a time maximizer. My experience proves to me that drivers who turn at lights (on red or green), think they have the right-of-way, when in reality, people in cross-walks do. This observation makes me a better driver and a safer pedestrian. Win-win. So figure it out people. It’s probably not your turn – even if you have a green arrow.

[Real talk time]. Walking to work also makes me view sidewalk benches differently. I see them as beds. I actually am averse to sitting on them because I know someone lays down on them at night, with the blanket and few possessions they have. The population of individuals experiencing homelessness in Madison is readily apparent as I walk to work at 7:55 in the morning. Often people are just waking up from spending the night on a sidewalk bench. This is people’s reality. Put this image alongside the city employee being paid to power-wash the sidewalk a half block later. Such an extreme contrast. I don’t have a word to describe what it feels like to simultaneously witness the two.

This observation led to another discovery. In Madison, street vendors sell a newspaper called, “Street Pulse”. It’s a newspaper produced and sold by people experiencing homelessness in Madison. According to an article written by Isthmus, “‘To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ is said to be the mission of journalism. If that’s so, Street Pulse is a very fine newspaper indeed.” [Read more here]. First of all, I love that quote. Secondly, if the opportunity to buy a copy presents itself, I’ll have more on that later.

Homelessness is a part of every city. I think it’s important to include these observations because homelessness is real. The Capitol is beautiful. UW-Madison is impressive. State Street is exciting. The sidewalks are freshly power-washed. But homelessness is also very much a part of this city.

Walking to work shows me that.

It shows me a lot. A first year student touring campus with their family. A couple shouting in anger as they walk their separate ways on the sidewalk. A squirrel carrying a baby squirrel in its mouth. And a group of bird friends trying to eat a piece of bread out of the street [between passing cars]. Walking to work proves to me that tripping on the sidewalk is an inevitable part of life. As is getting rained on… the one day you forget your umbrella. Walking to work opens my mind to what it’s like to be a construction worker, secured to the side of a new high rise apartment building. Or an international student just arriving in the country, trying to find their apartment. Walking continuously demonstrates how impatient people are; honking their horn because someone is literally one second too slow. And how wonderful it is to be reunited with someone as they step off a bus from the airport.

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Life is weird. People are good.

I think I’ll keep walking.

Until it snows.

Then I’ll observe from the bus window. But at that point, I’ll probably be ready for a new perspective anyway.

Cheers, my friends. Go experience the same thing, differently.

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