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Walking Shoes

“Ma’am, before you start, let me tell you, the wait is two hours.”

— Safe Ride Home operator, 2 AM, New Year’s 2014

I. Out

So we walked a mile and a half, my high-heeled dancing shoes and I. Three beers over two hours meant I was no good to drive. I started out on the sidewalk, not too wobbly, but a little. Ten minutes later, there was the sound of pant legs brushing together some distance back. We were on a quiet street, this stranger and I, moving farther and farther away from the revelers and horn blowers. I tracked the click of his soles on the concrete, and over my shoulder saw that he was one block away. That’s when I stepped off the curb and into the pools of streetlight in the middle of the road. If I heard a car coming, I got out of the way. Way out of the way, because it was coming too fast. The driver wasn’t waiting two hours for a safe ride home, nor was he walking.

II. Options for getting home from New Year’s Eve Party because your kind husband volunteered to stay with the kids due to no sitter:

1. Drive. You won’t. It was your first late-night New Year’s Eve outing in years, and you partied.

2. Take a cab. You try unsuccessfully to hail one for twenty minutes, along with a dozen competitors at every street corner.

3. Call Safe Ride Home (see above).

4. Ride home with friends. No-go because your friends went home earlier and/or you don’t know how much they had to drink.

5. Call and wake husband for ride. For this to work, he’d have to leave your young sleeping children home alone to come get you.

6. Walk home, with 911 punched into cell phone and groin kick ready. Check.

III. Exposition: West Freaking Philadelphia

That’s where I learned to walk down the middle of the street at night. “Stay right on the stripes,” my college classmate Delia said, initiating me into the sorority of You-Better Not-Get-Mugged. She’d grown up in Philly and could tell by my suburban doe-eyes that I needed schooling. “Better to be grazed by a car than assaulted. Bye.”

Delia closed her front door, and I turned to face the eight block walk between her off-campus house and my dorm.

Everything in her neighborhood had changed in the lowering light. Just two hours before, when I’d agreed to join Delia and her 1,000 housemates for an impromptu potluck dinner, her street looked interesting. Exhilarating, even. We’d walked together, (she pushing her bike) past parks and cafes I’d never seen. Cool students kissed in front of iron gates, and carried crisp bags of Chinese takeout. Undergrads breezed in and out of stately stone houses, releasing blasts of R.E.M.

Now the streets were empty. I’d entered Shadow Expo, a convention of dark alcoves and niches. Mugger havens abounded: doorways, the spaces between parked cars, tall fences. All the hip students were indoors, silhouetted against warm yellow windows that were covered in bars.

“I ride to class,” Delia said when we’d first started hanging out. I’d read plenty of news stories about the crime surrounding campus, but now, in the night, my veins pulsed with the feel of it. I made my way to the middle of the road, whispering mea culpas to my mother, who raised me to fear traffic. A trash truck belched by, looking like Paul Bunyon had chucked on it. The driver laid on the horn as he approached me. So did most of the other headlight-flashers I brushed on the way home to my nerd-bird dorm.

IV. Back to the Future

My feet were rock stars in those New Year’s shoes; they didn’t complain about the walk once. That guy was behind me, over on the sidewalk, for five blocks before he veered off in a different direction. At one point in the street, a car snuck up behind me and came too close. It was a silent hybrid that made me jump. Drunks. Then a minivan taxi approached me head-on. I waved vigorously, two parts HEY!!!!! and one part parade princess. The driver U-turned, and the door slid open. “Thank you, thank you,” I said, climbing in. It was warm inside, and there was a TV. I felt like a kid being picked up from a playdate by my dad. Except the allowance in my purse was $20 instead of $1. The driver would get every penny of it, I decided, even though it was a short $5 ride to my house. Twenty instead of five. My first resolution of 2014.

Posted in Learning from Others.

2 Responses

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  1. Reggie says

    Wow, I’m surprised you walked home in heels. My gf is always complaining about her shoes hurting her feet just after being in them for an hour. What brand are they?

  2. the Coconut Girl says

    Hi Reggie, it was the determined feet that made the walk doable in those shoes, ya know! Best wishes.

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