So I walk. I walk to the metro station, I walk to the grocery shop, and I walk to the ruddy archive. I like to walk. It is my transportation of preference at home too. But the experience of walking is slightly different here than at home. As long as you’re in the city, you’re fine. D.C. is a pedestrian’s city in many respects (one-way streets, parking challenges and an easily navigatable metro system being excellent reasons for leaving your car at home). It’s when you stray out of city limits you face the real problems.
First of all – the roads are so much bigger than at home (I’ve yet to see one that in Norway wouldn’t be defined as “highway”...), and everything is adjusted to the driver’s need, not the pedestrians’. Pedestrian crossings are few, they are only occasionally regulated by lights, and if so, these lights only stop traffic for a few seconds. I walk relatively fast, but more than once I’ve found it difficult to cross the street on time. I wonder how an old lady with a cane would manage?
Secondly, when walking you’re free game. It appears that the drivers consider me part of the roadside entertainment. At home, I have never, ever, been honked at. Ever. Here, it appears that is common. Am I wearing a bumper sticker that says “Honk if you’re horny?” No! And yes, I did notice that you checked my “bumper” just to make sure… I don’t know if it is my striking beauty and obvious charm, but I have a feeling that it’s not. Just because I’m there, walking, doesn’t mean you have to eat me up with your eyes!
Some don’t even stop there. Again, at home I have never been randomly offered a ride from a stranger (unless you count the time I was eight... It sounds worse than it is. Long story...)*. Here, it happened three times during my first month. How stupid do they think I am? I might be blond and blue-eyed, I might look (and be) naïve, but seriously – I don’t accept rides from strangers! I could have been walking with broken legs and a concussion, and I would still have turned down the offer to take a ride from a stranger. (Call it Norwegian tight-assedness, call it healthy scepticism, call it a principle. Not gonna affect my firm belief that I am safer sticking to it as a rule.)
Finally, (and I realize this isn’t a U.S. thing – this is more a me-thing,) when you’re walking carrying your camera (which I have been doing a lot – my camera having been my tool of choice for my archive work, and when I’ve been touristing about I also brought it along), you stand at risk of creating the strangest situations. I have mentioned some already (my SWAT encounter, my near-death tree photographic episode and of course the squirrels, the show-offs). But in addition, let me tell you a little story. This happened about a month ago, when I was, as usual, walking home from the archive. It was a beautiful day – the sun was about to set, but it was still light out. Suddenly I saw a big bird sitting at the top of a building. It looked an awful lot like an owl, but since it was daytime, I doubted this could be it. Cautiously, I approached it, camera ready. When I got close enough to see that, yes, it definitely was an owl, I snapped a shot just to make sure I had this documented. As the bird did not appear to be scared at all, however, I went even closer to get a better shot.
This was when I realized why it didn’t move. It was made of plastic.
Needless to say, I put my camera back in my bag and left quite quickly. The owl, I believe, is still there.
* Just because I know someone or other is bound to ask... When I was eight years old, I was accidentally abducted by a misguided bureaucrat. This was May 17th (Norway’s Constitutional Day, in case you haven’t been at the receiving end of my propagandic raving about it before), and a TV-team wanted an interview with the little girl who had held the traditional speech at City Hall (yes, I held speeches at age eight. Don’t even get me started at my career in public speaking. That definitely merits a post of its own sometime...). My kidnapper, who worked for the local municipality, was just doing his job, but he chose a very bad way of doing it. He basically tracked me down in the children’s parade, told me I would get to be on TV if I came with him, and since I was eight and didn’t know better, I did. When my teacher turned around to find me gone, she asked my classmates what had happened. I am fairly sure the reply “she went with a man in a car” didn’t make her feel too happy, but apart from the simultaneous near-heart attacks of her, my mom and my dad, nothing bad happened that day. I have, however, learned better since.