By Matt Homer
Eight weeks. That is my streak. I have walked every day, apart from the few days I went to Virginia for EB’s wedding, for eight weeks or 70 days. Seventy sounds better than eight, right? Being 40 and slightly overweight, I have needed it, and it feels good. Physically and mentally.
I really needed to go yesterday. My son was freaking out over a broken phone. He is 13. I really wanted to order a Fitbit for my walks. Yeah, he is 13. My daughter was yelling at her brother because he, while looking for his broken phone, pulled out all of the hidden clutter under her bed in the room she was supposed to be cleaning. My youngest was screaming because, well, I really do not know why. Perhaps, she was feeling left out of the chorus of chaos. I could not get out of the door fast enough.
I have a routine. Routines are good, especially for me. I clear my head, listen to an audiobook or music, and hit the reset button. I like my walks. My routine includes my route — 2.5 miles north on Highway 37 and 2.5 miles back. It is a good routine. I can walk 2.5 miles and be stranded, or I can walk 5 miles and make it back home. Life hack.
Yesterday, I decided to go beyond my boundary, the intersection of Highway 37 and Highway 900. I crossed over into uncharted territory for this pedestrian. Sunglasses on, AirPods in, and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow playing in my ears. Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
It all feels very poetic in the moment. I am an INFP; everything is romantic, big, and idealistic. How can it not be? It is Alexander Hamilton. To make it even more inspiring sometimes, I oscillate between the book and Hamilton, the musical soundtrack. “History Has Its Eyes On You,” “My Shot,” “Guns and Ships,” and all of that. I am a fan.
I am in my own little world when I look up and see a shirtless and shoeless man waving his arms like there is a fire. Big waves, like he is trying to flag me down. I cannot hear him. I am captivated with the “Reynold’s Pamphlet” now. I cannot see him well either. He is standing behind an old vehicle that is surrounded by a mini compound of dilapidated travel trailers. I don’t think I’ve done anything offensive. Have I?
Can’t this guy see my armor? Sunglasses? Check. AirPods? Check. Oh, I forgot to mention my bandanna. I think it looks cool. My children disagreed when I wore it like a headband to dinner. To be fair, I needed a haircut. It did look cool. Anyway. Headband? Check.
So much for new horizons and expanding my route. I have a routine. It feels good. I slow my pace, wave, and keep walking. I honestly don’t know if he is upset or unwell. I have never been here on foot. I am a bit nervous. I put my head down, walk a bit further, turn around, and head toward home. I know I must pass the man again; I can see the trailers as I crest the hill.
Now, he is walking up the drive; he is still waving, but this time I can see his smile. I stop. I am on the opposite side of the highway and take out one AirPod. What is all the fuss is about, I wonder.
He smiles as he picks up debris left from a bad storm a few nights ago and asks, “How is the walking thing going? I used to walk all the time.”
I smile. I take my other AirPod out while commenting, “It is going good. I try for 5 miles a day. It really helps me clear my head, it’s my routine, but I have never ventured up this far.”
He throws a stick on his pile of debris and tells me, “I used to walk. I really love it too, but I broke my back and a couple of ribs, and I have not been able to go.”
I know my feet stutter forward as I say glibly, “That’s tough, man. Maybe walking would help you.”
I do not mean to be moving away, but I am an introvert. I am not thinking about this man at the moment; it is getting dark and I have miles to go before I get home. We talk a minute, and I wave goodbye. He is still smiling and waving again, and he is walking in the same direction as I am as he picks up sticks. He says something else that I cannot quite make out.
No sooner than I get back to my normal route, I am flooded with thoughts of this man. I did not get his name. Why was he smiling when he is obviously having a rough time. A broken back. Wow. I thought the screaming was bad before I left home. I wonder if he has health insurance. The storm had to be rough in that trailer. Does it leak? Why was he waving so furiously just to talk to me? I can be a real jerk.
He is not unwell; he is overwhelmed too, and he cannot go on a walk, but he can talk to a fellow walker.
I do not know how he is voting. I do not know how he feels about masks. I do know he likes to walk, but he cannot. I know he has a big smile and wanted to talk to an armor-clad stranger who prefers living in his head.
I am glad I ventured beyond the intersection of Highway 37 and Highway 900. I look forward to doing it again. I turn off my audiobook. Sorry, Alexander. I turn on some music (Essentials Dad Rock playlist), and I smile.
Thanks, mister. If there is a next time, I will be a better human.
Photo by Matt Homer
Matt Homer is a former pastor, congressional staffer, political operative who worked on both the 2016 Trump campaign and the 2012 Romney campaign, elected political official in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, and lobbyist.