As a girl in my teens, I thought nothing of walking miles from my home up into the Santa Monica Mountains and down along a mossy creek to the ocean. My friends and I often packed a lunch and were gone for six or seven hours.
After reaching the beach, we would walk through Santa Monica Canyon and up to the tree-lined suburban streets we called home. The round trip was maybe 10 miles. We made the journey with our parents’ approval. It was a time – the 1960s – when fear of kidnapping and murder was not as omnipresent as it is today.
In the decades that followed, I swam for exercise more than I walked. Lately, though, partly in a personal bid to use my car less as the world wrestles with climate change, I have taken up walking again in San Francisco, the city that has been my home for more than three decades. Usually, I start out just before dawn, heading for my Bay swim club.
By the time I return home, I have walked three miles – some of my sojourn past stately apartment houses in Pacific Heights and the rest of it along Polk Street, a mix of older shops and the newer ones that cater to the well-to-do young people who frequent the street’s coffee cafes, bars, beauty salons and fitness gyms.
In the early morning hours, I watch the city wake up all around me. People walk dogs. Garbage trucks grind up and down the streets. Buses, not yet crowded with passengers, rumble by. Cafes begin opening, putting their metal tables and chairs out on the sidewalk and selling their pastries and coffees. There is a certain calm that comes from watching these acts repeated every day at the same time. It is almost like sitting in the theater and watching as the curtain rises on the first act of a play.
To be honest, though, walking is not all wonderful. There is boredom to be conquered, and I do that sometimes by making up fantasies about what I see. These tales are a pale shadow of Dr. Seuss’ fabulous children’s book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”
Of all the streets and buildings I pass, I find the palatial entrances to apartment houses along Broadway and adjacent streets particularly well suited as props for my fanciful dreaming. Several look like sets for a “Thin Man” movie – with a doorman, marble steps and ornate ironwork covering their glass front doors.
It would be more productive, surely, to abandon my fictional games and occupy myself by using my phone to listen to NPR’s report on the world’s doings. Of late, however, I find I must flee into my fantasy-tinged walking world where there is no President-elect Donald Trump, no terrorism, no climate change, no wars and no poverty.
Would it were so.
Susan Sward is a freelance writer in San Francisco. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.