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Walking Beyond Strangeness
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How many cities have I lived in? I guess it depends on what you call a city., I grew up in a small burg of less than three thousand souls in the proper confines of the canton. From the point of view of my upbringing, a city is any organized human habitation where you can’t walk the full perimeter and interior of the place.

Of course, in the USA, we have deliberately organized many human clusters so that walking is at best difficult and unpleasant, and in many cases impossible. This is a point of reflection: our enmity to bipeds using their most fundamental, and arguably, their most satisfying form of transportation. Literally the most grounded, walking provides a perspective and point of view that is not replicable. One might make an argument for bicycles, since we are still using our two feet, and the choice to go slow enough so that we don’t miss everything worth seeing. Still, I think walking trumps all, in its humbling and pedestrian point of view.

San Francisco is one of the few cities I have lived in that is not strange. Because like in my hometown, you can walk everywhere worth going. I know, I did it, long ago. I lived in San Francisco for six years, and never had a car. Granted, the MUNI fleet with trolleys, street cars, buses and cable cars ran parallel and perpendicular every two blocks, spoiling you with the capacity to whiz off anywhere for the nominal price of a monthly pass, a small price for a magic carpet.

Still, I did a good deal of walking, just to be surprised. As you crested a well won mountainous hill with panting breath, so often you would be greeted with a vista you had never seen before. A view of the bay and its great bridges, the island of Alcatraz, a set of yet another 100 steps up a semi-feral hill, or a gaudily painted rows of Victorian houses that looked like a tribute to the art of house painting or some kind of outdoor museum. You could walk to and about the great park of the Golden Gate, with horsed policemen, buffalo, serene ponds, seemingly vast thickets, immense expanses of grass, accented near the end by the Polo Field which is so immense it once hosted a visit from the Pope with crowd of 100,000 or so. At the end of the park, on the paved paths that gave such generous invitation to either biker or walker, you celebrated the end of your adventure with an eye up to the windmill, and an embrace of the sea, as the cadence of its surf so also embraced you.

Further adventures awaited if you had the stamina. You could go south, along the endless beach. But very often, I chose to go north, and then back east, towards what they called Land’s End, because it was. A promontory where you could see that you were at the one of the continent’s furthest edges, and from your elevated view, look across to other rugged and uplifted points that were also furthest edges. Yes, San Francisco is a city where you can still be in the city while you are getting away from it. From where I lived, in the hill above the end of Market Street, I could go directly into the belly of the beast too and sometimes I did. But in a city where you are always surrounded by the throng, it was so magnificent to be able to get away, just by virtue of legs and feet in motion.

Other cities I have habituated, I must admit, are very strange indeed. From a “town” of 25,000 in southwestern Oklahoma, to Anchorage in Alaska, to Wilmington in Delaware, to even Cocoa Beach on Florida’s Space Coast, none afford the combination of beauty and walk-ability that my hometown, or San Francisco gave to me. Of course, these other places do have their virtues. Anchorage, in particular, like San Francisco perches on the cliff edge of literal and figurative frontiers. Yes, there too, I could walk to places that took me seemingly thousands of miles from any touch of human interventions, even though, as I looked out at the far mountains from the promontory of the train trestle above the strange and perilous waters of the Cook Inlet, the entire city was at my back awaiting my return.

And that is my point of reflection, no matter how strange cities are, I have always returned to them. Apparently, I am still looking for something within their strange frontiers. Can I once again put one foot in front of the other?

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