Around town: Walking to work, the long and winding way
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The guy isn't sure if he's quoting Jean-Jacques Rousseau when he says "walking has the pace of thought,'' but he believes it's true, as do I.
"It is my absolutely preferred method of investigating place,'' Will Self says.
I'm hearing him interviewed on National Public Radio. I consider myself a pretty good walker but I'm not in Mr. Self's league. A while ago the British writer "walked" from his home in South London to New York City.
His gimmick was walking from his home to Heathrow Airport, then flying across the Atlantic, landing at JFK, and then walking a dozen miles to reach lower Manhattan. That long, quirky trek opens his new book, "PsychoGeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place.''
"I was traveling the same kind of route, roughly, that tens of thousands of hundreds of millions of people make every year,'' Mr. Self told NPR. "So there's this marvelous sense that one gets of being cut off from the mass of humanity in this very, very simple, very self-directed way. You don't need any equipment. You don't need any fancy accessories. You can just get out of your chair and do it and you're instantly exploring in that way.''
I had no urge to mimic his trip with an amble to Pittsburgh International Airport. It made little sense to risk arrest for walking on Route 60 when there isn't much to see out there. But Mr. Self did make me want, and not for the first time, to walk across my city.
So, for a start yesterday morning, I rode the 16B through the North Side and out of town.
I got off the bus a few minutes shy of 7:30 a.m. in Bellevue's Lincoln Avenue commercial corridor, a community that still works because no planners in the 1950s or '60s tried to "save'' it by tearing down old buildings to start anew.
The sun was nearly up when I crossed the street to the Lincoln Bakery. After dropping 50 cents on a glazed donut -- Krispy Kreme has nothing on the Lincoln Bakery -- I began a sugar-fueled walk south.
In less than 15 minutes, I was on the rusting, 85-year-old bridge that spans Jack's Run and connects Bellevue with the city's Brighton Heights neighborhood. I made the first right down Wilksboro Avenue to check on my favorite footbridge, and found it fenced off. That happened a good six months ago, said a man warming up his car in his driveway. You can't walk down Wilksboro from California to Termon avenues anymore, and repairing the 19th-century steel bridge will take at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars the city doesn't have and won't have anytime soon.
I felt yet another small loss for our city as I headed for Brighton Road. But about 8:10 a.m. I heard my first songbirds and, by then, I had a serious case of porch envy.
I must have passed hundreds of great front porches between Bellevue and Brighton Heights, and the birds made me think almost any one would be a fine place to dawdle when spring blessedly arrives. Our own 19th-century home has a place for a side porch, and we have a 1930s photo showing one there, but for the foreseeable future we have a three-foot drop from a side door to the yard. (Note to self: Start porch fund.)
Around Woods Run, I passed some semi-filled diners. Pittsburghers were waking up with the help of hot coffee and video poker.
Then came the one, long uphill part of my walk, the ascent as I passed Highwood Cemetery, which was by then a couple of miles into my walk. After reaching the apex it was downhill again, and at the corner of Marshall and Brighton I ran into Michael Glass, who runs the Northside Common Ministries. He offered me a ride.
I explained what I was doing and he looked at me like I might have a screw loose, which maybe I do.
At The Breadworks, I stopped for a raisin roll. Outstanding. Five minutes later, I was cutting through Allegheny Commons, the oldest park west of the Alleghenies. I was having coffee in the City Cafe in Market Square by 9:30 a.m.
I'd done roughly five miles, with stops and slight detours, in two hours. I don't know what direction I'll go from here, but I will span the city one day. It's not about smelling the roses. Along some curbs, it's more like empty bottles of Wild Irish Rose.
But it's still a city to get your arms around. You don't need to be Rousseau to see that.
First Published February 5, 2008 12:01 am