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Ben Werdmuller

Open morning pages: why did the chicken cross the road?

5 min read

I try and walk seven miles a day. Some days I succeed, or even go over; some days, or weeks, I fail miserably. Last week was so-so, and for the last month I've averaged a little over five miles a day.

That sounds like failure until you compare it to the previous month, which was a little over four miles a day. In other words, if you take the long view, I'm actually getting closer and closer to my goal, even if the short-term view doesn't look as rosy.

Of course, you could ask why I don't just walk seven miles a day, no matter what. It's just seven miles. This is fair criticism, but I don't just want to walk seven miles a day for the next month; I want it to be a structural part of my lifestyle, and it takes time to become a real, enduring habit. Also: I run a startup, and have other things in my life, and shit keeps coming up. Or at least, that's what I tell myself. It's okay to fail to hit my goal on one day, as long as the trend continues towards success.

Walking has always been a part of my life. When I lived in Oxford, at least for the period when I lived by myself, I'd go on sweeping walks that would circle the city. A few miles into town, via the University Parks cycle path, up through Jericho and Port Meadow (still Britain's largest area of common land), then across and up through the schmancy North Oxford neighborhoods, admiring the big houses and the beautiful gardens, and finally down the Marston Ferry Road and home.

Walking calms me down, and I find it useful for processing whatever's going on in my life.

I've found the kind of walking I like to do less possible here, although the Berkeley hills do work well for this kind of uninterrupted strolling. But in general, I find that my urban walking is full of interruptions. And here's a confession: I'm scared of jaywalking.

Jaywalking isn't a thing in most other places. When I was back in the UK for a while last December, I switched back quickly to the idea of using my own skill and judgment to decide when crossing the road was okay. It meant there were fewer stops; I walked more continuously. I also didn't die. It's how I've walked around cities for most of my life.

I understand why jaywalking is policed here; whereas British urban roads are tributaries that you can more or less hop across, American roads are often raging, wide rivers. American drivers, at least in this part of the country, are much more considerate towards pedestrians than British drivers are, but nontheless, the roads are bigger - and cars are more structurally important.

The police are also orders of magnitude more scary (they keep shooting black people, for one thing). So I stop when the sign tells me to stop, and walk when the sign tells me to walk. The only other place I've seen people do this so obediently is Germany, and I'm pretty sure the Germans are less ardent pedestrian rule followers than the Americans. (Of course, the big difference is that Germany is culturally a very orderly society, whereas American cops are just shit-scary.)

I'm not so much into cars. I drive a hand-me-down 1996 Dodge Caravan, which is pushing 275,000 miles (and gets pretty great mileage). The air condititoning doesn't work right now, which doesn't turn out to be a big problem in the Bay Area, also because I hardly ever use it: if I can, I'll walk or take public transport. I have a Trader Joe a few blocks away from me, and a fantastic fresh vegetable market a few blocks more. There's a convenient bus into work (although I want to have an office I can walk to again). The only routes I ever really drive are between Berkeley and Santa Rosa, every week or so, and into the hills or the coast to go hiking, and I resent the lack of easy, public ways to do those, too.

I don't understand why cars are interesting, which is probably an odd thing for someone who spends so much of his life fascinated by machines to say. It is freedom to be able to jump into the driver's seat and zoom off in some direction, particularly when there are so many amazing hikes in the vicinity. And it's still worth it for me to have one, because renting a ZipCar, say, on overnight trips is much more expensive. I guess I'm looking forward to a time when there are communal electric cars that we can just pick up and use for the duration of a one-way trip, a bit like car2go in Portland or Austin. And it would be nice if those were public infrastructure, too.

Meanwhile: seven miles a day. My cold is still in full force, so maybe I'll take it easy. Or maybe I'll take myself out for some fresh air anyway, climb up into the hills, and watch the light bounce off all the cars on the bridge.