Here’s the thing: I walk faster than God. I am from New York, and we are a walking people, but even New Yorkers can’t keep up. Midwesterners barely realize what’s happening as I weave through their molassal sidewalk clumps. Mostly people find me freakish. And by that I mean, I get commentary.
I get four types of commentary. Friends, women and men: “I saw you on the street and tried to wave, but you were already on the next block!” (They recognize me in the blur of movement because I usually have a good hat.)
New friends or acquaintances, usually women: “Thank god, you’re the only one I don’t have to slow down with.” We speed and chatter and become better friends. *
Strangers, invariably black men, often older: Laughter and remarks, variants of, “Where’s the fire?!”, or sometimes just an astonished, “Damn.” These ones are my favorite. There are few regular occurrences that improve my day as much as unexpectedly having an occasion to joke around with strangers, which is why I have the best name in the world.
Acquaintances, invariably younger white guys — and this is not the gender-neutral form of guys: Competition.
They’ll hear me or someone else mention that I walk fast, and they’ll immediately respond, “I bet I can beat you to the end of the block.” Which, I bet you can; your legs are longer and I’m not a runner and it’s just that my natural gait happens to be faster than anyone’s I’ve ever met. But, dude, I find it remarkably self-revealing that this is your reaction, because I notice that it’s not that you’re like me and have a self-identity built partly on walking faster than a hungry hippo, which could justify a certain amount of defensiveness. Or even that you desire a friendly competition, in which we shit-talk each other’s walk and race and then feel fondly toward one another because what bonds you like a mutual shit-talk? Those things I would understand.
But no. That’s not what’s going on. All evidence suggests that, although you have no particular investment in walking fast, nevertheless, the idea that this woman walks faster than you offends you. You must show her up. Well.
I fly a lot through Detroit**, and this occasions a long walk in their crazy neon-lit tunnel between terminals. My airport principle is that you avoid the moving sidewalk because people are not well socialized to place themselves in such a way that you can get around them, so it’s faster to walk alongside where you have more room to maneuver.
So recently I’m strolling through that tunnel and out of the corner of my eye I see this 20-something white guy walking slowly on the moving sidewalk do a double take as I come up alongside and then pass him. And then I see him speed up.
Now, normally I do not engage these races, but something about this dude, or the neon, or the lingering resentment from having earlier had to interact with the TSA brought it out in me. So I sped up, subtly, at first. And he sped up. And then I did some more.
And we got to be moving very fast, him on the sidewalk with his head turning to stare at me, and me next to him and just ahead, much faster than I usually stroll but maintaining my stroll gait (you should feel like you’re loping) and gazing around at all the pretty lights, and this went on for quite some while before the tunnel was over. I pulled through the end (I also have walking stamina); I stepped out a few feet ahead of him and onto the escalator that carries me to my Vino Volo, where everybody knows my name and I’m always glad I came. And I never once looked at him.
Yeah, I’m fast.
* Shout-out to the guy who spent our walk analyzing why I am so fast. His take? My hips are super-twisty, which lengthens my stride and generates momentum. This seems plausible because I definitely do generate an unusual amount of momentum when I walk. I know this because when I walk with very slow people (sorry, Emily), my options are to exhaust myself walking slowly — which I presume means I’m walking in a very different way, ’cause that shit is tiring — or to direct the momentum upward instead of forward. So I bounce.
Also, can I just say that everyone makes fun of my crazy heavy backpack in which I carry everything I own (“Are you… going on an adventure?”) and which gives me an unfortunate resemblance to a fourth grader, but just imagine how much trouble we’d have walking together if I didn’t handicap myself. I’m doing this for you.
** My layover choices are unusually sensitive to the presence of a Vino Volo.