Of all the Millennials I’ve thus far met on the road, only half of them own cars. At best. It’s not surprising, really. Car ownership in America has rarely been more costly. A recent AAA study revealed that the average American will plunk down anywhere between $7,000 and $11,000 to keep their vehicle on the road for a year. This figure includes fuel, insurance, and general repairs, and it’s comparable to what I paid in rent last year.
So how are these Millennials dragging their carcasses from place to place, one might ask. I’ve found several answers. The more intrepid ones have strapped on helmets and taken to road with bikes plucked from Craigslist. Those lucky enough to have it are learning how to use their local public transportation. But far and away, most Millennials I’ve met are embracing man’s most primordial mode of movement. A mode so archaic and agonizing, we’ve been cranking out technology that allows us to avoid it altogether.
Yes; putting on comfortable shoes and using your lower extremities to go from Point A to Point B. And make no mistake, walking is not without peril. You may show up at the office with a sweatstained shirt, or worse, road slush splashed on your brand new Clarks shoes. You might be forced to vocally interact with a total stranger, handing out directions or a pocketful of change. A pigeon could shit on your head. (This happened to me in Los Angeles.) But still, walking is simple, cost-effective, and a good workout. Especially when you consider that last year, the average American walked only 5,117 steps. That’s less than three miles.
Taking buses around the country, on a modestly budgeted trip, I’ve had a chance to get acquainted with walking in wider America. You see, growing up in New England doesn’t begin to give you an accurate picture of the obstacles faced by pedestrians in other parts of the country. Everything is relatively closeby, most towns still have their downtown districts preserved from olden times, and with respect to Boston’s subway system, the public transit is far-reaching and affordable.
This picture does not reflect the limited walking options available to most Americans. And recently, I got a taste of those limited options when I spent a night in Amarillo, Texas.
I elected to stay in Amarillo because it would mean not taking a 16 hour bus ride from Denver to Dallas. (I also noticed on a map that there was a Wingstop right down the road from the motel I would most likely book.) So between the prospect of an air-conditioned room and wolfing down an order of parmesan-garlic chicken strips, I was looking forward to my brief sojourn in Amarillo. That is, until I arrived.
There were two distinguishing features of Amarillo: dilapidated one-story houses, and endless fast food restaurants. There was hardly anything resembling a downtown hub, or a park. Even at 6 PM, it was a skin-crackling 107 degrees and every inch of land was parched.
My motel was 1.5 miles away from the bus station, which – in spite of the heat – seemed an agreeable way to stretch the hamstrings after seven hours on a glorified cattle car. So I shouldered my backpack and began the journey. Within five minutes, my entire shirt was dripping with perspiration and probably transparent. I was just settling into my stride when I noticed that the sidewalk had disappeared beneath my feet. The only refuge from the road was walking across the front lawns of various houses, which I resorted to, stepping alertly and hoping not to be shot. (This happens with some regularity in Texas.)
I had been walking for about twenty minutes when an enormous bloodhound tore out a dumpy looking doghouse and charged the fence that separated us. It crashed against the chain links, howling and yapping, gobs of spittle splattering from its jaws. My heart was booming and I took off as fast as possible. But it was too late. From every yard, came the barking and jangling collars of angry dogs, trained to alert their owners to the presence of unsavory characters by having a spastic meltdown. I tried not to make eye contact with any of the outraged canines – Dalmatians, Pitbulls, Chihuahuas, Rottweilers, you name it – and moved along quickly. Thankfully, all of them were fenced away from the street. For a moment, I wondered if perhaps they weren’t angry, but excited, or desperate. “Hey you, with the backpack and smelly clothes! Take me away from Amarillo! Please! My dog hutch is a rusted Camaro body! I found eight roaches in my water bowl this morning! C’mon buddy, please!” Either way, I didn’t feel like sticking around long enough to test this theory.
According to my map, I was only five minutes from the motel. But when I emerged from the residential block, I was confronted by the most imposing obstacle yet. A roaring river of freeway lanes and railroad tracks stood between me and the motel. I could see it there, waiting on the other side of the traffic. But the only way across was a highway overpass upon which Mack trucks and SUVs barreled at breakneck speeds. There was about 15 inches of shoulder space at best. For a few contemplative moments, I toyed with sprinting across. Then I realized doing so would be insane, if not suicidal. So – unwilling to risk my life for a night at the Red Roof Inn – I began walking further south, searching for a safer path across the highway.
By the time I finally found a road that dipped beneath the traffic, it was 7:30 PM. I had walked over three miles from the bus station, and was severely dehydrated. In a fit of madness that I’m embarrassed to even reflect upon, I pushed through the final leg of my journey, cutting through graveyards, dodging lanes of hostile traffic, enduring more barking dogs, or hopping fences and dashing across light industry properties. At one point, I’m pretty sure I stumbled through the garage of a factory producing plexiglass marquees for Starbucks and Fatburger stores. It would have been more interesting had I not been filthy, mentally fried, and in desperate need of a caloric dinner.
I finally stomped into the motel at 8:15 PM. I brandished my license, received my room keys, and dropped my luggage. Not even bothering to pull off my clothes, I headed straight for the pool and flopped in. This was a mistake. The water was sickly warm, no doubt boiling under the Amarillo sun all day. Sputtering, I pulled myself out and headed back to my room. I spent the rest of the night pushing chicken fingers into my face and watching the great John Hughes travel comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, as if to remind myself, “At least you haven’t been robbed, electrocuted, or picked up by your testicles yet.”