Take a walk and ditch the tram

By Nick Dilonardo

Nobody walks in LA as the song “Walking in LA” by the Missing Persons goes, and it is true: as an embodiment of the Southern California lifestyle, transportation is personal, private and perilous.
The Saturday Night Live parody “The Californians” is among countless mockeries of California cliché, including jokes about taking the 110 to the 101, getting off at Mulholland, flipping around to Cahuenga before tracking back down the 405. Our ubiquitous freeways, like the ubiquitous clichés, are part of the Southern California lifestyle. Whether it’s in our four-wheel drive SUV or our little deuce coupe, we get around, but we don’t do it together and we don’t use our feet.

Since returning from study abroad, I’ve gotten back in touch with walking. In cities like London, it’s not a matter of choice whether or not to drive or to walk to your destination. You’re walking, unless you’ve got public transportation to assist, and it’s wonderful. You never have to worry about drinking and driving, or even driving at all. Your commute mutates from bumper to bumper moments of brief acceleration into silent moments behind the pages of a book or paper before you disembark your subway seat.

Our campus is a beautiful place to walk. From our eastern edge’s fields to the mesa overlooking the west lot and Sea World, we are not short on sights to see. Yet how many of us drive everywhere, even down the hill to Starbucks and even cross campus despite our own two feet? There is a normative assumption I’m making, that each of us has healthy two healthy feet, which we all don’t. But for those of us who do, yet act as we don’t, what are we thinking?

NPR’s Audrey Carlsen notes that studies show there are obvious benefits to an active lifestyle, but that there are also benefits for men that me be especially intriguing.

“Okay, we all know that exercise is good for us,” Carlsen writes. “It can reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few benefits. Now researchers say physical activity may also help keep sperm healthy and happy. A study published… in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that how physically active a guy is can affect his total sperm count and sperm concentration.”
Despite these studies linking disease and obesity to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, very few Californians are ever pedestrians. Many Americans sit behind computer screens in cubicles rarely doing anything requiring something even resembling a physical feat. For many, moving at all has become an oddity or a retreat. We go to the gym to lift weights to simulate exertion. We run on treadmills to replicate the experience of actually moving. We even go to “spinning” classes to pretend we are actually bicycling.

Is there anything wrong with going to the gym? Is there something wrong with running on a treadmill? At least they are running, right? But isn’t there something cheap about it? Isn’t there something banal and strange about treating exercise as something to cross off a checklist? Or treating physical activity as a chore to be performed in a sterile, indoor environment? Shouldn’t getting active involve getting out, instead of throwing on sweats, headphones and that face that says “I don’t care what you think of me or how I look because I’m at the gym”?

We Americans treat exercise the same way we do drinking. Instead of a European model of consumption in which alcohol is enjoyed accompanying a meal, perhaps in a round or two of pints in a pub after a long day of work, we treat it as an event to conquer. Like we do with exercise increasingly, transforming it from activities that resemble lifestyle movements like walking, jogging or swimming and into plyometrics and P-90x, it is a binge/purge cycle. We sit all day at work idle, then we go to the gym for an hour perhaps, exhaust ourselves to look good in our underwear, then back home to sit some more. We’re sober during the day, maybe even all week, just to binge on the weekend.

With walking, you can exercise as a lifestyle, as a mode through which you engage your day, rather than as a chore through which you perform your necessary physical activity. With walking, your day changes, as well as the manner in which you experience it. If you are going to walk somewhere, you may need to leave yourself an extra thirty minutes. Racing to your destination behind schedule is no longer a choice, forcing you to plan ahead. Stopping and smelling the roses is no longer a suggestion; it becomes a necessity.

In a microwave society, very few of us in Southern California choose to take a walk. It’s time to start. Try it. And start by skipping the tram.