I live in the suburbs. That's not such a terrible thing, not half as bad as some people make it out to be. It's not for some people, sure, but when you grow up way out in the sticks like I did, spending each year wondering if this is going to be the one the farm goes under, this life can seem like a little slice of heaven. Three acres of nothing but grass and trees, beer in the fridge, a regular job, and the most beautiful baby girl in the world. Me and the wife, we've got another one coming in about six months or so.
There's one thing about the suburbs, though, one thing you can't help but notice. You can't walk anywhere. That's what makes them suburbs. Old farmboy like me, I wouldn't even keep the car around, except you need it, you've got to drive to go anywhere.
That's why I can't help but notice the Walking Man.
First time I saw the Walking Man, I was driving home from work. He was walking along the shoulder of the Interstate, calm as a man taking a stroll in the park. First thing I thought was that he'd had a breakdown, but then I saw, out of the corner of my eye as I was going past, that he had a bedroll up on his shoulder. Now fancy that. Back during the Depression, when I was a kid, we'd had plenty of hobos pass through. But we lived a few miles off a freight line. Who ever heard of a hobo, just walking down the highway?
The next time I saw the Walking Man was maybe three days later, maybe four. I was talking Jean to the doctor's, just a check up to see how the baby was coming (this was the first one, mind you, 'cause this all happened a while back). When we were getting out of the car, I saw the Walking Man, sacked out in the field out across from the parking lot. He'd had a little camp fire going earlier, it looked like, but now it was out, and he was cold asleep. I thought about saying something to Jean, but what's there to say, in a situation like that?
Now the thing of it is this. From that spot along the insterstate where I saw the Walking Man first, to that field out by the doctor's parking lot, that'd take me maybe 45 minutes to drive in my old Ford. But for the Walking Man, that was three days of hard walking, road dust in your mouth, and probably your feet sore as hell the whole time. It's something you hardly ever consider. But I know that when I was a kid, thinking about that distance, it would seem a lot more like three days worth of distance, a lot more than part of an hour's worth.
I saw the Walking Man again the next day. I was coming home from work again. A little further down the road, of course. He was just walking along the shoulder again, just a fellow out for an evening stroll. This time I slowed down, pulled over to him, rolled my window down.
"Hey there! Where you walking to, anyhow? You need a lift part of the way?"
"Thank you sir, thank you kindly. But I haven't got any special place in mind, so I might as well just get there in my own time."
And so I pulled off. Never saw him again. Some people, I guess, some people, they just have to walk.
The Road Ahead