Jan. 28, 2019 In baseball, I was the walk master, a profane runt with an oversized uniform held up with safety pins. The coach’s pack of Chesterfields was larger than my strike zone. My strategy was simple. Grip the oversized Eddie Matthews bat, crouch down and wait for the inevitable walk. My teammates would be chanting, “walks as good as it hit, walks as good as it hit”. The opposition would scream, “Swing batter batter, batter, batter, batter. Swing batterbatterbatterbatter”. They got into it. I once heard an opposing coach say “swing the fucking bat”. I didn’t care. A free pass got me on base where I could antagonize all the infielders as I scuffled around to eventually score.
I started walking sometime in 1953. My mother was understated with the accolades. There weren’t miniature caps, gowns and Instagrams in those days. Mom realized that my mobility was not a good thing for her household.
I walked everywhere. We lived on a looping drive. Neighbors were visited on a candy begging route. There was a small commerce strip nearby. By six years old I was nicking quarters and heading over to the Mario’s Bakery for crème doughnuts. At 4:00 one morning, I walked to the A&P store and stole a watermelon from the pile kept outside. Just a 10-year-old lugging a stolen melon in the dawning of the day.
I ran away at eleven. Actually, I walked away. With my mom’s oversight, I loaded a small suitcase with some socks. I walked into the woods, sat on the suitcase and waited to be retrieved. Darkness arrived and I walked home. There was no warm welcome.
I walked to Trenton, New Jersey to buy a pair of Converse All-Stars when I was twelve. Ten miles round-trip through neighborhoods where you only dared look at the gum stuck to the sidewalk. Why ask permission when you can just give yourself a free pass?
Life has been defined by great walks. I walked the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River four times. I walked down the aisle with Allison and I would do it again every day. On a frigid January weekend, I walked up Mount Jefferson with my friend Tim. The ice was thick and blue, dotted with scarlet bits of moss. We used crampons and ice axes for grip and stability. Walking on steep ice was the most improbable and liberating experience of my life.
When my car wouldn’t start I walked. When I was troubled or angry I walked. When snow fell like a hissing blanket I walked. I walked with backpacks, suitcases, and torn shopping bags. I once walked a mile across a sagebrush flat with three 10 foot sections of drilling rod on my shoulder. Gnats bombed my face and filled my ears and nostrils. I never put that hot iron down.
I’m walking less. And it’s not really walking. It’s a hybrid, clawing at chairs and countertops; leaning on walls; and holding on for dear life. I refer to my walker as “the trusty steed”, like I’m the fucking Lone Ranger. Others have a three drink limit. I have a three step limit. Assistance is needed beyond that. Within four weeks it will be zero steps. I just know these things. But I have walked enough and seen enough to have little regret. I’m kinda glad I never swung at the pitch. A walk’s as good as a hit.