When Did People Forget They Could Walk?

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In high school, a classmate told me that she drove to school everyday.

"I walk," I responded. "I live just down the street."
"Oh, me too," she said, laughing. "But I still drive. I'm lazy." I chuckled politely and silently judged her. She had two legs. They seemed to be working fine. The problem must be in her brain.

Granted, I didn't have a car, so perhaps I didn't deserve credit for my brilliant decision to walk. But driving to school made no sense. To drive from where she and I lived, she'd have to

  1. Back out of the driveway
  2. Head out of the cul-de-sac
  3. Drive on the highway for a whopping 50 feet
  4. Turn into the school parking lot
  5. Wait in line with the other cars driven by yet more insane people who lived nearby
  6. Find parking in a really crowded parking lot
Meanwhile, walking meant she'd have to
  1. Walk halfway down the block
  2. Take a shortcut that leads straight to the school

She was putting an awful lot of effort into her laziness.

I don't live in Illinois anymore. I live in New York, where everyone walks. If something is less than a half hour's walk away, New Yorkers will usually go on foot. (Unless they're running late, which is most of the time. Then they'll take the subway.)

But whenever I leave the city, I'm struck by how little people who can walk seem to be aware that they have legs. And it's not just my impression; National Geographic's 2012 "Greedex" survey found that only 34 percent of American often walk or ride bikes to their destinations. Out of the 17 countries surveyed, Americans came in last for walking. People pay hundreds or even thousands to go to the gym, but they avoid the light exercise that's already built into their schedules.

Even people who like physical activity avoid walking in their daily lives. When I visited my family in Illinois recently, I made a haircut appointment at a salon a mile or two away.

"How is it out?" I asked my dad on the day of said haircut.
"It's fine. Why?" Then a realization hit him. "Wait. Wait, are you thinking about WALKING to your haircut?"

He looked at me like the thought of walking 30 minutes had never occurred to him, despite that it had just occurred to him. To be fair, suburbs like mine aren't really designed for walking, but it's hardly impossible to get around on foot. Besides, my dad cycled through Europe. When did he, the girl from high school, and so many other people outside of New York forget they could use their legs to get from place to place? Walking is free. It's easy. It's pain-free exercise. It helps the planet. It's, well, human.

people crossing crosswalk in manhattan

© View Apart/Shutterstock

This is the point in the article where I'd normally come up with some sort of answer, preferably one that gently sheds golden, universal truths onto the internet. But frankly, I am just as baffled now as I was in high school.

If you are physically unable to walk, or live somewhere without sidewalks, or are lugging around groceries, or have a terrible fear of crosswalks, then I can understand. But what about people with no real reason? In the infamous words of Jerry Seinfeld, what's the deal?

Really, I'd like to know what YOU think. Do you have any theories that could pull me out of this pothole of confusion? Do you drive everywhere? Do you know someone who does? Did Henry Ford convince people that walking causes cholera or something? Let me know in the comments below.