About 10 weeks ago, I became a man on a mission. I decided, come rain or shine (an easy promise given that it rains about 3 teaspoons a year here in San Diego), I would take a vigorous walk for a full hour each day. It turns out that at the pace I walk, I end up putting in a bit over 3 miles in that hour.
I became motivated by a visit to a cardiologist after I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, which means that occasionally (turns out to be very occasionally) I get rapid and irregular heartbeats. It’s one of those conditions where the doctor tries to be reassuring and threatening at the same time. “Lots of people have it, and we’re not sure what causes it exactly, and by itself it’s not particularly harmful, except that it could possibly cause a stroke that could kill you.”
Huh. Well one symptom it causes is that I’m suddenly aware that there are dozens of TV commercials for medications for people with A-fib (mostly blood thinners) that show people my age being happy, healthy, and active while the voice-over cheerfully recounts the dangers of A-fib and the equally damaging potential side effects of the wonder drug they are hawking. I never noticed these ads before.
So, to stop the stroke that I might get if I continue to have fits of A-fib which might or might not happen, doc wants me to reduce caffeine intake (to 8 ounces daily), my beer consumption to no more than one a day, and to increase exercise.
Eight ounces of coffee is not even enough to start my heart in the morning. I have a 20 ounce cup of coffee from Starbucks every morning and 0 caffeine the rest of the day. To ease into the reduction, I now ask for “room for crème” when they remember to ask. I figure that cuts two to three ounces. Hey, it’s a start. I’ve cut my beer consumption by about 20%, and I figure I’ll get to his limit around the time it just becomes too hard to get out of my chair to get a second one in the evening.
So as much as I tend to respect authority figures, I refuse to let them take away my reasons for living. To paraphrase Mark Twain, it’s important to cultivate some bad habits so you’ve got something to give up when you contract something really serious.
However, I have embraced “the walk.” It is one of my favorite times of the day. Because I have a high tolerance for boredom, I take virtually the same walk every day. I drop down from my street into a nearby neighborhood and fall into a loop that my wife and I discovered years ago, and make that circuit five times. I return home sweaty and feeling self-righteous. It is often the hour that goes by the fastest every day.
There are a multitude of things that keep it from being the “same walk every day.” Knowing that the sidewalk and street is banked, I decided one day to reverse course after three laps and walk the route in the opposite way. I discovered it was (for a while) an entirely different walk! Nothing looked the same. All of my familiar markers were gone. I nearly missed one of the turns because everything looked so different.
And then there are the people.
I have walked as early as 4:30 AM (insomnia is a great way to get an early start) and as late as 10 PM and everywhere in between, and I’ve discovered my route has patterns and rhythms that are as compulsive as I am. At that early morning hour, the soul of the street is dead. I was completely alone for a full hour and missed the camaraderie of the people I’ve come to know.
I’ve begun to feel like the unofficial mayor of “the loop.” People I don’t know smile and wave at me as they drive by. A nice, retired couple that I have spoken with several times asked if I’d “keep an eye on the house” for them when they were leaving on a long RV vacation. I helped calm some commotion at one end of the street when a lady discovered a snake peeking its head from a lawn drain and was frantically keeping people away. I took a look at it and reassured her it was a harmless king snake and nothing to worry about (sure hope I was right). I’ve stopped to help a lady load up a file cabinet into her truck and then guided someone who was having some trouble parallel parking a gigantic truck.
Over time, some individuals are becoming more distinct to me. Since summer hit, I miss the harried parents who are stuffing their children into the car to get them to school. The kids are amazingly friendly and enjoy greeting me and clearly have not been taught about the dangers of talking to strange men. If I walk a little later in the morning, I am likely to see Spring Valley Dude emerge, usually on his phone, dressed only in a swimsuit with long scraggly hair smoking a cigarette, trying to get over his hangover from the night before. I always stop to trade gardening tips with Tera if she is out working in the front yard vegetable garden that she and her husband built, creating 6 raised beds for a wonderful growing space. I sometimes cross the street if I see this young, intense walker headed my way. He moves very slowly and wears way too much clothing for the hot weather we are in, and smokes while he walks. I’m pretty sure he is a serial killer.
I’m sure in another 5 or 6 months, I’ll start to get bored and either change the route or start having to drive somewhere to vary my routine. However, I’m terribly habitual and in this case my habit is making me healthier. Besides, my people need me. I have to keep an eye on things for them, help them park, save them from snakes, and keep an eye out for serial killers. I take my responsibilities seriously, especially the ones I don’t really have.