Sunday, February 01, 2004

The whole Northwest experience
I didn’t really get a car and become a driver till I was over forty. Some times I miss the pedestrian lifestyle. This weekend was not tone of those times.

The car is in the shop. I had planned to take care of a whole list of errands this weekend, but on Saturday afternoon I trimmed the down to the one that couldn’t be put off. Get groceries. The nearest grocery is a Safeway seven blocks from our house. It was raining and blowing lightly, and colder than it had been all week so I dressed in layers and set out to forage for my family, feeling virtuous and manly about the whole business. Besides, a little walking would be good for me.

The walk to the Safeway was into the wind and I was nicely wet and chilled when I got there. From the corner I could see men with signs huddled in the doorway. I trudged across the parking lot thinking, “please don’t be strikers.” They were strikers. They handed me an information sheet and asked me not to shop there. I looked at the sheet—cuts in health insurance. My inner liberal said, “you can’t cross the picket line.” I sighed and reversed direction.

The next closest store is an independent market four blocks further away. The wind was picking up. I wondered what I would do if they were on strike there. Having committed to this direction, it would be almost a mile to the next nearest store. It would be on a bus route, but there is no shelter at the stop.

Fortunately, the labor gods listened to my prayers and they were not on strike at the market. I shopped slowly, soaking up the steamy warmth of the store. I didn’t leave till I could feel all of my fingers. Then I took my biodegradable bag and headed out the door.

The wind had dropped a tiny bit, but it was now pouring. Within a block the rain started to soak through my coat around the shoulders. My pants, of course, were already wet to the knees and on the front of my thighs. I gathered the bag of groceries next to my chest the way you carry a baby, with one arm across the bottom and one protectively across the front. This much of my pedestrian training came back to me.

By the third block the rain was penetrating at my elbows and I was losing the feeling in fingers again. Hunched over, carrying a load, and cold, my middle-aged, out-of-shape back decided it was time to start spasming. Beach Boys tunes began to run through my mind.

And then I was home. Home to dry clothes, hot chocolate, my loving wife, mildly bemused cats, and the big bottle of ibuprophen. Some days, I think it would be nice to be a Republican and just cross the damn picket line.

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