“Good work!”

One of the nice benefits of my Constitutionals is that over time, I’ve acquired a lot more stories about, and involving, the Humans. So far, all of them have been positive and none included hearing, through the veil of twilight consciousness, a police officer asking “Did anybody get a good look at the car before it took off?”

For someone whose social software is perennially in beta, it presents many opportunities for QA testing. Last night was a good example. I crossed a busy street and just before I put my earbud back in, I heard someone in a pickup (who was still stopped at the light) call out “Good work!”

He was definitely speaking to me. I waved and said “Thanks!”

And then I realized I didn’t know what he meant, precisely.

I rock-tumbled a few theories all during the rest of my walk home:

  • “I see that you’re out taking a Constitutional, despite the fact that it’s cold and dark outside! I salute your commitment to taking regular exercise!” Which was very kind, and will encourage me to brave bad weather again.
  • “I see that you’re out taking a Constitutional, despite the fact that you’re clearly about fifty pounds overweight! This is surprising, and I want to encourage you to keep it up!” Which would also have been very kind, but maybe just a tad condescending.
  • “I see that you are wearing a headlamp and a reflective belt, waited for the “Walk” signal, took one of your earbuds out before crossing, and even so, kept looking out for traffic in both directions until you were safely on the other sidewalk! I salute your prudence and wish all pedestrians were so cautious!” Which seemed slightly unlikely, but I pass by many other walkers and runners at nighttime who don’t look quite so…Ned Flanders-esque.
  • “I see by the bag in your hand that you did a little shopping at the nearby market! Thank you for walking instead of driving, and thus offsetting some of the damage I’m doing to the environment by driving a vehicle that’s less fuel-efficient than others! As you can see by the truck’s good, honest wear, it’s a sensible necessity of my work and/or lifestyle, and not just something I bought because of the ads during football!” Also unlikely, but I still had a ways to go and I had time to ponder.
  • “Dork!” I’ve hard-coded my human interaction primary processor to always consider the possibility that the interactant has done a fair-minded appraisal of me and put me in the “Dork/Nerd/Poindexter” category. These algorithms are also reliably-informed that a nonzero percentage of the general population are jerks. So if someone’s intentions aren’t immediately obvious, it’s just more efficient to assume that they might be pursuing an anti-dork agenda.
  • And, finally, “Because you pushed the ‘Walk’ button and tripped the stop light, I’m going to be forty seconds late for work! Why couldn’t you have just crossed when it looked safe?” I imagine that this is a common, and wholly valid, complaint from flies. For us, someone dawdling over a coffee order is mildly annoying. For the common drosophila, that’s like making someone miss their child’s high school graduation. Plus the previous four years of school. Still, how attached could a fly get to any of its seven hundred kids? You’re probably doing the fly a favor. Think about how annoying and demanding a middle child can be…then imagine a parent stuck with about two hundred Jan Bradys.

I concluded that the pickup truck driver was being nice, and encouraging, but he was faced with the daunting challenge of putting across a somewhat complicated sentiment to a total stranger in just a few seconds.

It’s a nagging problem, isn’t it? I’ve sometimes thought about what I’d do if I saw someone in immediate danger, but it was the sort of danger that was hard to clearly explain except over a leisurely coffee and danish, after a formal introduction by a mutual friend. The natural thing for me to do would be to shout “RUN!!!” But when a stranger yells that at you, the natural reaction is to should back “WHY?” or, at best, “IN WHICH DIRECTION? IS IT SO BAD THAT I SHOULD EVEN RISK RUNNING INTO THE STREET?”

At which point the kindest thing to shout back is “NEVER MIND.” Because by the time you would have explained the whole situation, the enormous pane of window glass that you spotted panicky workmen struggling with above the sidewalk will definitely, as you suspected, have snapped its safety line. And if you were in this person’s shoes, would you want your last seconds on earth to be filled with bewildered panic and the knowledge that there’s absolutely no chance of avoiding a messy and painful end?

Perhaps we should come up with a word that means “I am saying something cheerful and positive in approval of what you are now doing, and I’ve chosen this specific word because we, as a society, all agreed that we would never use it sarcastically.”

In the past, I have fallen back on the simple “You rock.” I feel like I need to be wearing a luxurious wig of platinum blonde heavy metal hair while saying it, though.

As I said…my social software is stuck in beta.

Got wet; didn’t die

It is with profound regret that I announce that my regular Constitutionals have been moved from the “something I do a few times a week because I enjoy them” list to “something I do a few times a week because I’ve decided it might be kind of cool to keep my “no major health issues” streak going for another couple of decades.”

This is why I walked about four and a half miles today in the rain.

I should clarify: this was rain rain. As in “Rain, rain go away” rain. As in “No way I’m going out for a walk in this” rain. If a friend or an Uber driver had failed to pick me up somewhere as promised, and I had to walk four and a half miles to my hotel in this sort of weather, I’d be grumbling promises of dark retribution the whole way and well into the rest of the evening.

So it sickens me that I did this voluntarily. But I felt it was important.

I had some business to conduct several miles away this afternoon. It’s at one of those nexusplexes of coffeeshops and cafes and other places with free WiFi and many open tables, and thus a fab place to camp out for a day of writing. Whenever I feel like I’m truly stuck with what I’m working on, or if the store manager figures out that it was me who dumped the whole tray of Cinnamon Twirl samples into a napkin, I can move on for a change of both venue and beverage. It’s a long but non-devastating walking distance from my house; right at the border between a long walk and a short bike ride, and recently deemed “too close to drive.”

Welp, this morning’s podcast recording went on a little longer than I thought and I didn’t want to risk arriving late for my meeting. So I took an Uber out there and planned to walk back.

But! By the time I needed to go home, the atmospheric mist that had been so pleasant to look at from the dry and warm side of a Starbucks window had devolved into the aforementioned rain rain.

If my Constitutionals were still something I merely enjoyed, I would have stuck around, had dinner, and then Ubered back.

Alas, it’s now something I have to do. I walked more than three miles on Sunday and about five miles on Monday. Tuesday: nothing. Wednesday: goose egg. There are times when I need to partition my personality and use the Dad part to give the Dumb Kid part a firm, but loving, dressing down.

“Yup. It sucks that we have to walk home in the rain.”

Thank you. So: a grilled sandwich at Panera, followed by a car ride home, then?”

“Nope. We’re walking home. And it’s going to suck.”

“But…we have the phone. And the app. And we have access to well over the necessary five or six dollars necessary for the fare. I don’t understand.”

“It’s not complicated. Sure, on Tuesday, we were quite busy with podcasts and office stuff, but we could have squeezed in a couple of miles. Wednesday, we had nothing scheduled whatsoever. We even checked the weather for the rest of the week, and saw that there was rain forecast for Thursday. And yet, the only walking we did on that day was between the bedroom and the kitchen and the office.”

“So?”

“So we have to walk today. If we’d walked either of those two days? Then we’d have the option of taking a pass on today due to the weather. But we didn’t, so: we’re going to walk home, after dark, in pouring rain. And we are going to do this while fully aware that it’s going to suck, because we have nobody else to blame, and even if we did, it wouldn’t change the fact that ‘I don’t wanna do this because it’ll be unpleasant’ is hardly the declaration of someone who fancies himself a mature adult and a worthy example for the youth of today.”

“But…”

“I packed the folding umbrella, the headlamp, and the reflective vest. I also made sure we left the house in out waterproof hiking boots. Choose your next objection very carefully.”

And so I walked home in the rain.

He/I was right. It was important that I walk home, both to make sure I meet my Constitutionals goals for the week, and also as behavior reinforcement.

There was another dimension to the choice. Sometimes, your better nature fails you and you have to remind yourself that you shouldn’t shy away from things that are merely Deeply Unpleasant. I have now voluntarily walked four miles in the rain. It didn’t kill me. It was unpleasant…but that experience is now in the database. In the future, if I balk at taking a Constitutional in the rain, at least I can base that choice on an actual experience instead of blindly ticking the box on the cancellation form marked “it’s going to suck.” But it’s more likely that I’ll shrug and think “Well, it won’t be so bad, I guess.”

I reflect on the fact that even in dry, sunny weather, walking this distance and this route was once, in my mind, too silly to contemplate. I was always in good enough shape for a four-mile walk! But, y’see, on my way out the door I have to pass by the car in my driveway and wouldn’t that be faster and more comfortable and, generally, suck less than walking there and back?

But I sighed and forced myself to do “the thing that was going to suck” at least once. I didn’t die. If I had been killed by a truck partway along the way, I feel as though I would have been justified in not walking that route again.

With this observation in hand, I was then free to start focusing on what I liked about this Thing That Sucks: more time listening to podcasts; making all of the fitness apps on my phone happy; the free pass to not go for a walk tomorrow…and feeling slightly less guilty about having an iced scone at the bakery with the good WiFi.

Lest you think that I’m terribly committed to good health with every decision, and doing the right thing simply because I’m an adult with self-discipline: the final convincer to walk home in the rain was when Dad Self told Dumb Kid Self that we could take the seven dollars or so that we would have given to Uber and spend it instead on one of those individual fresh chicken pot pies at the market nearish my house that we really like.

It was delicious.