Of all the things we humans take for granted about one another, one that I’ve long found intriguing is the varied and peculiar ways we perambulate.
It was watching a tall, young pregnant woman (7 months plus) that brought this thought to mind this week. Because her center of gravity has dropped, she follows her crowded womb around in more of what I’d call a ‘mosey’ than a walk (with a motherly blush and third trimester smile on her glowing face).
In contrast, I saw another woman — who looked to be in her mid-seventies — entering a local supermarket the other day. She looked to be about five feet tall and had a little forward curve to her spine. Large purse hanging heavy on one arm. Chewing gum so fast her lips were a blur. Eyes agog. No moseying in this lady. Nor sauntering. Nope, this lady had a pace, a gait; the kind that looked like she hit the linoleum every morning in full stride.
Between those two extremes there’s a wide variety of walks. Some universal. Some idiosyncratic. Some peculiar. All worthy of watching — or listening to. (As a teenager with a room in the basement, I could tell who was above me by the signature heft and pace of their steps.)
We’ve all witnessed the squirmy, pinch-kneed hustle of someone who has to pee. Face contorted, hyperventilating, they blurt, “Gotta’ go, gotta’ go! Oooh. Ooooh. Gotta’ go!” And if it’s number two, there’s a pale-faced look of fear of failure accompanying a posterior pinching run for the toilet. I’m willing to be these are universal — that when nature calls, the people in Cleveland and Katmandu have the same funny walk as people in Kansas.
Speaking of funny walks, there’s an old episode of Monty Python’s TV show from the 1970s which opens with John Cleese high-stepping and doing funny repetitive little dances and staccato moves as he walks a London sidewalk wearing a suit and bowler hat while carrying an umbrella. Turns out he’s headed to The Ministry Of Funny Walks where his job is to interview applicants for grants to develop and perfect their own idiosyncratic funny walks.
I’ll bet many reading this can remember some of the funny walkers of old, like Milton Berle (who walked on his ankles), Jerry Lewis (who had a different funny walk for every movie), and Jackie Gleason (master of the funny dance as well as walk).
The speedy supermarket lady I mentioned earlier has lots of company. There’s all manner of fast walkers — marchers and hikers and striders and trotters — all seemingly determined to get someplace by the shortest route at the fastest rate possible.
Zoomers, I like to call them.
My wife’s a zoomer (an Italian model with lots of chrome). Circles me repeatedly like a roadrunner everyday.
Our daily walks go something like this: She’s at the door with Arlo the Labradorian leashed up, bouncing up and down. I say, “Hold on I’m not ready.” Unable to contain the Arlo, whose gotten his walk juice frothing, she ends up outside at the end of the drive by the time I exit.
Once we get rolling, it’s, “Wait up!” (She naturally takes out like a dragster off the starting line while I innately need time to start out slow — in first gear, shift up to second, and then to third, a block at a time — else I’ll blow my transmission.)
I’m a plodder. Words like stroll, saunter, meander— even traipse — come to mind for plodders. The statement they hear a lot from zoomers is, “Come on!”
Of course, whether a zoomer or a plodder there’s room for variation.
Take, for instance, the man we used to call “Floatin’ Willie” who daily traveled the sidewalk back and forth on Broadway past The White Buffalo Café’ back in the mid 80s. Willie was small man who gently floated up the street as if he was walking on gently rolling waves. He looked like a cork bobbing by in a slow rippling stream.
I used to try and duplicate Willie’s gait, mirroring him as he passed. Never could. Willie gave the idiom ‘light on his feet’ a whole new visual meaning.
Speaking of idioms, we’ve got quite a few around that refer to walking.
Happy people are said to be “walking on air” (could be dangerous if you’re near an airport).
If you don’t “walk the line” you could “get your walking papers” (or a DUI).
Anxious people “walk the floor” (especially expectant fathers).
Upper level managers might have to “walk the plank” if their company is bought out by another (corporate pirates, no doubt).
“Walk a mile in my shoes” is used to call up empathy for another’s plight while “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” was once used to advertise cigarettes (which would be good for you as long as you didn’t smoke them).
Others that come to mind are “cakewalk” (easy), walk on eggshells” (be careful), “walk and chew gum” (do two things at once), “walk off the job” (quit immediately), and “cock of the walk” (conceited, bossy), and “walk on the wild side” (adventurous, morally questionable).
Finally, consider the phenomenon of “ walking in your sleep” — something the pregnant woman I mentioned would do well to start practicing. For after the little one arrives, any walk that allows her to get her rest and exercise at the same time will be a real plus.
— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Consulting & Training Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com.