As kids, we walked everywhere. The walk to school every day was maybe 15 minutes; the playground the same. We ran errands for our parents that involved walking to neighborhood stores anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes from home. Longer walks were not uncommon, for example, Highland Park was in Jamaica, maybe a 30 minute walk from home. They had the best baseball fields with real grass and base paths, so we carried our bats and gloves to Jamaica, played a nine-inning game, and then walked home again. The two neighborhood movie theaters were maybe 15 and 20 minute walks from home. There were certainly trains and buses that ran to these destinations, but the nickel fare would also buy any candy bar on the shelf, so we walked.
One of the benefits of walking the neighborhood was that you got to know people. I could start on Rockaway Avenue and walk down Somers Street and tell you who lived in every house all the way down to Stone Avenue. People would greet you as you walked by....How's your mother; don't let me see you again with a cigarette in that mouth; can you go to Louie's and get me a Daily Mirror? These were the exchanges between you and the folks sitting out on their front stoops. Walking also taught you the local streets and how to get around. You knew which block that cute girl lived on, and sometimes walked by just on the chance she'd glance your way. You also knew which blocks it was best to avoid after dark.
In my mind's eye, I can still walk the route to school and church; we must have walked to Callahan and Kelly Park a thousand times to visit the playground, play handball against the wall, or sit on the benches and smoke cigarettes lifted from our fathers' packs. I can see all the mom and pop stores along Pitkin Avenue, our modest shopping mecca. My Dad worked there in the A.S. Beck shoe store and I would sometimes pass and wave hello. There was little turnover in those stores; they stayed in the family for generations. We got to know the proprietors, not because we always shopped there but because on our walks we would see them proudly sweeping the street in front of their stores.
I know people who go on vacation and spend all their time at the hotel pool. I am so glad we are still in the habit of walking. When we visit new cities, we are hardly checked into the hotel before we hit the streets for a walk around town. Thankfully our legs do still work and we are happy to have them take us where we want to go.
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