I don’t own a car and I haven’t been on public transportation in over a month. So I walk.
I love walking and I especially love walking with HOB, though of course during this time of pandemic-avoidance walking comes with terms and conditions; no access to parks or the lakefront, we are advised to wear masks, and we must stay at least 6 feet from other non-family members.
Here we are, the good folks of Chicago’s north side, trying our best to keep a distance while walking down narrow sidewalks in our densely populated urban neighborhood. It’s like that one Samuel Beckett play where faceless figures cling to the edges of a cube-like stage and rotate about each other, never touching.
I’ve been up to my normal pastimes—looking at architecture and researching various buildings—but all the choreographed people-avoidance makes me tense. HOB and I are starting to branch out to new places—well some places we may have walked through before but never lingered in, like underpasses, parking lots and alleys.
These new walks started out as a way to exercise away from crowds, but now I realize that they are satisfying for other reasons.
In Rogers Park our underpasses are painted with murals which I’ve looked at many times before, but now I’m not looking, I’m looking through. These underpasses have the quality of arches in Islamic architecture, a pleasing rhythm that draws my eyes around and pulls me in with curiosity.
As it turns out, parking lots without cars are pleasing, all jaunty lines and negative spaces.
But alleys—alleys are the best.
This is how I walk through alleys: framing up little compositions.
The gesture of pipes
The mass and form that makes up the business end of city living
The graffiti erasure that becomes an abstract painting
The patina of worn bricks
The fresco-like layers of paint
The museums are all closed, but here in the alleys are patterns
This nasty virus isn’t about me, and I’m luckier than most. Still, I can’t help being frustrated.
I know you’re out there too, fellow frustrated travelers.
I can’t get us into our backpacks and into airplanes. but I can help a little.
Hear me out.
Get up early, or go out late, or walk in a heavy rainstorm. Sometime you wouldn’t normally be walking.
See—you’re already feeling it, that familiar/unfamiliar feeling of traveling. Look at the morning light highlight the portico of the underpass. Treat a vacant parking lot as a labyrinth. Go into an alley, just next to your home, where you used to walk to take the train to work before you were stuck in a quarantine. You might feel like you’re up in an early morning haze to catch a bus with a schedule in a foreign language. You might feel scared. You might peek out of the alley and those familiar sights will seem unfamiliar and you will think “How lovely, this new place! I’m glad I traveled here.”