The place where I slept last night was in Iselin, New Jersey. The place I have to work today was in Iselin, New Jersey. The two locations are one mile apart.
I thought, given these facts, that instead of riding in a car, I would take a walk between the two locations. I would get a little bit of exercise, and avoid the unnecessary burning of gasoline, I thought.
My problem began with navigation. The pedestrian route I had planned took me through residential neighborhoods. These neighborhoods had been planned with roundly meandering streets, meant to stimulate the natural curves that country roads take to conform to the local terrain, and thus make residents feel less urban in their nonetheless tightly packed subdivisions and condominium reservations. What these roads succeed in is depriving an outsider of any reasonably reliable sense of direction.
Lack of sidewalks was another problem. New Jersey drivers zoomed past me at high speeds, zipping around those faux natural curves, but there was often nowhere for me to walk but on the narrow shoulder of the busy streets. What sidewalks there were didn’t last for longer than 100 feet at a time.
Then there were the fences. Looking at my map, I could see where intersections of streets should have taken place. In some of these places, the streets actually maintained a 3-foot wide stretch of turf between them, to discourage through-drivers, and chain link fences with padlocked gates, to discourage through-walkers. I jumped these fences, and moved on.
I was defeated by the bridges. I tried three separate places to follow the streets across the Garden State Parkway, which appeared to be nothing more than just a huge expanse of pavement covered with cars stuck in traffic, without any parks at all. All three bridges that I found to get over the Parkway were without sidewalks, and filled with thick traffic leaving no room for me to walk.
I stood on a corner, stymied, until I saw a taxi cab coming by. I flagged the driver down, and he took me to where I needed to go, three tenths of a mile, in about ten minutes, making elaborate turns upon turns to cross the busy traffic.
“You cannot walk here,” said the driver, in a South Asian accent. “There is no way. In the United States, people do not walk. If the police see you walking on the side of the road, they will pick you up and take you to a safe place and tell you to call a cab.”
I stepped out, handed the driver some cash from my wallet, and assured him that there are places in the United States where people can walk. “No, no, no, this is not so,” he said, and drove away. I picked up my bag and walked the remaining twenty feet to my destination.