Walking the Main Line

(Originally published in Main Line Life magazine May 2010)

The idea sprang on me suddenly, and once it had I was powerless in its grip. It was a gorgeous day, and I had just dropped my car off in Devon to be serviced. I had no desire to wait in the customer service lounge, my brain rattled by hours of blaring television. I needed some quiet thinking time and I needed some exercise. My “service consultant” asked me if I would like a ride home, and I quickly replied, “No, I think I’ll walk.”

Now this might not sound like a big deal, but home is in Haverford, seven miles east of Devon. Not exactly the Appalachian Trail, but still. I reasoned that at any point in my walk I could hop on the R-5 and take it to Haverford, where home is only five blocks from the train station.

I was already wearing my trusty Merrell walking shoes, and I wore a light jacket and had no purse. Lately I have taken to traveling light; my credit card and some cash tucked in the pocket of my jeans, and my Blackberry and a house key in my jacket pocket. I set off, deciding to stay on Lancaster Avenue the whole way home.

The first stretch of The Great Trek was wholly uninspiring. Passing through the parking lot wasteland that anchored Whole Foods on my left and Kmart on my right, I never saw another person afoot. There were, however, a lot of cars honking at each other for some perceived automotive transgression or another.
Coming into Wayne, the scenery improved although nearly every single street corner was under construction for “utility improvement” making walking a sort of obstacle course. On one corner I had to wave my arms around like a lunatic to avoid being crushed by a massive dirt-digging tractor.
As I passed through the center of Wayne, I thought briefly about jumping on the train. But the sun was shining, and my mind was chewing on the things I needed it to chew on. So I kept on truckin’. Just past the center of town I passed through a lovely little park that I’d never noticed before. I sat down and took a load off, as we walkers say. Henry James describes the creativity that surfaces during walking, “the rich, ripe fruit of perambulation.” I resumed my walk, thinking my brilliant thoughts.
Radnor – known as no-man’s land for pedestrians. Things were okay until I left the area where Bed, Bath & Beyond and Genuardi’s sit up on their hill. Suddenly it was the perfect storm for walkers – no sidewalks and the entrance and exit ramps to 476. I quickly had to choose: walk on Lancaster Avenue itself while text-messaging drivers zoomed by hell-bent on making it through the yellow lights, or hoof it through the matted grass to the right side of the curb, hoping not to step on broken bottles or other items of trash I didn’t want to look at too closely. I chose a kind of sporadic jaunt – hopping up on the curb when traffic seemed heavy, then back down in the street during a lull.

The underpass of 476 was creepy, dirty, and noisy and reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s end-of-world novel The Road. I half-expected someone to throw something out of a car above, where it would land on my head, killing me instantly. Then my husband would wonder for the rest of his life what on earth I had been doing there. I jogged toward Villanova, ahead of me like a shimmering mirage.

I mingled with students on their way to class and again considered the train. But, being the obsessive-compulsive that I am, I rejected this thought and continued on.

Onward I trekked to the Bryn Mawr Starbucks – an iced tea and a cookie my reward. Fortified, I cruised the rest of the way home. Total time elapsed – two hours.

I should mention that I probably walk more than the average person. I often walk to the Haverford post office and the bank, down the street to Acme and Food Source, swing by Starbucks, and loop back home. It doesn’t take much longer to make those five stops on foot than it does by car. I guess the only drawback to all this walking is that some people might think I’m a little odd. As in, “You’re that lady we see walking everywhere.” To which I reply, “Yeah, that’s me. You really ought to try it some time…”

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