Taking a stroll

Patsy Kline did her walking after midnight. Johnny Cash walked the line. I walk the neighborhood.

With the warm weather, I was able to escape the mall to do my exercise walking in God’s outdoors. It’s a good way to get to know the neighbors and the neighborhood. And there’s the added benefit of not having to walk by that place that offers pizza by the slice in the food court.

Unlike everyone else, I have no gizmos or attachments when I walk. No pedometers; no Fitbit to monitor every inch of my daily activity. I’m old school — just slip on the sneakers and grab the old baseball cap.

The one mistake I made is calculating my walking distance in my head. When I finally measured it out on the car’s odometer, I discovered I was actually walking a half-mile less than I thought. So it goes.

But I’m a piker anyway compared to Edward Payson Weston. In 1909, Weston walked from New York City to San Francisco in 105 days. That was a total of 3,925 miles — a little over 38 miles a day. And he was 71.

Weston’s story is told in “The Last Great Walk” by Wayne Curtis (Rodale, $24.99). Weston earned a good living by his walking feats. (That was on purpose.)

He had first gained public notice when he walked from Boston to Washington, D.C., for Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inauguration. Lincoln was so impressed that he offered to buy him a train ticket home. Weston refused.

Curtis explores not just Weston’s walk but the science, history and sociology of “pedestrianism.” It reminded me of the schoolboy’s report for the book about pigeons: “This book told me more about pigeons than I wanted to know.”

But “The Last Great Walk” is fun. Curtis notes the contemporary dichotomy. Wilbur and Orville had already taught the world how to fly, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would hold its first major race on its brand new track a month after Weston’s walk. Weston and distance walking was becoming an anachronism by 1909.

“We declare that splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed.” That was from “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, published at the same time as Weston’s walk. Marinetti preached that “slowness is naturally foul.”

Futurism worshipped speed, technology, youth, urban life and violence as the foundations of modernity. Marinetti loathed the Church and would pen bitterly anti-Catholic plays. Futurism was soon closely linked to the budding Italian fascist movement.

As Curtis points out, our language treats slowness as a negative — “slow learner,” sluggish, loitering. Compare that to the Latin idiom festina lente (“make haste slowly”); or the French noun flaneur, meaning “one who strolls,” that raises walking and observing to an art form.

Curtis quotes the anthropologist Allice Legat: “To walk is to pay close and careful attention to one’s surroundings while thinking with the multitude of stories one has heard.”

Weston died in 1929 at the age of 90. He had walked 90,000 miles in his lifetime, but his last days were spent in a wheelchair after being struck by a cab in New York. As Curtis observes, “the automobile had won.”

Weston might just have the last laugh as the sidewalks and malls today are crowded with grim, determined and aging baby boomers marching in step. They are all dressed to the nines in the mufti of their new hobby.

Everybody but me. I’m just a flaneur with a baseball cap, strolling along.

Some good advice for whatever you do in life: festina lente.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.