A Contemporary History of Walking to Work

It is early morning in the city.

There is a hint of morning dew hanging in the air, as moisture evaporates from damp concrete. But mostly the commingling smells of diesel exhaust and freshly brewed coffee waft along the sidewalk.

The short blast of a car horn a few blocks away ricochets off the tall buildings. But by the time the sound echoes to our ears, it no longer sounds urgent or perturbed. It is now familiar, almost comforting.

Early bird commuters and fitness enthusiasts go about their ante meridiem rituals. Night shift workers trudge their way home. It is a world of briefcases, gym bags, timetables, and taxis.

We happen past a nondescript, corporate chain cafe. Inside, we see sharp suits hunched over newspapers, reflective construction vests enjoying mid-shift snacks. A few solo laptop users take preemptive ‘stabs’ at their inboxes, dutifully rearranging the bits and bytes of their little worlds.

At one table, we see two individuals engrossed in conversation. Who knows what they are talking about? Perhaps they are coworkers discussing some office gossip? Maybe they are on the cusp of an innovative breakthrough on a stalled project? But as far as we know, they are just two more background characters in this morning hive of pedestrians, patrons, and commuters — like extras on a film set.

All these people, doing all these things. Just like us. Rearranging bits and bytes, moving atoms and molecules from one place to another. Picking things up and passing them on. Always sorting, always configuring. Always trying to catch up to where the bytes and molecules are now, as if we are little deities responding to our supplicants — as if our jobs were our worlds, and our worlds were our universes.

Our greatest priorities represent the paramount of importance, on the tiniest of scales.

But sometimes, early in the morning — before the smell of the dew and the echo of the car horn are swallowed into the static hum of urban urgency — you realize that you are no different from the suits, construction vests, and taxis drivers all around you. You are a bit, an atom, a microscopic little definition that colours one pixel in the cityscape. And then you, too, make the time to sit down, sip the coffee, and smell the proverbial roses blooming up from the asphalt.

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