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Joy Walking

Joy walking is like joy riding: steal moments, not cars.

It's a little like joy riding, except we're not stealing cars, we're stealing moments. Joy walking happens when we leave the house or office and start walking. We don't have a plan. We just go.

In a big city, the results are instantaneous. We step in and out of people's lives. Couples in love, couples at war. People in the throes of this, no, that emotion. The tiny courtesies and rudenesses of public life. There is drama everywhere and lots to look at.

In suburban circumstances, the rewards tend to be more bucolic. Walk the same walk often enough, and it's enough already. That's where Audible.com comes in and the company of good prose beautifully spoken. My present companion: Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native as read by Jill Masters. Complete heaven.

I was chatting with the anthropologist (and cultural impresario) Richard Wise at a conference and he said that he is seeing more decisions made on foot. Managers are conducting meetings while out on a walk. "Peripatetic," he said, "It's the Aristotelian thing." I like the idea of corporate headquarters with managers striding restlessly around it. It's an excellent way of getting out of the box.

Occasionally, I like to see how fast I can go. I like to dodge through the crowd. On one occasion, this meant jumping into a revolving door only to discover it was already occupied. The occupant, shuffling forward, threw her hands in the air and began screaming. I felt her pain. Shuffling backward, I threw my hands in the air and began screaming, too. It was a short, noisy journey into Marshall Fields, I can tell you.

A "flaneur" is a person walking, watching, and stopping to pay attention. Baudelaire, Simmel, Benjamin, and Sontag have all graced us with their observations. (Sontag called the city a "landscape of voluptuous extremes.") These days, the flaneur can be a bit of a pose. We see him or her posing moodily in cafes, the artist tortured by the gift of sight.

My favorite urban observer is more workman-like. His name is Morgan Friedman, and when not living in South America, he has devoted himself to capturing New York City. He is the creator of Overheard in New York City, a brilliant website in which people record things overheard in New York City while walking. He gives brilliant lectures on how to wander in the city.

The key is to get out and about. To get away. To see what you can see.

Steal a moment. Make it your own.

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