Amblin’ Alameda: Man Against Auto

Amblin’ Alameda: Man Against Auto

Morton Chalfy

It is six long blocks from my house to Shoreline Drive, and on my morning’s walk I was struck by the isolation of the walking person in a landscape full of the automobile. For most of the six blocks I was the lone figure, striding along purposefully to be sure, but still dwarfed in power by the cars racing by me. I know from experience that lone walking figures are seen as “the other” by drivers and riders in cars and they wonder whether it is poverty or idiocy that has one walking when driving is so much more convenient.

It is not until I reach Shoreline Drive that walking becomes a fit activity, one that produces fitness and that fits into the landscape. The path along Shoreline is configured for walkers and bicyclists and the population of walkers is large enough to mount a visual opposition to the cars. Walking along the beach is the only mode of transport that looks and feels right and separated from the auto as it is, walking becomes dominant. It is also the best way by far to appreciate these fog-touched mornings when the overcast sky and the gray and somber light it produces gives the world an ethereal aura and renders San Francisco that magical place dimly seen through the haze. One’s attention can be fully absorbed by the sky and the water and the scenic beauty without the need to keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

Back on the street, walking towards home, I am once more overtaken by the feelings of being slightly out of place in relationship to the cars. Waiting for the light at Otis I feel exposed and alone, my pedestrian cohort left behind on Shoreline while I make my way through enemy territory. At least, that’s what it feels like.

There is some number of pedestrians on a street that gives comfort to the individual walker. Park Street and Webster Street provide that level of activity but the streets leading from Shoreline to my house do not. I do not fear the cars, but while I’m the sole pedestrian I feel alienated and alone. I know it is an irrational feeling, but it is there.

And then, later in the day, I will get behind the wheel of our auto and pull onto the roadways of Alameda and see pedestrians and wonder, “poverty or madness,” and forget that there but for the time of day go I.

Strange are the ways of humans.