(This essay first appeared in the October 26th, 2006 edition of the West Bloomfield Eccentric)

The bridge over 38th street looks down over all of Locust Walk. Students weave through the crowd, and mill about in small groups chatting, and all together form a vast field of color. Closer up, people distinguish themselves. Some intently walk towards class, some engage in avid conversations, some sprawl out on a bench with a sandwich and a newspaper. Everyone comes to Locust Walk at some point in their day. It is the central thoroughfare through Penn, the great equalizer, bringing professor and student, dean and tourist and everyone else together to be harassed by enthusiasts with flyers.

There is the pair of elderly professors dressed in their tweed and carrying beaten leather briefcases. There is the girl in the slightly too short the season skirt. Up ahead, there is the long haired graduate student with his pile of socialist pamphlets. Behind, there is the youthful boy hawking his T-shirts emblazoned with Rick Santorum’s face.

Something about Locust Walk makes it more than the just the sum of everyone on it. I read an essay describing fraternity and democracy in this way: on the streets of Philadelphia in early America a wealthy merchant and a working man could stop upon passing each other and have a civil conversation on current issues. This image perpetually invades my mind, superimposing itself over the Walk. I do not intend to wax poetic or idealistic about Locust Walk and community, but high school has no comparison to it. The closest approximation I can come up with is the hallway where bake sales were held.

Most simply, the Walk is about walking. A daily, low intensity physical activity that is absent from suburban life. Before college, walking as a form of transportation was dead to me; any walk further than from Economics to English was a novelty to me. Where should I want to go that a car could not take me more easily?

Now all I do is walk. Walk to class, walk to lunch, walk to the library, then to more class, and later to dinner, still walking.

Fifteen extra pounds packed on from junk food, irregular sleeping, lack of self discipline, and late night delivery pizza. Can you tell how happy I am? Cake used to be a rare treat. Now, there are cakes, jelly donuts, and multiple flavors of ice cream in the dining hall every day. At home, pizza was a once a month occasion at best. Now I have at available every day, three times a day. Pop and other high calorie beverages flow freely. There really is no mystery to the freshman fifteen.

But walking has single handedly staved off the freshman fifteen for me. It has to cover all the slack from lack of exercise (I hardly know how to get to the gym) and burned off the extra calories from dietary indulgences, and still I have lost ten pounds. Disastrous! I am now into a weight gain plan. I would like it to be in muscle, but that might not happen. Eating, after all, is easier than working out. It is one of the highlights of my day.

I ate lunch with my Psychology professor the other day. He is a brilliant lecturer with great charisma, and quite willing to poke fun at himself. He apparently also was an avid traveler in his younger days. After college, and after six months of a government job in the Australian bureaucracy, he quit to go to Europe. However, he never made it. On a layover in Japan, the young Professor Shatte decided he liked it so much that he would just stay. He ended up in Japan for three years.

This terrified me. It filled me with the terror that in thirty years I will not have any stories to tell, but instead be forced to hem and haw and explain that I went to grad school and got a job and chose stability over excitement. I want to travel. But not in some tour group dashing from attraction to attraction with an itinerary fixed down to the hour. No matter how exotic the destination, that experience would be no more fulfilling then reading a book and flipping through a pack of postcards. I want my travel to be spontaneous and leave me stranded in Istanbul working as a dishwasher to earn enough money for a plane ticket home.

Incidentally, I got an A on my first Psychology mid-term.

Reality has begun to set in.

Sweet, sweet, reality.

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