By Dan Miller
January 7, 2009
I was immediately concerned the first time I arrived in Nashville when I noticed long stretches of neighborhood streets with no sidewalks whatsoever.
That was in 1969, and the sidewalk situation is gradually being corrected.
But many years ago, far too many of our roads were being built with only vehicular traffic in mind.
In the subdivision I first called home here in Nashville, there was not a single sidewalk anywhere within walking distance.
Walkers had to take their chances in the actual road, or by cutting across neighbors' lawns.
I now live in an old area of town and, though there's still no sidewalk next to our house, I can walk -- with attentiveness -- along the edge of a street until I come to a splendid sidewalk less than a half mile away.
That explains my fondness for them.
As a kid I could walk the 3 miles from our residential neighborhood to downtown Augusta, never having to leave the safety of a sidewalk, except to cross streets.
And yes, I walked that 3 miles quite often.
There were even times when I would journey onto the 13th Street Bridge -- across the Savannah River -- into South Carolina without ever relinquishing the reassurance of a sidewalk.
It's been around 45 years since I last took those long walks in Augusta, but I still have occasional, vivid dreams of the streets, and the structures along them, that I came to know so well.
I even recall several of the spots where the sidewalk was broken, or warped, by the roots of an old tree growing nearby.
My preferred route was something I became intimately familiar with.
I knew which stores and businesses would be welcome shelter if I got caught in a sudden downpour along the way.
And, still today, I could show you the exact spots where the water would pool several inches deep after such a downpour.
Oddly, I can vaguely recall the faces of several people who would often be standing at certain bus stops as I walked by.
I remember the smell of diesel as the buses passed....
And there was one particular, unidentified aroma -- not exactly unpleasant -- hanging in the air whenever I crossed the little bridge over the Augusta Canal.
If someone imported that aroma into Nashville today, I could quickly tell them its original source.
Aromas, they say, can spark memories.
My walks would take me directly in front of a Texaco gas station on Walton Way, with an attendant who bore a striking resemblance to the actor Jeff Chandler.
I can still conjure up a clear image of him, usually wiping grease from his arms and hands with a maroon cloth.
In recent months I've been taking 2 mile walks around my Nashville neighborhood.
It's not something I started with any wistful yearning about walking.... I simply figured it would be an agreeable form of exercise, certainly preferable to weightlifting or jogging.
The first time I headed out... within about 200 yards of my home... I found myself looking at an old, attractive stone house that I've driven by countless times over the years.
It was loaded with character.
And you know what?
I'd never even noticed the house before.
I'd never even looked in that direction... until I walked by.
All these years after my youthful walking excursions down in Georgia ended, I still find that whenever I need to stir my senses, or focus my thoughts, sidewalks seem to work just fine.