A New Low for American Consumerism

Technical Sport Walking for Yuppies


by Bill Geist

reprinted w/o permission from
The Big Five-Oh: Facing, Fearing, and Fighting Fifty
by William Geist, 1997

Right next to the new reading glasses store at the mall is a new "walking store" -- it sells walking shoes, apparel, and accessories.

Leave it to the American entrepreneur to turn walking into a trendy new business after four million years of bipedalism.

Too old to run, baby boomers have dialed down their treadmills to Walk. Actually, mine's set on Meander. I walk on my treadmill and even outdoors sometimes. I'll walk four blocks to Baskin-Robbins (and back, wiseass). Our friends, the Walkers, walk (downhill) to our house for a beer, and we drive them home.

Sometimes we walk at the recreation field, but the slippery green goose crap is awfully deep. (A little napalm and it's Christmas dinner for everybody!) Sometimes we walk on the high school track, but there I have to break into a run whenever I see my son's coach so he won't think I'm a wuss.

Sometimes we even walk on the prescribed county walking track, where earnest walkers wearing Walkmans march along the track, oblivious to the surrounding woods, the adjacent stream, the waterfowl, everything. A few are eating. Some are positively mummified in spandex, as they stroll at 1.6 MPH -- in helmets. Dear God, don't let them be walking helmets.

They look stupid, yes, but well turned out -- better equipped for strolling than many Olympic athletes are for the marathon. Truly. And who was I to judge? Me, dressed not to walk, but to what? Mow the lawn? Sweatshirt, jeans, and dare I admit it? Walking in running shoes!

I visited a walking store called The Urban Hiker, where one customer was lacing up some new walking shoes and asking another, "How long have you been walking?" To which came the reply, "Oh, about a month."

It sounded so strange. I mean if they had been toddlers shooting the breeze at a day-care center, fine, but these guys were "middle-aged".

The store carries everything you really don't need at all to walk around the block, such as two-hundred-dollar walking outfits and all manner of walking accessories, including imported, telescoping walking poles made of ultralight steel. And of course a myriad of "walking shoes." But ... aren't... all... shoes... walking shoes?

A man came in and asked if the store carried "walking underpants." And, yes, it did. He said he already had the Pro-Walker walking shoes, a walking shirt, walking shorts, walking sweatsuit, and walking socks. Rockport walking socks. There are walking hats and walking gloves, too, perhaps for when you have to look up a lot of numbers in the Yellow Pages.

And how does all of this walking paraphernalia differ from, say, jogging outfits?

"In subtle ways," said George, the store owner. "Walking suits have maybe a little more style to them because, like, you might want to go in someplace." Like stores and restaurants. Unlike, say, the hundred-yard dash or basketball or most other sports, shopping and eating can be done during sport walking.

"Walking is not something difficult," said George, and I wrote that one down. "So you can talk while you walk. It's nice."

George said walking can burn calories (albeit not very many) and relieves stress. George said one of the store's customers was George Balboa, who billed himself as "The Walking Psychotherapist," offering therapy that combines race walking and the Brazilian samba.

The store sold walking books, like the one entitled The Walking Book, with chapter titles like "Move Your Feet" and instructions on how to walk: "Step 2: Defying gravity, we lean forward to overcome inertia." Very helpful, except beginners in the sport usually can't read yet.

There were walking periodicals, like Walking magazine, with articles on how to walk, and ads for a walking video and a book entitled Walk, Don't Die which "shows you how jogging kills, calisthenics cripples, diets debilitate, and aerobics disable." I agree.

George said his father thought he was nuts to open a walking store and told him: "Everybody walks! why do you need a store to take a walk?"

What next? Standing magazine? A store called The Urban Napper, catering to sport nappers?

How old do baby boomers get before unassisted breathing is considered a form of exercise and Nike sells breathing suits and $135 breathing shoes? ("And when you stop breathing they have our patented removable souls," chirps the salesman.)

[Editorial note: They did it to cycling, now they're trying to do it to walking.]
De Clarke