It’s grad season again, and this year’s crop of commencement addresses promises to ring even more hollow than usual now that graduating seniors are leaving school to step into the End Times. I mean, really: what fucking good is gonna come from you hearing about working hard and/or growing from your mistakes when the newly elected most powerful man in world got into his lofty position by doing precisely none of those things? I may as well tell you to start robbing banks. The hell if I know what’s gonna work out for you and what won’t.
In fact, USA Today just reported that many college speakers are actively avoiding any mention of President Trump, or the fact that his existence means The Black Gates Of Hell have opened and will soon swallow us whole.
“Anybody whose commencement speech could be put on the editorial page of a newspaper doesn’t understand the job,” said Anthony Esolen, an English literature scholar who will speak at Hillsdale College in Michigan. His advice: “Leave the shifting sand dunes of the day far behind.”
As for Trump, he asked, “Why on earth should I mention the president? …. I have instead to decide whether I will talk about Milton or Dante or Dr. Johnson…”
What a fucking pud. Anyway, that’s the world you currently live in—with a bunch of racist loons in charge and a bunch of liberal pantywaists too polite to do anything to stop them. This is an unfair and cruel world, even to those who have meticulously prepared for it. I have nothing for you, man. I’m at a fucking loss. I am left with just the barest scraps of advice to dish out…basic fundamentals of living that are probably already obvious to you and hardly inspiring at all, because anything more grandiose that I offer will get crushed under the yoke of reality. I am left with little but the disposable, “Wear sunscreen”-type whimsy that grad speakers have feasted off of for decades. In 2017, anything else is overly ambitious at best and an outright lie at worst. So here is my feeble contribution to your future development:
Walk walk walk walk walk walk walk walk walk walk.
Walk a whole lot. Walk everywhere. Or, if you’re in a wheelchair, roll everywhere. Don’t drive. Don’t get an Uber. Walk. When you walk up to grab your diploma—and the wait for that will be hot and endless, mind you—keep walking. Do not stop. Churn those young goddamn legs while they’re still working.
You don’t need me to explain the health benefits of walking. Studies show that walking helps with depression, weight loss, heart health, and even brain health. Walking is exercising. Walking is thinking. Walking is writing. Walking is working. Walk as much as you can, wherever you can. And try to not to carry anything, because carrying shit ruins it.
I have an extremely fucked up spine and my doctor told me to stand and walk as much as possible because that’s what the human body is engineered for. I know that’s a douchey, Paleo Diet-type insight, but it’s true. You were born to walk. Your feet and legs and hips all evolved for you to walk out of your cave and stalk wild game all day long. You were not born to sit, or to drive, or to hop on a Segway like a complete dipshit. Walking is what keeps the human body—which I presume is composed of 80 percent ball bearings—running smoothly. That’s why every soccer mom on Earth now has a FitBit to help tick down 10,000 steps a day, but you don’t even need that (especially when your phone does it anyway). Counting steps when you walk is about as fun and joyful as checking the page number every on every page you read.
It’s not easy to walk in America. It’s not like Europe, where everything is densely packed and you’re always one block away from a fishmonger or a cheese monger or some other kind of monger. Walking is part of the culture there. I once had a neighbor whose parents would visit from Germany, and they would walk to the Safeway a mile-and-a-half away to get groceries, every day. They’d get one bag of food and then walk it back, and I always marveled at them for doing it. “Holy shit, they walked there! I didn’t know that was a thing you could do!”
Unlike Europe, America is fucking enormous, spread out, and—certain cities like New York aside—comically hostile to the idea of walking. As a graduating senior, you are about to leave the college campus, one of the few pedestrian-friendly spaces left in this country. The rest of America wants walkers DEAD. The sidewalks are tiny and the cars are the size of barges. Some neighborhoods—particularly wealthy ones—are so obsessed with privacy and intrusiveness that they have gates and walls and fucking mounted lasers ready to vaporize any biped who dares to trespass. WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT, MAN?
Hell, you’re lucky if you even get a sidewalk, or a shoulder. Sometimes sidewalks just end, and then you gotta traverse a fucking overpass with truckers on ephedrine doing 80 right next to you. In America, walking can be a strangely lethal pursuit. One time I was on the outskirts of Charlotte and wanted to walk from my hotel to Cook Out, because Cook Out is important. On Google Maps, the distance was 1.5 miles. That’s an easy walk, right? Twenty minutes, tops. If the walk is two miles or less, I usually try to pull it off.
So I put on my dad shoes and walk out of the hotel, and the walk turns out to be along a Burger King/TD Bank/Kohl’s hellstrip with 4,000 lanes and 50 road crews. I think I had to walk through a ravine at one point. Walking in this sort of area is not only dangerous, but it will also make you deeply self-conscious. “Hey, what’s that guy doing WALKING? Did he just break out of prison?”
Still, after 45 minutes, I made it to the Cook Out and got my shake. I earned that goddamn shake, and no one can tell me different.
I try to make a point of walking anywhere I go. I swear this isn’t meant as a brag. Bragging about walking is like bragging that you have an AARP card. Also, I have walked in a lot of weird places where it’s not a good idea to walk. I am the lamest urban explorer in history. I’ve walked along highways in Dallas. I’ve walked through the sketchy Russian areas of Santa Monica Boulevard. I once walked from downtown Miami to Port of Miami, which was stupid. If I am in your town, there’s a 10 percent chance you will accidentally run me over with your car. I can’t encourage you to walk recklessly. But sometimes there isn’t a nature trail handy, and you gotta cross the river Styx in order to find yourself in places that are truly worth exploring on foot.
I have never regretted taking a walk. Every time you walk, a bunch of cool shit happens. You burn calories, for one thing. You think of cool ideas. You also get an immediate sense of the layout and vibe of wherever you happen to be. It’s a cheap shortcut to feeling like a local. I walked around downtown Atlanta for two hours once, which was long enough for me to realize, “Oh hey, this is the part of town that sucks!” Then I went and walked around a cooler part.
Also, walking forces me to pocket my phone and actually look around for a bit (in theory…sometimes I check the phone while walking, which is galactically fucking stupid and could get you killed). I can actually feel GOOD about the world when I walk around, because I’m seeing it as it stands now, instead through the horrifying prism of online news and discourse. The sun still shines out there. People are smiling. It’s not bad. You wouldn’t even know we’re all gonna die soon. Not everything has rotted away just yet. You can leave the shifting sand dunes of the day far behind, to borrow a phrase from Professor Fartsniffer up there.
Also, you don’t have to look for a parking spot.
I walked today. I walked past a school and saw a bunch of kids playing touch football and they accidentally launched the ball over the fence and into the road, where they couldn’t get it. So they asked me to grab it for them. I hucked it back over and one kid shouted “YOU DA REAL MVP!” And you know what? For that one little moment, I was, indeed, da real MVP. Step aside, Kevin Durant’s mom. I saved touch football. What did you ever do?
That kind of experience isn’t really possible when you’re sitting in a car. When you drive, you’re basically in a kind of self-imposed purgatory. The goal is to get wherever you’re headed so that you can resume your life again. I have tried to slow down and savor my surroundings while driving but it rarely works out because A) It’s not safe and B) I want to make good time. I have my eyes on the road and my ears on my SWEET TUNEZ, and I’m only slowing down to gawk at an overturned milk truck. “Wow, that looks BAD.”
The most important moments in life usually happen when you’re walking. Ever ask someone you’re dying to go out with if they wanna go for a walk, and they say yes? It feels fucking GREAT. That’s gonna be a good walk. Then maybe you two walk down the aisle after you get married, and then walk through the hospital to see your new baby in the nursery, and then walk with that child as takes its first steps. And then maybe someone close to you dies, and you have to walk with their casket to their gravesite. I’ve made some of these walks. I haven’t forgotten any of them.
One time I had back surgery and the nurses ordered me to get up and walk. My dad was there. He helped me off the gurney and took my hand as we walked down the hall and back. It wasn’t far, but it was enough for me to know that I was gonna be all right, and that I’d have plenty more walking to do. I still remember that walk fondly, even if my ass was hanging out of the hospital gown. And I’ve found that the more I walk, the more chances I give myself to experience something important. Vital.
When I was a kid I rarely walked unless forced to. I remember when I was a teenager and my parents would want to walk with me around the block and I was always like, “The fuck is the point of that? We’ll just end up back here anyway.” I was good at being a little snot. After college, I did the usual thing and tried to get directly into the workforce after I graduated, so that I could begin the process of making money to have shit and then spending the rest of my life worrying about protecting the shit I had, and buying more of the shit I did not. And of course, I didn’t realize how hollow much of that pursuit could be until I was already knee-deep in it. Walking helps shed a lot of that everyday pressure. It resets your brain and arranges things in the proper order. Walking is you taking time away from the endless, modern-day demand to be productive to make an investment in yourself: your health, your happiness, your creativity, all of it.
Obviously, you’re not gonna walk if your intended destination is a hundred miles away. But if you can conceivably walk where you’re going, do it. Back when America was expanding westward, the army would march 20, even 30 miles a day. I’m not using that example to say you should walk in the name of stealing land and waging war. I’m just saying that you are capable of walking much farther than you think. Sometimes, I dream about walking across the country. I just set off on foot and go. I see everything. I conquer nothing but the steps in front of me. This isn’t realistic. I would die of fatigue or be stabbed by a drifter within the first 100 miles or so. But I think about it, man. I think about moving at a pace where everything around me changes but I’m still going slow enough to savor it.
[Rihanna voice] Walk walk walk walk walk walk.
Walk to a friend’s. Walk to the store. Walk your dog. Walk to work, if you have that particular luxury. Walk for cancer, because that’s a nice thing to walk for. Walk around aimlessly for no goddamn reason, even if it’s in an area you’ve walked around plenty of times already. The day changes. The people change. No two walks are alike. Walk when you have free time to walk, and make more free time to walk if you can. Fucking WALK. No need to run. Just walking will do. No matter what happens in the rest of the world, walking will take care of you.
Unless it’s raining. Then you should have a beer and chill.
Drew Magary’s book The Hike, which features walking, is out in paperback on July 4th.