Yesterday, I drove almost to the Iowa border to give a lecture for a lovely audience in Morrison, Illinois. The lecture went great, I met 116 wonderful people, and I very much enjoyed my time on the road. Driving 2.5 hours there and 2.5 back, even though it rained almost the whole way, gave me some much needed thinking time. It’s hard to multitask when you’re driving; you just have to cruise. It was nice to cruise.
The car I was driving was a rental. I’ve mentioned before, I don’t own a car, because unless you absolutely have to have one, if you can avoid owning a car in the city, you should probably avoid it. But by the time I got back downtown, the Hertz location was closed. This wasn’t a surprise: Carmen told me I’d have to return the car the next morning.
I parked my little red Ford Focus in the lot near my house and paid the overnight parking fee. My voucher would expire at 7:27 a.m., so when I went to bed last night, I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to have some tea and get down to the lot to purchase either a new voucher or get the car moved to a different parking spot until it was time to take it back to Hertz. This was the plan. (See what I mean about having a car in the city? Bleh!)
But because I am behind on sleep, I hit my snooze button…multiple times. When I finally realized it was way past time to get up, I did not have time to make my tea and have a cup of it before I needed to go down and deal with Little Miss Focus. This made me very, very grumpy. Usually when I wake, before I do anything — before I scratch my ribs or yawn or rub the sleep from the ol’ peepers — I roll out of bed, stand up, and go directly into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I don’t use the bathroom. I don’t check my phone. I don’t even look out the window to see if the world fell down while I was sleeping. My first impulse is make sure tea is on the way. Once the burner’s on, other things are possible. Barely.
Yeah, well, that wasn’t gonna happen this morning. With grunts and protestations that could put your grumpiest, orneriest Grampa to shame, I hollered and shoved my feet into my sneakers, stabbed my arms through my jacket, threw my wallet into my pocket, stuffed my keys into my pocket and went down the elevators and out the back of the building to deal with the (blinkin’) car.
I got down there and got right inside because it was raining, of course. I sat there. I took some deep breaths. I thought about how I was about to pay $12 for more of parking only to turn back around in a couple hours and take it to Hertz. I sighed and thought about how my Tea Moment was already sort of ruined. I thought, “Fons, why not just take the dang thing back right now?” And I decided, after rubbing my forehead a little while, that that is what I would do. I could get some tea at the Peet’s across the street and just be done with it. I didn’t have makeup on. I hadn’t showered. But as long as I didn’t see anyone I knew, it was the way to go.
After dropping the car off, I stepped out of the Hertz parking garage and found the rain had stopped. It was just barely 8:00 a.m. The city was so…calm. I had a nice cup of tea in my hand and — this is important — I didn’t have a purse or anything with me. My wallet was in my pocket. I had my sneakers on. It was a straight shot down State Street to my home. (Later, when I looked it up on Google’s map, I learned it was a 1.4 mile walk. Nothing, really.)
I sort of cocked my head and went, “Hm!” And I just walked home. In the morning, with nothing but my thoughts and the wwwwsssssssshhhhhhhh of the occasional street sweeper on a cross street or the trundle of the El trains crossing the river. I saw the homeless folks on State sleeping in the doorways; it was still quiet enough for them to stay in their strange nests. I saw a couple joggers. I saw some cops. It was beautiful to be there, unfettered, in my city.
When it happens that I am up and out and walking in the morning — it happens when I have, say, a rental car to return — I am reminded how much I love to walk in the morning. I did it on New Year’s Day, actually, and I swore then I’d try to do it more.
My tea ritual is so ingrained. It’s rote. I love my morning tea. It’s been my morning thing for a good ten years. Ten years! But the sweetness of early ambulation, the freedom and perspective of the walk down State Street this morning, it’s stayed with me all day.
And so, to you, I am going to make a promise: Starting tomorrow, for one week, I am going to take my tea outside in the morning. I’m going to walk, you guys. Half-hour or so. The weather is nice enough to try. Let’s see what happens.
What if it’s the key to everything?