"Put your hands where I can see them!" Except for the rotating red and blue lights, I was blinded by his flashlight. He ordered me to put my hands behind my back and interlace my fingers. He bent me over the hood of his vehicle and kicked my feet apart while he searched me for weapons. All I could think was "What could I have done? I was just walking home from work!" Walking, it turns out, was the crime.
I live in Detroit. Home of the American automobile. It is, of course, a car culture but it's evolved into something more than that. It has become 'anti-pedestrian'. People here drive everywhere and I mean EVERYWHERE. That means they don't walk anywhere. Ever. Walking is frowned upon. Why would you walk even a short distance when you can move about safely in a shiny, climate controlled, metal box? Forget the fact that it's natural and healthy to walk and that we are all bipedal apes - our bodies were meant to move forward on two feet. Not here. In Southeastern Michigan, we were apparently designed to sit behind the wheel of a car.
For me, the idea that walking here is frowned upon is reinforced every day. As I leave my subdivision, on foot, I come to Telegraph Road. It's a divided highway with 3 lanes each running North and South. Should I want to cross this road legally, I have to walk 1.5 miles south to get to a traffic light that offers a cross walk all the way across. I could go north about one mile to a cross walk but that means traversing the on and off ramps of both Ecorse Road and Interstate 94. No sidewalks. No lights. Not exactly 'pedestrian friendly'.
I work about 2.2 miles from my home. As a long distance hiker capable of covering 30 miles in a day, why wouldn't I walk there? I LOVE to walk. I love to be out-of-doors. I love the sunshine and the rain. I love the snow and the wind. Why not walk? Because I almost get hit by a car. Every day. It matters not that I'm in a cross walk and that they have a stop sign or a red light. Sometimes, it's that the driver is a jerk and just doesn't care (or know) that I have the right of way but mostly, they just aren't looking for pedestrians. Mostly, I see drivers with a stunned look on their face like "Look at that strange human. He is somehow moving forward without his car. Where is his car?" The rest just give me the finger. Or honk at me. Or both.
Just the other day, the genius who forced me to jump out of the way of his turning van argued that he'd rather run me over than get rear-ended by slowing down enough to allow me to safely cross a side street. Yes, I had the lawful right of way, but I have a feeling that, here in Downriver Detroit, a judge would probably ask "What the hell were you doing? Moving about on two feet... "
So, back to the police officer with his hand on his gun. "Mind if I have a look in your backpack?" he asked. "Yes, I do mind," I replied. "What law have I broken?" I asked. "You walked across train tracks. That is trespassing. If you want, I'll just arrest you and you'll get more than searched." was his reply. He was right. I did cross the railroad tracks. I let him dump the contents of my backpack and my pockets across the hood of his vehicle. I stayed, bent over, hands on the hood, while he climbed back into his car with my license and talked on his cell phone. Twenty minutes passed. Traffic was stopped. I was freezing and embarrassed but afraid to move off the hood of his car. He typed into his computer and scribbled notes. I wasn't sure if I was going to be arrested or get a ticket with a fine that I could not afford.
He let me off with a warning and sent me on my way. I guess I was grateful, in a strange way, because he actually could have arrested me. Those train tracks are private property. I was trespassing when I crossed them. The only place to legally cross was about a half mile away, where cars fly across with no problem. You can drive across but, God forbid, you walk across. I humped it the extra half mile with cars whizzing by just a few inches away from me (this was safer than crossing the tracks?)
His warning worked: I won't cross those tracks again anytime soon. He said that I was "in the computer" and that if I was caught walking there again, I would be arrested. I'm not writing this to claim that I was right and he was wrong. Actually, considering the hundreds of miles of track that I have hiked, it's about time that I was busted. I've climbed over and around trains. I've passed many signs that said 'Property of the Railroad - No Trespassing' and kept on going. It's just that, well... I was only walking. Walking in a city where it is not okay to walk.
He's back at it!
People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. My next big adventure will be the Israel National Trail starting in February 2017.
The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.