I took Chowder on a strange walk this morning. We diverted from our normal route.
Chowder is the kind of dog that thrives on routine. Everyone should always leave for and return from work at the same time. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. And walks always follow the same route.
So today, when we turned left instead of going straight, her whole world briefly fell apart. At first, she just stayed the course, not registering that I was going a different direction and calling out "Hey. Dog. This way." It was rough.
The first 10 intersections were a disaster. Are we going to cross the street? Turn right? Hang a left? She wouldn't start walking until I took a few steps and proved that, yes, the street wasn't going to fall out from under us.
But she survived.
I'm a creature of habit, too. She's so familiar with our route because we travel some version of it every day. I think that's because when I've got both dogs or I'm running Tom, the part of my brain that negotiates street crossings, uneven sidewalks and the like runs on autopilot. My active senses are used up worrying "will Tom notice that cat under the car?" and "how drunk is that guy swerving down the alley?"
But today I was on a mission. When I was driving over to the West End to meet Tim for lunch on Tuesday, I saw a sign at a motel. It said something like "if ppl arenT suppozed to drinkndrive, How cum bars have parkin LOTS?!!!!"
I did my best here to represent the whack spelling and feel of the sign, but it doesn't do justice to the real thing. So I wanted to take a photo. Hence the change in walking routes.
Turns out my memory blows and I we never found the sign. I swear it was on First Avenue North. And it might be, but farther west than we got today. Oh well. There's always tomorrow.
But I got some other photos. First, we met the God of Tires.
Then we found one of the few industries that's probably worse off than newspapers.
We saw a cool ghost sign.
And a not-so-old sign, but I like the i.
And a pretty crappy basketball hoop.
A funny sticker.
(The crossed-out part at the bottom had a message about safe sex, which the sticker owner did not agree with.)
Some brewery byproducts.
And the standard Chowder-in-front-of-a-wall shot.
So our route was weird and different. Much like walking in general is weird and different for most of Billings.
That sounds snippy and judgmental. And it is. But it's also true. And it was a pretty nice transition to something that's been bothering me since we moved here.
I sat down after dinner tonight and did a little math. On weekdays, I average seven miles of walking and running in and around downtown Billings. Today I walked Chowder four miles and ran Tom three. Before midnight, I'll walk to and from work three times.
In all those miles, I didn't see another person out walking or running for fitness. Not a one. I usually don't.
I can't remember the last time I saw another runner. And I'm not just throwing that statement out as an illustrative point. I honestly cannot remember the last time I encountered another person out on a run.
I work odd hours, so I know there must be people doing their thing when I'm at my office. But I run during what's lunch hour for normal folks, and it's through downtown and residential areas. You think there'd be someone else out doing the same.
It's not that I don't see other people. There are folks walking to restaurants, their cars, offices. And there are plenty homeless with no place to go.
In Butte, I ran Tom with a special collar that made it easier to pull him away from other dogs. Because we always ran into other people out with their mutts. But here, he wears a harness because we so rarely cross paths with other dogs and their owners.
I heard a story on NPR this week about Lexington, Ky., being named the most sedentary U.S. city by Men's Health magazine. So I found the list, and ... look where Billings is.
No. 74. On a list where 100 is the worst. It's us and a bunch of Deep Southers and the Midwest. Which confirms my argument that Billings isn't really Montana. But that's a different topic.
Anyway, my point is this: Please, Billings, go outside. It's not scary. If Chowder can do it, so can you.