Mrs. Indie-Pop was doing something you never ought to do in suburbia – she was walking. Not that it’s dangerous in our neighborhood, unless stepping in dog shit or being overcome by depression at the sight of four SUVs in a single driveway is your idea of dangerous. It’s just something that’s seen as strange. For years my neighbours would stop and insist on offering me a lift if they saw me out and about without the requisite metal chassis on wheels. “But I’m only 100 yards from home,” I’d say. “But I’m going that way anyway,” they’d say. “But I’m only 75 yards from home,” I’d say. And they would reply that it really was no trouble, and I would say, “Thanks, but I’m actually home now, would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”
Anyway, Mrs. Indie-Pop’s car was in for service, so she took the radical step of hoofing it home from the underground, about a mile and a half away, which is the distance the average US suburban dweller accumulates on foot across the course of his or her entire adult life. Around 300 yards from home, a car pulled up beside her. She saw a balding man in his 30s talking to her, but as she had her iPod earplugs in, she couldn’t hear what he was saying. He seemed to be in some distress. It turned out he was saying, “What are you doing?” Like the radio had just issued a tornado watch, a Code Orange terror alert and a Walking Will Eventually Kill You health warning all in one bulletin.
“I’m walking,” she replied, keeping her distance. Because what you read in the news is true. This country is packed with freakin’ weirdoes.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Home,” she said.
“Do you want a ride?”
It’s hard to convey through written speech, but this was not a neighbourly offer inspired by the desire to perform a worthy deed. It was a clear come-on. As though she would fancy a roadside stalker with a receding hairline enough to just hop in the passenger seat for a night of fun. She declined and continued on her way, then burst through the front door claiming, “I’ve still got it!”
Later that evening we were watching the first series of Mad Men, and I pointed out that now we were in episode ten, we really had got the message that advertising executives in the early 1960s were a bunch of boorish, chauvinist swine with absolutely no redeeming human qualities whatsoever. Mrs. Pop railed in the programme’s defence that this was a pointed reminder of what feminists had to start the struggle against. So that today women can enjoy the freedom of walking down the street without being hassled by, say, kerb-crawling scum who think that a woman alone anywhere in public must be in the need of male company.
Walk or don’t walk. In America they make the choice nice and easy.