It’s half past six in Makati and I’ve just spent the past couple of hours in the part of Poblacion that isn’t dead when the sun is out. At this time, rush hour is in full swing, and I live in the north, and that’s likely P300 or P400 on Grab, if I’m lucky. The train is all bodies, no mercy. And the P2P bus is all the way in Glorietta, and I’m full of caffeine and the kind of “fuck it” spite that you can only get from poor urban planning. So I walk six or seven thousands steps to Megamall, and decide I’ll get a cab there instead.
Put it on my dating profile: I like long walks. Anywhere. It’s the sort of physical activity that doesn’t exhaust you but makes you keenly aware of your body and the subtle strains that get at your sinews. Sit me down on a therapist’s couch and I’ll say the proclivity comes from an upbringing that didn’t properly train me in the art of commuting, or the fact that I didn’t learn how to drive until like, half a year ago. Ask me over a carafe of something sketchy and cloyingly sweet, though, and I’ll tell you any place is walking distance, as long as you know where it is.
The idea of walking long distances in the city isn’t new, and this is the part where I bring up the flaneur, an idea popularized by writer Charles Baudelaire and philosopher Walter Benjamin. To put it simply (and maybe a little too crude for nuance), the flaneur is someone who walks the city idly, aimlessly. The flaneur strolls the metropolis, observing and investigating the forces of modernity that govern our daily lives. Think about it: in the city, you’re constantly strong-armed by powers which dictate your movements — claustrophobia of a tight schedule, clocking in and out, traffic lights, EDSA traffic, the price of fares. From point A to point B. To your job. To your home. From and to things that both sustain and exploit you. The flaneur says, “Fuck it, I’m walking. I’ve got nowhere to be.”
The thing is, I’m not Baudelaire or Benjamin’s top hat-wearing, coattail-dragging investigator of the city. I’ve got my own beef with the drudgery of modern living, but I’ve also got places to be. One time I walked from Cubao to Anonas to Katipunan on the slimmest chance that a cab wouldn’t charge me 250 to get me to where I live, or at least to a driver that won’t scoff at me when he rolls down his window to see another schmuck willing to pay an extra 50 to get some rest. I walk to keep my wallet from becoming a void as empty as the soul of any other Joe and Jane on a payroll, at least until the next salary, then the cycle repeats.
But even with that condition, walking still has its benefits. Y’know that part of EDSA with all the Bench billboards? Have you ever seen the glow of Alden Richard’s face ten feet away, shining on the galvanized metal roofs below? Have you ever crossed the imaginary border between the north and south without knowing, feet slamming on concrete and sweat pooling at the small of your back? You’re passing the bends and corners that you can’t care about unless you’re travelling at the speed of two feet. That shit is wild. You feel big and small at the same time.
I know it’s not something everyone can do, and it isn’t entirely sensible. Part of what makes walking 6,000 steps in Manila not entirely difficult for me is that I’m a dude, I don’t have to fear catcalls. There’s also the risk of muggers, or even drunk drivers swerving into sidewalks. But as long as I’m only making enough to last me a month, I’m going to keep relying on these cheapskate legs to walk me through a city that I’m certain knows me better than I know it. And Grab, if you’re reading this, your surges don’t scare me.