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Color tinted postcard of Huey P. Long Bridge

Fanatic Reactionary Pedestrian {format} {format} 10:40 Abner Serd

The paving of America as seen from the roadside.

Broadcast: Jan 15 2005 on NPR Living on Earth Subjects: Environment, Travel, Technology

Reactionary Pedestrian

July 8, 2005

STEVE CURWOOD, host: Abner Serd had a simple, if ambitious plan. Walk the Appalachian Trail with a friend. Well, that hike never happened. But Mr. Serd did set out on an alternate route along the nation's highways and byways. The detour turned him into, what he calls, a "reactionary pedestrian." And his string of audio postcards traces the paving of America, as well as his own alienation and conversion to fanaticism. Or maybe he was always that way. You can draw your own conclusion.

SERD: The way it begins, my friend Erin said she'd always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. She asked me if I'd do it with her and I said I would, knowing it was probably just talk, doubting she'd ever really want to do it and figuring it never hurts to dream.


SERD: Then came the accident, a 60 mile-per-hour head-on collision. Three people died. Erin spent four months in a hospital down in Phoenix. I wrote to her while she was convalescing. I told her I'd meet her on Springer Mountain in Georgia, maybe give her some motivation to get up on her shattered legs and walk again. Lest you get the wrong impression of me, I'd like to point out that I didn't stick around to help her get well. I wasn't there to lend her moral support during all those endless months of rehabilitation. I don't know how to be that kind of person, and this ain't that kind of story! This is a story about a fanatic reactionary pedestrian who despises motorized vehicles, who thinks any distance is walking distance as long as they let him across the bridge, who promises to walk 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine and then walks 3,000 miles just getting to Georgia.


SERD: Good morning! Thursday morning, October 22nd. Well, it drizzled off and on for about half the night. The bivvy sack I picked up about six weeks ago and haven't had much of a chance to use seems to have kept fairly dry. The sky that was all different shades of gray yesterday is all blue today, with a patch of white here and there. The sun is out and steam is coming off the wet ground. I'm gonna get moving eventually. Think I'll have breakfast first.


SERD: So, the question is: what is a fanatic reactionary pedestrian? How does one get to be this way? What drives a person, excuse the pun, to pick up and walk 3,000 miles on roads that clearly weren't meant for walking?


SERD: It's a very strange sunset tonight. It's a very colorful sunset, it's brilliant reds and golds. A Hieronymus Bosch kind of theme, it looks like screaming demons from hell all racing to where the sun went down, flying through the sky with bellows of smoke and fire coming out of their mouths. Wow.


SERD: You understand, I didn't start out to be a fanatic. I sort of grew into it over several tens of thousands of miles. I'm not as bad as I used to be, though. I mean, I don't throw rocks any more.


SERD: Tuesday afternoon, Texas City. Passing by what looks like a Union Carbide Plant. Another mad scientist's dream with giant gray stacks belching smoke and fire.


SERD: I remember that time in Indiana, the guy in the Dodge Ram looking left and turning right, hurrying to beat the oncoming traffic. Never came to a complete stop! Pushed me a dozen feet backwards before he shut it down! If I hadn't managed to stay on my feet he never would have seen me go under.


SERD: Monday morning the 15th of February. Walking on little tiny seashells along the beach in Louisiana. It's kind of sad that people don't walk on the beach anymore. Last night, Valentines' evening, went down to the beach at just about sunset, watching all the Valentines' couples driving back and forth along the beach, driving in their four-wheel drive vehicles. Kind of made me feel like I'd lost, somehow.


SERD: I still have in my mind pictures of road kills that would break your heart. You want to hear about 'em?

Noooo, that's okay.

I can describe them in great detail. You sure you don't want to hear it?

No, we don't need that, thank you very much.

The dog thrown up against the barbed wire fence?


Are you sure?



SERD: Okay. Just had an encounter with a young woman back in Franklin. 20, 25 years old, and a couple of guys, but she did all the talking. She wanted to know where I took baths at. She said, "You gotta gun, right?" I said, "No, I haven't got a gun." She said, "Ah, you gotta get yourself a gun!" I said, "They told me I can't have a gun until I start taking my medication again."


SERD: I hear a lot these days about racial profiling. Racial profiling. I don't know how many times I've been stopped and questioned by Officer Friendly, not because I was doing anything wrong, but only because I happened to be passing through town on foot. I wanna tell these guys, look, all the really successful criminals drive cars. I should think that's obvious. In fact, the better the car, the more successful the criminal. You should be stopping people in BMWs!


SERD: The Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. Well, we got about a third of the way across the bridge, then a state police officer hit his lights and stopped and got out of the car and started yelling. He didn't have very good people skills, so I started yelling back at him. I don't have very good people skills either. Nor very much common sense. But I found out there is no bridge anywhere in the state of Louisiana that you can walk across the Mississippi River. It is prohibited. It is becoming illegal to get across this country on foot. I can't believe anybody building a bridge across a river for four lanes of automobiles and not even considering pedestrians and bicycles. Anyway. Waiting on a bus to get across the river. I don't have the energy to get across any other way right now.


SERD: You've got to be out there, breathing exhaust fumes every day. You've got to walk down the road at night and step on a lump and not know whether it's a piece of blown-out tire or another dead owl. That's how you get to be a fanatic reactionary pedestrian. You can read all you want about the paving of America, about urban sprawl and smog and vanishing habitat and on and on, but that's just theory. It's awful out there by the side of the road! It gets worse every day! And here's the crux. Instead of saying to yourself, "hey, it's pretty bad out here, it's ugly and noisy and smelly and dangerous and I don't really want to be here. Next time, I'm gonna drive!" Instead of saying that, you've got to say to yourself, "Hey, it's pretty bad out here, but driving ain't gonna make it any better!" That's how you get to be a reactionary pedestrian. The fanatic part? Well, let's just take it one step at a time.


CURWOOD: Abner Serd is the "fanatical reactionary pedestrian." He produced his story as part of the series "Hearing Voices."