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Single-Minded: These Heels Are Made for Walking

In an excerpt from her book, "Bitch is the New Black," author Helena Andrews shares her struggles as a single woman walking alone in the the big, bad capital city.


It has been suggested more than once that I have some type of problem.

''If you're consciously choosing to do something to the obvious exclusion of your own personal safety, then something's clearly wrong. You need to go to meetings where people sit on folding chairs. Take a friggin' cab!'' commanded a concerned friend through my cell phone as I strolled down a dodgy D.C. street, the sun setting on my back. Me not giving a damn about maybe getting mugged for the third time or fainting for the second.

That's my issue: I walk too much.

In the face of my driver's license deficiency and a gradual abhorrence for the close body contact prevalent on most subway systems, I've learned through pluck and circumstance to use the legs God gave me. People, I've walked across state lines--multiple times--without getting winded or wreathed. Never thinking twice about the damage being caused to the thinning skin above my smallest three toes until it was too late, I average 5, maybe even six miles a day without even trying. Pedometers are for pussies.

Like all my potentially damning idiosyncrasies walking is a product of my childhood and therefore can easily be blamed on my mother. Forcing me to ''go outside and play,'' Frances inadvertently created a pedestrian. On Catalina Island, being an only child with tons of friends but fewer equals, spending time alone was habitual and safe.

Besides, the more time I spent with myself, the more I liked it--or me, rather. Imaginary friends: Who needs 'em? Plus, there was a lot of stuff on my mind, stuff I would've never known about if me, myself, and I, hadn't begun our long jaunts across the beach, our hikes up beer-bottled hills and our parades downtown. Like the fact that Justin Ramirez could scarcely contain his passion for me, which is why he'd ignored me during The Pirates of Penzance rehearsal. And Amy Dugger's dad hadn't ''forgotten'' to pick me up for the camping trip on the Isthmus. And getting traded in the middle of the Little League season was not, as Frances would have me believe, the price of being too talented.

After graduating from college in New York--the official HQ for those on foot--I got an internship at O, the Oprah Magazine that paid $5 and some change an hour. Our offices were on 53rd on the West Side, and I lived on East 128th Street. Making minimum wage also meant choosing between a monthly metro card and regular sustenance. Seeing as how I'd never get ahead with a loud stomach--So, Helena, do you think you can fact-check October's contributors' page? GROWL!--I chose the latter. What's a 75-block trek twice a day among professionals?

In Washington three years later, I'd tell people this story as proof of payment for all these alleged ''dues'' people talk about. ''Every fucking day, each way. One time in the rain with high-heeled boots and a $2 umbrella.''

By then I had a master's degree and a metro card in a city with decent public transportation. Neither new development--supposed intelligence or cheap rides--stopped me from walking home after my shift at the New York Times' Washington bureau ended around midnight. People who have ''shifts'' should probably get to take breaks. But it seems that people who have degrees and shifts do not. Gallivanting around town on foot and after the freaks come out was my idea of a good break.

You know that feeling you get when someone is staring at you from behind? Evidence that there exists some type of spiritual kinetic energy between all human beings that we're just too primitive to tap into and use to stir coffee with our minds? About two seconds after avoiding whatever situation happens after dark between two men and a woman on a silent street, that feeling hit me like a fist to the face. Thankfully, these two teenagers didn't use anything that dramatic.