Frank Mulligan: Talking the talk about walking the walk

Frank Mulligan

I remember reading a digression in a history book written by a Roman soldier turned historian from the fourth century A.D.

I know, I know. Yet another cheap reference to Ammianus Marcellinus. If it’s not Rihanna, it’s Ammianus. Ah, well.

Anyway, it was to the effect that he was unaccustomed to walking. Walking was what the low-born did. He did all his traveling on horseback.

The quote was, (thank you, Google): “I was now overcome with excessive walking, to which as a gentleman I was not accustomed.”

And I remember being struck by the thought that a culture where being on foot was a sign of social inferiority was very different from today’s world, a world where you can Google “Ammianus Marcellinus” and “walking,” and instantly come up with a half-remembered quote from a book read 20 years ago.

Then my car’s transmission, (or tranny to those of us who find ourselves referring to this rather vital part of an automobile’s anatomy more than 10 times in a single day, often accompanied by an obscenity), ceased transmitting.

I sensed this when the car stopped moving forward or backward. The transmission had been “slipping” for a time, but this was a full fall.

I’m fortunate commute-wise because I live only a few miles from my office – as the crow flies.

If the crow wants to walk, though, it’s a little longer.

But that’s not really the problem.

The problem is that for most of the journey, there are no sidewalks.

There are also stretches with little real estate separating the road from people’s front lawns, people who might not appreciate strangers cutting across their property and who might own dogs that share this viewpoint.

Since I was too cheap to rent in my car-less interim, and when I was unable to borrow my son’s car or hitch a ride from a co-worker, I had two alternatives.

I could, one, take a cab and shell out $10 for a six-minute ride. But that just seemed wrong to me, like paying to see a Pauly Shore movie.

Or I could walk.

So walk I did on several occasions. Once by night when lit cigarettes were tossed in my direction out of not one but two passing pickup trucks by drivers who must have read that Marcellinus quote and figured me to be no gentleman.

Throughout these walks I had a strange feeling as the cars whizzed by me, like I was doing something unnatural. If I had a track suit on, ears plugged with headphones hooked into an iPod, I’d look OK.

But I was walking to get somewhere, which seemed weird and made me hasten my pace.

Still, though, my reduction to walkabout status was brought about by a failed tranny, and the time needed to shop around for new wheels.

Ammianus had to walk because the Persians had just destroyed the city in which the Roman army was holding up and they held very bad intentions for the occasional Roman soldier found still alive.

So my walks weren’t that bad.

Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media Service’s Raynham (Mass.) office and can be reached at