When I was in the ninth grade I attended Seminole Junior High School -- right across the street from the institution in the picture above. The times they were a-changin', however, and between ninth and tenth grade the junior high disappeared and became a middle school, open for business to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and shuffling the ninth graders up to the high school along with my class of sophomores. The high school wasn't built to handle the influx, however, and even though portable classrooms picked up some of the slack we were forced to move to double sessions for my entire tenure at Seminole High.
Juniors and seniors began class at some ridiculously early hour -- 7:10, maybe? Close enough. They were released around noon, though -- not a bad gig, to be done with school in time to get home for lunch (this is when I got hooked on soap operas: I'd walk in the door, grab lunch, and my grandmother would be watching "Days of Our Lives"; I never had a chance). My sophomore year, however, was spent in the outer Siberia of a 12:15-5:30 schedule -- the 12:15 may be off by five or ten minutes, but 5:30 is burned into my brain. I had Consumer Education last period for the first half of the year, a class anyone with an IQ above room temperature would have no trouble acing, and I would sit there and stare at the clock as it progressed at a rate that might make snails impatient.
My teacher in that Consumer Ed class -- his name escapes me -- dressed like a CEO. My father called him "the highest-paid teacher in Pinellas County." I might be hazy on the details, but he apparently had been one of the higher-ups (head of the school board? who remembers) who was unpopular but had a contract, so he couldn't be fired. He was reduced to teaching rotten high schoolers and must've drawn the short straw because he sure did have a lousy schedule. I remember his ties -- Alex would've identified -- he wore them trussed in what's known as an "Onassis knot," for obvious reasons. He was nice enough -- certainly never seemed to resent us or to resent his lousy schedule; maybe he was a night owl and enjoyed sleeping until 10:00 in the morning.
I rode the bus, living just outside of the two-mile boundary that differentiated bus riders from walkers (or bike riders or kids whose moms drove them). But I liked to walk and would often leave the house early and hoof it to school. I took the bus home because it was already late enough, but my stop was one of the last ones on the circuitous route. Sometimes I'd get off at the first stop; even though I had to walk a longer distance I got home about the same time.
I'd disembark on 113th Street and cut through the parking lot of some condominiums. During the fall and winter it was already growing dark by this time of day and as I walked, alone, I felt a sense of being on the cusp of something: adulthood, adventure, the great unknown. I can conjure the feelings today if I close my eyes and remember. Remember. It's a feeling that centers in my chest, low, deep, and it permeates the air I breathe. I didn't know what life would hold -- hadn't a clue, honestly -- but I was ready, I thought. I can see myself in my mind's eye and I was beautiful, although I didn't think so. Long, straight brown hair, long tan legs, short skirts -- it was the 70s.
I was stopped by a cop once as I walked to school. He wanted to know what I was doing, why I wasn't in class at 11:30 on a week day. "I'm on my way, " I told him. "School doesn't start until 12:15." I looked older than fifteen.
Needless to say, I never walked to school when it started at 7:10. I would walk home, though, cutting through neighborhoods, lawns, parking lots. I never liked cutting through private yards, but I would do it, twice on the route, in order to chop entire blocks off of the walk. No one ever told me it was a problem.
When did walking become exercise? When did I stop doing it for the fun of it, for the exhilaration of being outside, able to go anyplace my feet could wander? I don't mind growing older, old. I wish I hadn't lost the joy of just moving, though. When I think back on all the times I walked, I don't remember being hot --it was Florida, I had to have been hot. Wasn't a problem.