Space is there if you look for it.
By Brad Beckstrom.
It seems like a lifetime ago but last spring I was in Tokyo, Japan. It was mid-March and cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom.
Tokyo is a crazy, crowded city. I had mentally prepared myself for the arrival and train transports from the airport to Shinjuku station, the world’s busiest rail terminal. It lived up to its reputation, especially since I arrived around 8 PM. With some help from Google maps, I was able to make the transition without any issues.
My hotel was a few blocks away from the train station and I passed through the wildly busy Shinjuku intersection. I was just part of the horde with my rolling bag en route to my hotel, just across from the Park Hyatt hotel that Bill Murray made famous in the movie “Lost In Translation.”
The train station would be my hub for my day trips around Tokyo and down to Yokoyama for a publishing event. I knew in advance to avoid the train station and subways during rush hour. I’d seen the YouTube videos of Metro employees “gently” squeezing folks into Metro cars with sticks that look like push brooms. I did get to experience rush hour once on my way back from a happy hour to the hotel. Luckily, due to my height, I was able to find some breathing space above a few of the other folks on the train. I felt bad for the guy with his face in my armpit.
It’s hard for me to imagine what this looks like now during the global pandemic. I know that people in Japan work long office hours and often fall asleep on crowded trains traveling back to the suburbs at night.
As crowded as Tokyo is I was very surprised at how things emptied out when people were at work. The parks were nearly empty during the week and even on weekends. There was plenty of room to move around. As long as I avoided morning and evening rush hours, I had no issues jumping on trains or enjoying a nice hike. My favorite part was the empty parks. I wandered around stunningly beautiful parks and gardens complete with teahouses and trails.
I don’t think this is necessarily unique to Tokyo. I’ve enjoyed Central Park at 10 AM on a sunny Wednesday when most of the city was hard at work.
Post-pandemic, how do we create our own space but still enjoy everything cities have to offer?
I’d like to think now that during the pandemic folks are getting outside and rediscovering these parks since they’re not in their offices. Like many US cities, I think the pandemic will fundamentally change how people work: not only where they work, but when they work.
Over the last few months, it’s been great to see a father and son or mother and child finding some time midafternoon to take a walk on the trail. This is not something I would see as much prior to the pandemic. I was selfishly used to having these trails mostly to myself even on a sunny day. Now it’s great to see people getting outside.
If we can have nearly empty parks and trails in cities like Tokyo, New York, and Washington, DC, we can certainly learn to spend more time outside in other cities.
If you stay away from smaller, busier places like convenience stores, fast food joints, and gas stations while you’re out, it’s actually safer outside.
Here are some ways to get outside and give yourself some space.
- Make it a habit. I take a walk after lunch. That’s usually about a one hour hike on a trail behind my house.
- Find your dead zone. Most people have one, it’s that time of day when you’re least productive. So, if your dead zone is around 3 o’clock, that’s a great time for a walk.
- Work from home. The pandemic has taught us some of the advantages of working from home. It’s a pain to set up, but even if it’s a few days a week you will be amazed at the boosts in your productivity and health. Eliminating up that commuting time gives you the time to get outside.
- Listen to audiobooks and podcasts. The great thing about audiobooks is that you can listen to them while you’re walking. So, instead of listening to them in your car, you are getting some exercise and catching up on your reading at the same time. You can get free audiobooks from your local library using apps like Overdrive and Libby.
- Take a friend. My son and I take a long walk with our dog Finnigan on Saturdays. Just like I did with my older son, we just make it part of our day.
- Find some other ways to move. If I’m not out walking, you can usually find me on my bike. Cycling really allows you to social distance. Just be courteous to walkers on trails. The pedestrians have the right-of-way. You’re not racing in the Tour de France and if you were you wouldn’t do that on a bike trail.
- If you’re working from home part of the time, mix up your schedule to find times when people aren’t in the park. Just like rush hour, you can avoid crowds on the trails after work and on weekends. Try to schedule your walks around that.
- Track your distance. I really enjoy using the Apple activity app to track my steps. I open it up occasionally to make sure that I’m hitting my goals. I’ve also found that I don’t need the calorie tracker app anymore If I keep moving.
- Take your workout outdoors. We’re fortunate to have quite a few outdoor gyms where I live but I often find myself doing a few push-ups on low benches and pull-ups on some monkey bars.
- Mix it up. Try reversing the route on your walk, run, or bike ride. I try to look for inclines or even create my own beaten path in the woods.
So, go create some of your own space. Get outside and put a little distance between you and the rest of the world.