My high school didn’t encourage students to walk. The administration sent out an annual notice alerting parents to the dangers of allowing their kids to walk to school along Edgewater Drive, even if they lived nearby. The students enforced the no-walking rule in a different way.
The social capital of my high school was cars, and its social heart was the parking lot. Before the first bell and after the last, juniors and seniors sat together in their cars or congregated around them. It was only through friends with cars that I was permitted access.
Forced to practice my driving on the way to school, I arrived on Edgewater Drive on a Friday morning in late April with a backache from gripping the steering wheel too hard and a headache from my nightmare about falling off the I-4 bridge. I rolled over the speed bumps inside the gate, and my mom took my place in the driver’s seat. I walked to class on rubbery legs.
I like riding in cars. The passenger’s seat gives me an armored, cushioned feeling, even if the driver is a teenager with road rage. But cars don’t want to be driven by me any more than I want to be driving them, in the way a horse doesn’t want to carry an anxious rider.
Reagan, whose passenger seat I frequented, arrived late to first period with an iced coffee.
“There was an accident on Lee Road,” she said by way of explanation, if not apology, to our teacher. He nodded. There was always an accident on Lee.
Florida is not a walkable state. It’s too hot, too exposed, and too sprawling, like you might fall into the sky if you aren’t tied down by something heavy. Its highways and towns spread like they’re melting.
And it’s too dangerous, not because of kidnapping or lightning or alligators, but because of a lack of sidewalks and crosswalks and streetlights. Florida ranks number two in the country for highest pedestrian deaths.
If we can help it, we don’t walk.
“Coffee?” Reagan asked, unlocking her car.
She hit the speed bumps like she wanted to take flight from them, and a friend in a passing car flipped us off. We passed Lee, and I looked for signs of the accident. All that was left was the glitter of glass in the road. Reagan asked me if I wanted a ride home.
“No, thanks,” I said, and wiped my hands on my skirt, tension creeping back into my shoulders. “My mom’s on her way. I have to practice driving.”
“Well,” she said, “it’s better than walking.”
We don’t walk if we can help it, but some people can’t help it. Students walk Edgewater. The homeless walk 441. Sex workers walk Orange Blossom Trail.
In 2014, the Florida Department of Transport created new safety policies and installed accessible pedestrian signals in Orlando. Pedestrian deaths continue to increase.
We pulled into our usual spot in the parking lot the Dunkin’ Donuts shared with a bar called Spatz, passing a motionless truck. It roared to life and reversed in our direction just as Reagan shut her door.
“You just fucking cut me off,” the driver yelled, red-faced. He matched his truck in size and volume.
“Sorry,” I said, and started walking, glass crunching beneath my shoes. Reagan turned.
“You weren’t moving,” she said. “Please fuck off.”
The engine made a noise like a small explosion and the smell of gas flooded the parking lot. He accelerated backward towards us, and for a moment I was a very small, soft bug about to be crushed under the wheels of an ugly truck. Reagan pulled me behind the Mini Cooper. Whether he’d meant to hit us or only make a show, he didn’t try again.
We walked in the shadow of the building to the door, and my eyes started to water, a panic response that I’d picked up when first learning to drive.
“That’s a Spatz parking spot!” he shouted. “I’ll have your fucking car towed!”
“You do that,” Reagan called back, and let the door shut behind us. She ordered her second iced coffee of the day while I watched the red truck through the window. It stalled another minute, then pulled away.
No one meant for the school parking lot to be exclusive, but it was. Encasing ourselves in metal and glass didn’t seem like shutting people out, but letting favorites in. The parking lot conspired to separate us in the way Florida’s geography does. The state refuses to accommodate walkers. Those who have cars are in by nature. Some of those who don’t are in by invitation. And the rest have no place in the parking lot. Who’s in, and who’s out walking?
“Can’t freaking walk anywhere,” Reagan said, stirring her coffee. My leg jiggled under the table, either from caffeine or my anxiety over the drive home.
“Remember sophomore year when we almost got hit by a semi?”
We’d been waiting to cross the street to get pizza. It hopped the curb right in front of the high school, then honked at us like we were in the way.
“Ah,” she said. “Florida.”
The accessible pedestrian signals were installed beside an exit to Interstate 4. They communicate in non-visual formats to accommodate blind or low-vision pedestrians. When it’s safe to walk, they beep quietly. But before that, they play a pleasant recording of a man’s voice, over and over: “DON’T WALK.”