Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Hello Walk

Posted By: Michelle Ashcraft (for week of July 5-11)

I went to college at Purdue University. As some say, I may have been born a Hoosier, but I became a Boilermaker by the grace of God. (I realize that some of you have crimson blood that is starting to boil right now … it’s a friendly rivalry, I promise.) At Purdue there is a beautiful green space called the Memorial Mall. There is a maze of sidewalks that pass through this beautiful space, but smack dab in the middle of the Memorial Mall is one unique sidewalk. It’s the Hello Walk.

I distinctly remember the first time that I encountered the hello walk. I was on campus for a special day for incoming women majoring in engineering. My friend (and later roommate) Jessica, her mom, and my dad were getting ready to go on a bus tour of campus. We walked out of the Stewart Center and crossed the road to the Memorial Mall to find a plaque in the ground explaining that had just set foot on the Hello Walk. It instructed us to say hello to everyone we met as we followed the path.

I have countless memories on the Memorial Mall, and I can recall adventure after adventure down the Hello Walk. However, I have to admit that I always thought it was a little strange that the Hello Walk actually existed. Shouldn’t we just say hello to those that we pass anyway, without having to be reminded to do so? (Hmm … maybe not if you were raised with parents telling you “not to talk to strangers.”) Perhaps what really confused me about the Hello Walk was that oftentimes it seemed that the blatant understanding that one particular sidewalk was deemed the Hello Walk made it taboo to actually say hello to anyone while crossing its path. There were times that I crossed with friends and they would whisper to me as we approached someone else, “Should we say hello?” as if the sidewalk was daring us to do so. Other times you would cross and as you neared someone they would look down or look away as if they were scared that you might say hello. Of course, most of the time, you got a smile and a hello. I loved the Hello Walk, and I always made sure that I said hello … especially to those I thought were least likely to say hello to me (it was awesome to watch them smile at the unexpected greeting!).

I thought a lot about the Hello Walk during my training this past week, but the action of saying hello has been on my mind since my training started. I have spent the majority of my training thus far on the same trail that runs behind my subdivision through the connecting subdivisions, and on the sidewalks of the nearby neighborhoods. Day after day and week after week I see many of the same people, and there’s always new folks thrown in the mix. For 9 weeks there hasn’t been a single person or group of people that I have passed that I haven’t said hello too. Sometimes I receive a hello back; sometimes I don’t. I’ve started to do some personal research on who is the most likely to reciprocate the gesture, and though the results are not statistically significant in any way, here is what my experience has shown:

1. Young children (most likely under the age of 13) are the least likely to say hello. (I attribute this to parents telling their kids to not talk to strangers.)
2. Couples walking together either with children or pets are only slightly more likely than young children to say hello. (The younger the couple, the less likely you will be to get a greeting.)
3. Fathers walking with their children sans wife fall next in line on likeliness to say hello.
4. Mothers walking with their children sans husband are more likely than their counterparts to say hello.
5. Groups of women walking together fall on the “more likely” end of the “likely to say hello” continuum (particularly if they are middle-aged).
6. Old men walking alone are the second most likely to say hello (even more likely if accompanied by a dog).
7. Old women are the most likely to say hello (even more likely if accompanied by a dog).
8. A final interesting observation: contrary to what you might think, it seems the more often you see someone the likelihood of them saying hello decreases rather than increases.

There are some hellos that I can always count on, and they are what keep me going on the ever increasing distances that come along with training. There is one woman that I see every Tuesday and Thursday. She’s always in the same gray Relay for Life shirt and is one of the few who will beat me to a hello and a smile. There’s also a very petite elderly woman who walks a black lab that is nearly as big as her. She always tips her big floppy hat up to send a hello my way. There is a younger gentleman who has made a commitment to losing weight, and as I finish up my walks I often see him shuffling along in a sauna suit (woah!). He always has a huge smile as beads of sweat drench his face; and he even puts down his phone or removes his ear bud to say hello. There are a couple of women who speak Spanish faster than any I’ve ever heard, and they always wave and send an “Hola” my way.

There are some other hellos that I can count on outside of walking too. Jenn L. and Mandie nearly always send me a good luck message via Twitter or Facebook on training days. My sister regularly sends me a “How many miles today?” text message and never neglects to tell me “Good job!” or “I’m proud of you!” when I’m done. Leanne often calls on Tuesdays to leave a voicemail that says, “You’re probably out walking, but I’m thinking of you.” And my colleagues that reside on the 5th floor of Patterson Office Tower not only say hello when I see them, but now often ask me how my walking is going. In the last couple of weeks the number of people who have not said hello as I passed have outnumbered those that did, but those who did have kept me motivated.

I once read a passage that challenged readers to look at the background of the photos we take. Have you ever really paid attention? Think about all of the people who are in the background of pictures you’ve taken over the years. For a moment you existed together with those people, and that co-existence has been frozen in time with the quick click of a camera. You may never see them again, but you have proof that they were there. I thought about that passage in addition to the Hello Walk this week. I bet all of you, like me, couldn’t begin count of the number of people that you pass every day. But I bet all of you, like me, could think of some people that you pass all the time. How often do you say hello? Just think. Those people could be having a stressful day. They could be dealing with a large challenge. They could be battling cancer. Your hello could be powerful! It could make them smile. It could make them forget about their worries for a few minutes. It could be their motivation to keep fighting. We should make every day and every path a Hello Walk.

The Numbers
For the week of July 5-11 I walked 21.13 miles and 61,051 steps. This brings my grand total to 132.79 miles and 322,327 steps.

Happy walking, and say hello to those you pass this week!



  1. You would think we were co-blogging this week with our stories of neighborhood greetings! You and Kim are going to be wonderful walking buddies. She walks with a strict policy to say "Good Morning" to everyone she passes. I call her the Decatur Ambassador!! Keep it up, and now that you are being more sure of your walking distances, enjoy some extra time back in your day....sheesh-over achiever!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. When I lived in Chicago for my NODA internship, I said hello to everyone I passed for at least a week. Then, co-worker reminded me we were in Chicago not the south and not to talk to people on the street. I love that you say hello and especially that Purdue has a Hello Walk!

  4. Every community needs a 1-woman Welcome Wagon!