Traveling the 'highway' to Central Grounds

Dealing with passive human interaction

More days than not, I am one of many people wearing “athleisure” clothing and speed walking my way to class in moderately expensive Nike running shoes. Those shoes have probably seen a treadmill fewer times than they have the inside of various University buildings. I appreciate how they make my calves look nice and shapely. On all other days, I (attempt) to put effort into my “outfit” — a collection of clothing simply classified as “not sweats.”

The commonality here is, despite how dressed up or down I look, I chose my outfit with careful coordination because of one thing only — the walk up McCormick Road to Monroe Hill during class rush hours.

This path is tread probably by hordes of students who see it is the “highway” to central Grounds. Therefore, walking up that sidewalk puts you into contact with a near majority of the student body and, more often than not, someone you know. It is a great way to mix in at least an ounce of socializing into busy college life. However, the greater matter of concern here is the number of strangers’ eye that inevitably fall on you.

It sounds rather stupid. Yes, of course they will see you, but what is important is how they see you. What is the appearance of your demeanor to them? Are you giving them any window to scrutinize or judge you? Do you look like you know what you are doing or where you are going? Does it look like you are a graceful angel floating along the brick path with the wind rustling your hair the perfect amount? I have been guilty of thinking these ridiculous thoughts at least once during the many times I’ve hiked up the hill. So much so, I even become self-conscious about the type of music I am listening to, for fear someone passing very close by could hear my guilty-pleasure playlist through my earphones.

The larger part of being able to walk up the McCormick Road “highway” is my outfit, as mentioned before. Fashion has never been my strong suit, so many of the times I am dressed in fool-proof ensembles. Much of wearing daring outfits is the way you carry yourself. If you believe whatever you are wearing looks good, other people will too. The psychological influence you can have simply based on the way you walk is astounding. Sadly, I lack such influential presence and must stay within my comfort zone of conventional outfits. Not only that, I cannot begin to mention the number of times I’ve discreetly glanced down in a span of two minutes to make sure my fly is zipped. Or, I have held the skirt of my dress down to make sure nothing is on full display on a windy day. Needless to say, I do not score many points in the ‘poised’ department.

The next aspect of my appearance I worry about is my face. Albeit, I look the way I do and I can’t change anything about that. However, there are things that can influence others’ perception of me entirely — for example, having food stuck around my mouth or lopsided eye-liner. If I’m extremely unfortunate, it could even be a bat-like booger stuck in the cave of my nostril. Many times, I prefer to wear sunglasses to convince myself if I can’t see the people around me very clearly, they can’t see me either. This is entirely untrue, but fooling myself into thinking so grants a small relief.

The root of all this paranoia is only the proximity within which you are of other people. Distance makes you feel safer, less recognizable or noticeable.

This funny thing is, all of this is in my head. No one notices much even being six inches away from others. In college especially, people are always on the go, worrying about something or talking to someone. There is a high chance the most they will ever look at you is a passing glance — a scan too shallow to pick out things like crooked eyeliner or a stained shirt. The brain only registers a vague, overall picture before moving onto the next thing. Deep (deep) down, I know this is all true. Yet I can hardly convince myself of it. As a result, I make walking up McCormick Road — the simplest task in the world — an activity that requires ridiculous amounts of orchestration and strategizing. 

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