I Hired a "People Walker" to Walk Me Through a Sketchy Neighborhood, And It Was a Lot Less Weird Than I Thought It Would Be

Talking and walking is fun, whereas straight-up walking is super-boring and hurts my feet.
Publish date:
September 20, 2016
anxiety, Social Connecting, Weird Jobs

Up until the second grade, I was considered a normal-sized person. Then this weird thing happened to every other 8-year-old around me: They grew. I remained the same size until I was about 14 and I woke up one morning two inches taller and with a rear end that had somehow tripled overnight.

Because of my appearance, I have often been treated like a doll. The worst part of this is some people simply can’t control themselves and just have to pick me up and spin me around. This has happened more times than you would believe. Picking me up and spinning me around is an enjoyable sport for a lot of folks, the only downfall is that I am a living, breathing and sentient adult woman and not a toy.

Resembling a human stuffed animal makes life kinda scary. Recently I was watching some murder show and a female victim had been strangled, and I touched my own neck and realized a normal-sized person could easily snap it with one hand. I’m just a little bag of bones waiting to be cracked and stuffed in a backpack.* Because of my stature and frail appearance, I often feel anxious when I’m walking alone and am always bracing myself for a potential abduction.

Last week I parked my car in DTLA and walked several blocks alone to a spot I had heard had “the best tacos in Los Angeles.” Typical L.A. scenario. Downtown L.A. used to be a forbidden zone of nightmares, but now it’s Hipster Disney with expensive lofts surrounded by a urine moat. I found a meter next to a construction site and in the five blocks I walked, I passed the following: a young man urinating without trying to hide it at all — like full penis out on the sidewalk and pants around his ankles; a line of douchebags waiting to get into a club; a shirtless man covered in dirt who popped out from around the corner like the dumpster monster in Mulholland Drive; a bunch of hot babes in tiny dresses that made me feel inadequate; and a man smoking what I believe to be crack because he was lighting up a crack pipe.

When I’m walking alone, I put up a big front in my head, I puff myself up like I’m a badass bitch whose eyeballs only go straight ahead and IDGAF about my surroundings. The truth is I’m like an old Southern granny, and when I see a man’s penis out on the sidewalk I think, “My word!” And when the dude popped out from around the corner I put my hand to my chest and exclaimed, “Heavens!” But I was alone and no one was there to appreciate it or discuss it or distract me. The best way for me to deal with fear is with distraction. I’ve had anxiety my whole life, and my defense mechanism is to talk constantly, so I can drown out the panic in my brain. As you can tell, my taco trip was not pleasant. My walk reminded me of my size, my murderability, and my frailness, but most of all it just made me feel very alone. I had no escape from my internal dialogue and the external unpleasantries.

I was going back downtown in a few days, and I remembered hearing that my friend Chuck McCarthy had created a “people walking” business, and I wondered how different it would be if I did the same walk with a Professional People Walker. We set up a walk to find out.

Physically, you can’t be much different than Chuck and me. He’s over a foot taller than me and double my weight. He’s got a giant burly black beard and wild black hair. The two of us together are the living embodiment of The Hound and Arya Stark, except his face isn’t half melted off and I don’t have a rad sword.

I felt the difference between walking alone and being with a People Walker immediately. This time around, our surroundings were a source of entertainment rather than gross or scary. Instead of walking with my eyes fixed firmly ahead, I looked around for weird shit to point out and talk about. I told Chuck about the man urinating, and I was disappointed to not see a single person smoking drugs. There was still a long line of douches vaping at the same club, but instead of walking out on the street to avoid them, Chuck and I pushed right on through. Our walk was so devoid of drama that we walked closer to skid row to investigate how it felt to possibly get into danger, but I still felt safe and was very much enjoying our talking and walking.

Walking alone made me feel like I had a spotlight on me, like a giant neon arrow pointing out to the world that I was a single woman. I know this is just a projection of my own insecurities, but walking with a person allowed me to be in the moment, to get out of my head, and to relax.

I’ve dated quite a few larger men in my day (brag), and the only thing people like more than a human doll is a doll accompanied by a giant. It just blows people's minds to see a big man and a little lady. It’s the ultimate visual gag, and it turns strangers into mush. While men like to yell things at me like, “Ayyyyyy,” men like to high-five other men and yell, “Sup, Big Man!” Dudes seriously love high fives; it’s not just a stereotype, they fucking love it. Chuck got one high five and one side five on our walk. Everyone just seemed to like us.

There was one other interesting thing that I noticed as I was walking with my People Walker. I didn’t mind the actual walking part. I’m about the laziest person I know, and I’ll drive around for 20 minutes to find a closer parking spot so I don’t have to walk any farther than necessary. Chuck and I actually extended our walk because we wanted to. Talking and walking is fun, whereas straight-up walking is super boring and hurts my feet. I even worked up a sweat! Something Norms may not know about Smalls is that we have to walk faster than you to keep up with your longer legs. Chuck’s legs are as long as my entire body, so I was basically jogging — but I didn’t hate it!

I am so proud of Chuck for coming up with this business. It may seem silly, but now that I’ve done it myself I can tell you that it’s just... fun. I would recommend it to anyone who suffers from anxiety and depression, because having someone to walk with you forces you to get out of the house and, more importantly, get out of your brain.

I didn’t want it to feel as different from walking alone as it did, but it was somehow better. When you see man spark up a crack pipe alone, you have no one to share that moment with. You’ll never get to say, “Hey, remember when that dude smoked crack?” When you walk with a person, you get to feel a connection to another human and share an experience together. Best of all, no one on the street picked me up or killed me. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I ask Chuck to wear a different shirt so people didn’t know he was a paid professional and thought I was just a cool chick with a cool friend? Yes.

*This is an exaggeration. I’ve taken a personal defense class and I will kick your genitals up into your spinal cord.