I’ve done more than my share of walking in this life. No joke.

Allow me to illustrate and make my case.

When I began a job at McDonald’s at the age of 16, I found financial independence, albeit on a low level. I started at $1.40 an hour and I remember how excited I was to be recognized for superior performance by our head manager. I got a raise. A nickel. I was on top of the world making $1.45.

The trick was getting to work. I lived on my stepfather’s farm which was 15 miles from the nearest Mickie Dee’s.

My stepfather and my mother did not object to me getting a job. But they didn’t help me much. I wasn’t able to drive nor did I have a car. Not once did my stepfather offer to drive me. I hitch-hiked. A potentially dangerous proposition, yet my “parents” never expressed a concern.

Hitch-hiking offered safety concerns. I remember one time getting picked up by an obviously drunk dad who had positioned his 10-year-old son on his lap. At speeds of approximately 60 miles an hour, he allowed his young son to steer while dad worked the pedals.

I still accepted the ride. It was better than walking 4 hours to work.

I planned ahead on work days. I knew there was a very distinct possibility of not getting a ride. That I would end up walking the whole way. So I would start out in plenty of time.

I have to tell you there were many times I walked that whole way. Not always. Occasionally, a co-worker sympathetically offered to drive way out of their way to take me home. But that was rare.

On the nights when I closed the store, I made my way “home” at 2 in the morning. It was dark dark. Lemme tell ya. There wasn’t a whole lot of traffic in Maine at that hour, especially on that road. Maybe 3 or 4 cars the whole way. And most of them had no interest in some ginger thumbing a ride. I remember developing my singing voice walking along unpopulated country roads, singing entire albums out loud. That includes all the instrumental fills that I honed in a Bobby McFerrin way. I was entertaining myself, but singing also provided a false sense of security that I would scare away wild animals emerging from the wooded paths I walked.

When I was in high school, I had a brief period where I had a steady girlfriend. She lived 4 hours away in walking time. One Saturday, I walked to her house and her father interrogated me.

“How did you get here?”

“I took the subway,” I quipped.

He leveled his gaze. “No, seriously, how did you get here?”

I went honest. “I walked.”

I remember his entire face shifting. “That’s not possible,” he declared.

Yeah, it was. I’d just done it.

Fast forward to my very early twenties when my ex-wife and I lived in Denver while I was attending Air Force training. The distance to the heart of Denver from the cheap apartment we shared just outside of Lowry Air Force Base was daunting.

Denver at that time wasn’t the city it turned into. Cleanliness wise, it was pristine. You wanted to go downtown. There were free museums and cultural attractions devoid of admission fees. Which was good because we had no money. We’d pack a lunch. It took hours to walk there.

The city bus was 50 cents to go one way. That first year as a military person in the mid-1970s, I made $6,000. Total. We often literally only had a dollar between pay periods which meant we flipped a coin about whether to walk there or walk back.

So I had an early history of walking a lot. Which is good, because my wife Judy is appreciative of strong thighs. Trust me, I have those. In spades. To this day.

Because I still walk a bunch.

I try to walk our Boston Terrier Sophie every day. There are days where we can’t go due to weather. Judy goes with us sometimes, and if I’m at work on a winter day when the temperature is only endurable for a dog midday, Judy solitarily steps up to the plate without dissent.

But most days now, it’s me walking the walk. We set off on the exactly one-mile trek around our neighborhood. It’s interesting to see what changes pop up in our area from day to day. We can go for weeks seeing static, but then every once in a while, there’ll be a big surprise like construction beginning on a new house.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 17 years. The longest we’ve ever planted in one place. Sometimes there is a yearning for change, but there is also a comfort in knowing what you know.

I walk a lot at work. It’s a compound of 3 buildings, each spaced approximately 10 minutes apart when you’re on foot. Not to mention the building I mainly house in is lengthy. It takes 5 minutes to walk both ways from my desk to the ice and water machine at the end of my hallway. On a busy day servicing IT customer support, I get my steps in.

Lately, out of concerns of my being slightly overweight, I sometimes work in an additional walk minus the dog. To alleviate boredom, I occasionally deviate from my mile walk around our development and I walk another development a short distance from ours. It’s a longer walk. Walking around my normal dog-worn path takes about 20 minutes if I’m by myself, but taking the alternative neighborhood route runs about 45 minutes from start to finish.

I like a challenge some days. Not most days, but I do get a wild hair once in a while. I took my alternative route a couple of days ago and I am still reckoning with it.

People who fly the American flag can really piss me off.

Don’t freak.

Read on, please.

I have never had distain for our flag. I am well aware of what it represents to many.

I first learned about respect for the flag during my short stint as a Boy Scout. It was taught verbally and in the Boy Scout handbook.

When I was a manager at the age of 18 working the night shifts at a McDonald’s in Maine, we had a prominent flagpole that stood alongside the McDonald’s golden arches sign. The flag was never taken down. At night, the manager was responsible for illuminating the flag with floodlights built into the ground beside the base of the pole.

This was when 80% of McDonald’s stores were company owned and not franchised. Your biggest worry was McDonald’s inspectors dropping in unexpectedly. At random, 2 fat cats in McDonald’s ties entered your store with checklists of things to write you up on. If you got enough infractions, you were reported and subsequently fired. Illuminating the flag after dark was on the list of things you had to get right.

I was faithful to the task except for one night where we got slammed with a dinner rush, and it was dark before I realized. The store phone rang. I answered it. Some gruff guy was on the other end.

“I’m a veteran,” the unidentified caller announced. “You better put a goddam light on that flag or I’m coming over there.”

Then he hung up.

I was mortified. Not because I was scared of a grizzled veteran coming over to pound me. I was mortified because I had failed. I rushed to the light switch panel and put those lights on pronto, happy that it was a night when no inspectors were visiting.

Flags are not to be treated as trash. At least in my mind.

I did over 9 years in the military. When my basic training was completed in 1974, we had our final graduation formation in August. In San Antonio, Texas. It was hot hot. So hot that my brilliantly shined black dress shoes were baking my feet like they were in an oven. I didn’t care. I was so proud of what people had done to inspire my confidence, my health, and my integrity. I was proud crossing that finish line. I was a substantially better person than when I started. When they played The Star Spangled Banner, I was filled with love for my country and the opportunities it had extended to a lost welfare kid. I stood alongside people from all walks and creeds who were just as proud and beaming. I came close to weeping with appreciation. I didn’t, but my eyes misted. My chest swelled and that’s no exaggeration.

In the many years since, I’ve met a plethora of military people who walked the walk. The military is like any other group, there are assholes here and there. Big ones. But the majority are the salt of the earth. They are people who would literally lay themselves on the line for your freedom. And a lot of them have. Unselfishly. Not questioning their decision.

The military is big on the flag. When you’ve walked a walk that may have included watching friends get wounded or die, your appreciation level and love for that symbol increases exponentially. Those who haven’t served have no idea. So if someone hasn’t served, I cut them some slack. They are just ignorant and I don’t hold unawareness against anyone. Being ignorant doesn’t mean you’re beyond the possibility of enlightenment. You’re curable. I’ve certainly carried around a knapsack of ignorance from time to time. Thank God there were people who set me straight.

I believe in freedom in America. That includes defending someone’s right to burn the flag in protest. You either stand for real freedom or you don’t. Not everybody thinks the same way or shares the same appreciations. I have friends with military backgrounds who would not think twice about punching me solidly in the head for typing that.

But in my mind, when you’re in the military, you are essentially fighting for freedom. Not just yours. Everyone’s. Now, to be honest, if someone burns a flag, and a veteran happens to step forward and punch them solidly in the head, I say to the perp, “I would have thought about that action a little bit more before proceeding. Pick your battles.”

The flag is a strong symbol and it means different things to different people.

I will never burn an American flag. Nor do I approve. My wife Judy will agree that when you’re in a foreign country, seeing Old Glory waving above a U.S. Embassy is a comforting feeling. It represents refuge. It represents freedom that no other country in the world fosters. It represents freedom from oppression. We are so lucky to have the luck of geography on our side as Americans.

Several years ago, when a neighbor sold their house and moved, their parting shot was throwing their full-sized worn-out flag in their trash can at the end of their driveway. They tossed it so casually, half of it was draped unceremoniously outside of the closed lid. I couldn’t believe the callousness. But that’s just me. Obviously, my flag waving ex-neighbors had a different take on things.

On my walks with Sophie, and our dear departed Caesar before her, I have observed how people display flags in our “resort” neighborhood. Some flags are bright in their colors and untattered. Displayed correctly. But there are others who piss me off when they fly the flag.

I see American flags flying lower than their football team’s flag displayed alongside.

I see American flags that the wind has wrapped tightly around the supporting pole. I get it if that happens on a brisk day, but to leave it like that for weeks on end is not respectful.

I see American flags so faded and washed out, the colors are all but gone.

I see American flags flying with edges so frayed, they look like they are bordering on unraveling.

I see American flags with their ends touching the ground.

I see American flags so spotted and filthy, it is a disgrace.

For the longest time, we had an old woman who had a bold flagpole erected in front of her house. The flagpole was fine. We don’t have a homeowner’s statute that says you can’t. But then the flag she flew (which was never taken down at night nor illuminated in the dark) was wretched. Faded. Dirty. Threads hanging off it.

I always shook my head when I walked by with the dog. WTF. Change it out. Fly the flag, but goddam, fly it properly. Be serviceable. Don’t make me come over there. I had more than one fantasy of garbing up at night in camouflage and sneaking onto her front lawn with a freshly purchased unspoiled flag I would swap out with the tattered relic she had proudly on display.

She died months ago. Her son took over the house and he took the flag down. He hasn’t replaced it, but I would rather see no flag than one that was disrespected.

On my recent walk around our neighboring neighborhood, I observed. I took the time to take things in. There were LOTS of flags. Well, it is an election year. I counted Biden signs. I counted Trump signs. There was even one that simply said, “Jesus – 2020.”

Of all the flags I observed, roughly 10% were serviceable. There were people on both sides of that 10%. Bidens and Trumps. Flags that had vibrant colors. Flags that were displayed and respected properly.

But the other 90%? Damn, man. Have some pride. Show some respect for that symbol. Don’t let it be filthy. And I mean downright dirty. My eyes aren’t the greatest anymore, so if I can see frayed edges from the road, your flag needs to be replaced. And please don’t superimpose your dog’s picture on it. And please don’t let it touch the ground, the lower part dragging in the dirt.

I saw all of this. I am often tempted to knock on doors and say something, but in today’s environment, I risk getting shot in the face on someone’s porch. Judy would be pissed if I was murdered while walking.

So I try to respect individual freedom and expression. And I am big on that – I am the guy who was routinely shut down in years past for writing things with 4-letter words in them, or worse, subject matter that offended. For every person who championed my artistic endeavors and identified with my voice, there was another who hated the fact that I was alive and breathing.

But I am fortunate to live in a free country. With all its foibles, and after having traveled a bunch in my time, I can without equivocation ensure folks they are lucky to live in a great country like the United States of America.

We can always be better. That’s not just this country, that’s life in general. But for the most part, we are a good collective spirit. We want good things for each other. And we have accomplished a lot of great things.

When I was serving in Germany in the 1970s, I was often put on a 2-person flag detail. Depending on the time of day, we were either putting it up or taking it down. It was Reveille or Retreat playing. We treated the flag with ceremony and respect. We folded it up at the end of the day with precision and then stored it with additional respect. And nobody disparaged the duty. From a military perspective, we were lucky to be alive and standing.

I was aware I could have been summoned to war at any time during my 9-plus years. I didn’t wish for that scenario, and I was lucky I never had to go into a combat environment. God knows, I met so many decent folks during my time who had not been as lucky. I knew people who had been severely wounded. I knew people who could never get past the things they’d seen. I knew former prisoners of war. Damn, I was lucky. But you know what? If I’d been called, I would have gone. I might not have wanted to, but I would have committed. It’s what I’d signed up for.

I remember decades ago when controversial activist Abbie Hoffman was vilified for wearing an American flag shirt on talk shows. Around the same time, other people wore flag designs on their clothes – most notably Pat Boone and Dale Evans. They were deemed patriots. To me, that was hypocritical, but I was a mere 15 years old when all that went down. I was good at pointing out hypocrisy as a teenager.

Oh, I still am. More so. I’ve developed my radar in my 65 years on the planet.

Today I see people wearing the flag as a cape. A hat. A mask. Underwear.

Part of me wants to punch them solidly in the head.

And the other part of me says, “That’s why you served.”

Because Americans are a different breed. Yes, we are varied. Yes, we are deeply flawed on occasion.

But you know what? I’ll take it. I’ll take the good with the bad and attempt to wrestle events to the ground, with an eye on making the world a better place.

I love this country.

I love the freedom.

And frankly, I don’t care whether you fly a flag or not.

Your choice.

If you do, I just want you to show a little respect.

Stop pissing me off on my walk, even though it’s your right to do so.

But that’s just me.