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Moonlight mile: Midnight walking club kicks off in Federal Way
Dear reader: Each week, The Mirror will highlight ideas for improving quality of life in Federal Way. Quality of life relates to the satisfaction people derive from social, cultural and intellectual opportunities in the place they call home.
At approximately 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Jeff Kendig stood in front of Chase Bank at the southeast corner of Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street. It was cold, in the high 30s. Kendig glanced at the clock on his cell phone and wondered whether he should wait for Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest.
A few seconds later, Priest walked around the corner. The mayor seemed almost surprised that Kendig was actually there — as if Kendig’s recent calls to Priest about joining him for a midnight walk around Federal Way was some kind of a joke.
But the incredulity lasted only a second. With Priest there, Kendig, 39, was ready to walk.
“I should have brought my Pekingese!” Priest said as the pair began walking east along 320th Street.
Kendig’s invitation to Priest was not just a strange constituent request, but what he hopes is the beginning of something:
Kendig wants to start a midnight walking club in Federal Way.
He wants all types of people to get exercise and experience a different view of Federal Way. So far, the route for the walk is around the block that occupies The Commons Mall.
Kendig recently posted an ad on Craigslist and told his co-workers about it, but that failed to attract anyone. A little publicity and the mayor’s blessing might start the fire.
“I think people would like to go for a walk (at night), but maybe they’re afraid,” he said.
Besides creating a community group, Kendig thinks this club might counter negative perceptions about crime and safety in Federal Way.
But the time and place is also pragmatic. He works as a nurse at the Highline Medical Center and his shift ends at 11:30 p.m. He might usually just go home and watch TV or surf the Internet. But, he would like to use his time better.
“If I’m sitting around (at home), I know other people are,” he said. “What does it say about not just our city, but any city if people are afraid to go out at night? It shows that we’re giving in. It’s nonsense, it’s baloney. This is sort of a thumb in the eye of what makes us afraid.”
The sidewalk that circles the perimeter of The Commons Mall is roughly 1.36 miles long and passes by massive parking lots, chain restaurants, bus stops, grassy berms and high tension power lines. Long stretches of sidewalk are colored orange by the light from overhead light poles; more desolate spots are pitch black and marked by broken glass and litter.
At night in this small part of Federal Way, the usual context of shoppers and traffic is gone, replaced with a sleepiness like that of an idle factory.
As Priest and Kendig approach the intersection of 23th Avenue South and 322nd Street, near Target, Kendig raps his fist on the crosswalk signal — neither want to risk getting a jaywalking ticket, even though there isn’t a car in sight.
“I wonder if we actually walk against that?” Priest said.
Nearly halfway into the walk, conversation has turned from biographies to Federal Way’s image. Priest thinks Federal Way’s brighter points are not publicized enough.
“It’s frustrating to read the headlines in Federal Way,” Priest said. “When we have a tragedy, it gets all the publicity.”
“It’s all transit center all the time,” Kendig said. “That’s all anyone hears about.”
A few minutes later, the walk has progressed to the rear of the mall, along 324th Street. It’s dark. The only lights are in the parking lot of the mall, and are not angled correctly to illuminate the sidewalk. There isn’t a car or another pedestrian in sight. It’s so quiet you can hear the overhead power lines buzzing.
The desolation of that stretch is not lost on Priest or Kendig. Priest stops, looks around and says, “I didn’t notice, we’ve been out walking here and we didn’t have any lights. That’s just interesting when you look at it.”
Would either of them be afraid to walk back here alone? (Kendig, in fact, already has, on a previous walk.)
“I’d be a little worried,” Kendig said.
Nothing weird happens, though. In fact, no one is out, except drivers in passing cars, and no one is seen during the entire walk. Nearing the end of the loop, heading north along Pacific Highway, the surprise of Kendig and Priest’s initial meeting is settled.
“I’ll be darned, we made it,” Priest said. “I usually do hot yoga every night, but tonight I didn’t. I have the energy to walk a mile. And I didn’t have the dog dragging me!”
“I appreciate you taking an interest,” Kendig replied. “You could’ve been like, ‘Oh, I can’t do it,’ but you came out at midnight. That was kind of cool, huh?”
‘Not revolution, community togetherness’
Kendig said he grew up in a military family and moved around a lot. He was in the Army in the 1990s, but later had an epiphany to become a nurse. He lives in a condo along 320th Street and has lived in Federal Way for about five years. He used to live in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, but moved here because it was more affordable.
There seem to be a lot of reasons why he wants to have a midnight walking group: It’s convenient to his work schedule, sure, and you get some good exercise; he does not like bars because he doesn’t drink; he wants to fight negative perceptions about nighttime in the city. He wants other people to enjoy this sort of thing, and he’s convinced that they will.
“Picture if you will 20 to 30 people, maybe a couple of dogs or a kid or two, strolling along, meeting new people,” he said. “There’s no reason that even if it didn’t happen tomorrow or the next week, it doesn’t mean I have to stop doing something cool for my community.”
When asked his opinion of the scenery along the walk, Kendig was frank: it looks like a lot of other suburbs in America; it’s oriented toward the car and there are a lot of strip malls — all the better to take it back by walking around.
“This is America, this is it, this is our culture,” he said.
Walking two laps around the mall is quick, about 50 minutes. It’s enough exercise to get the blood flowing to warm the extremities against the cold. Five laps would seem doable in warmer weather.
Kendig hopes his event will grow. He set up an email account for those interested in joining him (firstname.lastname@example.org). He hopes that enough people start doing the walk so that he doesn’t need to be around ; if it’s midnight in Federal Way, night owls or the curious will have a place to go.
“If at midnight they want to go for a walk, they know that other people might go there at that exact time,” he said. “An instant little community for 20 minutes or 40 minutes.”
Kendig said he’ll be out there every Monday for the next couple of weeks to meet anyone else who wants to walk. He’ll be the guy dressed for exercise and checking the time on his cell phone in front of the Chase Bank at Pacific Highway and 320th.
“If nothing else,” he said, “I got a nice walk.”