I know something has happened, something more than eight years of living in the city and growing up in the usual ways. Or maybe the depressing part is that it is so usual, so common to become a walker.

We walkers are a busy army, bustling down the steps to another work day, or up the steps to pick up the kids from another school day. We hurry along the dark moving corridor, always just slightly late for a meeting or a dinner.

Today, I'm a walker and an emailer and a voicemail-checker. Not long ago my wife and I had to institute a weekly date night, so we would be forced to spend some quality time together at least once a week, without a dog or a project to plan or finish in between us. We schedule date night every week with our day planners sitting side by side, and sometimes it gets postponed, just like any other meeting. Sometimes it gets canceled, and we can't reschedule.

Thoreau said "the youth gets together his materials to build a ladder to the moon ... and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them." I know the boy who laughed at busy commuters was ready for the moon. His was the confident, naive feeling of being next, that he was different and his time was coming, that there would be no compromises, no hurried scuttle up the steps to another workaday existence. There would be time to stop and smell the roses, time to stand and let the escalator do its job.

I know now that there will be compromises, and that walking the escalator is what gets me to work on time every day, what brings me home as soon as possible to the woman I love, what affords me a few scattered moments to build my private little woodshed.

But sometimes I miss that kid who laughed. I miss his dreams of the moon and his naivete, but mostly I miss his cocksure feeling of being Next.

Sometimes when my commute is running a little early, I retreat to the right of the escalator and watch all the busy bottoms move up past me, cranking toward the street and work or home, and I can feel that feeling returning for an instant. It's a tingle in the back of my mind: you're different.

But it only lasts for an instant, and I don't laugh anymore. When the moment is over, I glance at my watch, pull back into their ranks, and hurry faster than the machine itself will take me, past all the standers on the right.

Are you a walker or a stander?