A tortoise and a hare learn to be a pair

He procrastinates; I'm punctual. He's mellow; I'm mercurial. He's patient; I'm precipitous. Yet my husband and I learned long ago how to complement (and occasionally even compliment) such differences.

Our respective perambulation speeds, however, have always seemed irreconcilable. I'm a power walker; Ken's a plodder. This difference dates from the day we married.

A briskly striding bride, I never even considered doing the hesitation step. Ironically, my dowry contained an old college poster that read: "Don't walk behind me, I will not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I will not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

The past 16 years have proved such advice easier to read than to apply. Yet because Ken and I still love walking (not to mention each other), we keep traipsing around together, or trying to. Whether it's a trot around the block, a gambol through the woods, or a jaunt down a busy city street, he's generally (just) a few yards (right) behind me.

"Wait up!" he'll exclaim, jogging to draw even. "Keep up!" I retort, striding on.

When we take constitutionals down quiet streets, sometimes I even zigzag from curb to curb, traversing the straight line of his route, much as the fabled hare danced around the tortoise.

Ken says my default speed is permanently stuck on "blistering." I counter that he moves (if you call that moving) at a rate somewhere between dawdle and loiter.

However incompatible our speeds, they seem inexorably calibrated. When I do slow down, it seems as if he goes slower still. I've speculated that if I ever did stop to let him catch up, he'd probably start walking backward.

But recent incidents gave a warning tug on the invisible bungee cord that connects us. Visiting New Orleans, we'd resolved to see the city solely via its streetcars and our own four feet.

Our first evening there, we set off walking toward a restaurant. A wrong turn at a confusing intersection drew us into an area that looked less dangerous than merely deserted.

While I wasn't keen on walking my usual three yards ahead in this urban twilight zone, I didn't want to slow down, either. Fortunately, Ken picked up his normally glacial pace - with an ease that astonished me - until we reached our destination.

As the week wore on, we walked everywhere, logging far more miles than we would at home. To my surprise, I found myself losing velocity with every passing day.

At first I told myself I was merely accommodating Ken's poky pace. But in fact his gait exhibited a newfound alacrity, whether we were scurrying to catch a streetcar named St. Charles or pressing on toward Preservation Hall. A few times, distracted by some window display, I even fell a step behind. Late each day, when we came to "don't walk" lights, I was secretly relieved to pause and rest.

On our final morning in the Big Easy, we navigated the busy Riverwalk pedestrian mall. A crowd had gathered to watch some break dancers perform in a plaza. Eager to get a look, I scuttled ahead to hop up on a concrete ledge. But I still couldn't see. I turned to tell Ken we might as well keep going.

He was no longer behind me.

Freezing in place, I scanned the sea of heads around me. A minute passed; no Ken. How could I lose track of the world's handsomest man, clad in a red jacket, yet? I couldn't bear to think that we might spend our last day in this vibrant vacation venue running in circles, trying to locate each other. We'd failed to consider that in a city where tourists and conventiongoers throng the sidewalks, it'd be imperative for us to stick together, or at least have a plan in case of separation.

Resolving to stay put until the horde thinned out, I peered repeatedly in every direction, scanning the milling masses for a glimpse of my ever-belated beloved. Nowhere. I began to feel exasperated. Where had he gone? I pondered my theory about how, if I ever stopped, Ken might walk backward. Surely he hadn't done so - had he?

Just as my heart began sinking, my precious pedestrian partner abruptly reappeared at my elbow, smiling.

"Where were you?" I demanded, a little annoyed, a lot relieved.

"Right here ... uh, just over there, the whole time," he equivocated - a bit too innocently, I thought. But as we proceeded down the street, I clutched his arm and announced a tardy new year's resolution: to modulate my march to a meander, the better to stay in sync with my spouse.

As we ambled companionably on, he repeatedly denied having hidden behind a lamppost just to teach this hare her lesson. But I could have sworn I saw a victory gleam in my dear tortoise's eye.

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