Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The People Walker

[ed. Great ideas are sometimes the simplest.]

Chuck McCarthy recently auditioned as a homicidal biker for a TV show, but the actor is finding glimmers of fame, and possibly a business franchise, with another role: Los Angeles’s first people walker.

He walks humans for $7 a mile around the streets and park near his home, pioneering an alternative to dog walking that requires no leash, just an ability to walk, talk and, above all, listen.

The idea initially struck the underemployed actor several months ago as a joke, an imaginary way to make extra cash, until it became real.

“The more I thought about it, the less crazy it seemed,” said McCarthy, draining a bottle of water – he now takes hydration seriously – and heading out into the sunshine for another walk, this time with the Guardian trotting in step.

A homemade scrawl across his T-shirt declared him The People Walker, low-budget, mobile advertising. “I’ve been doing walks almost every single day for the past week and I’m getting repeat clients, which is what you want.”

A stroll with this soft-spoken, hirsute hulk seems to be what much of LA wants, judging by the response to his Facebook page and homemade flyers.

“Need motivation to walk?” they ask from lamp posts. “Scared to walk alone at night? Don’t like walking alone at all? Don’t want people to see you walking alone and just assume you have no friends? Don’t like listening to music or podcasts but can’t walk alone in silence, forced to face thoughts of the unknown future, or your own insignificance in the ever expanding universe?”

For many, the answer to one or all of the above seems to be “yes”. McCarthy is fielding hundreds of emails from the lonely, the curious and the adventurous, all seeking a stranger’s ambulatory company.

“I try to listen more than talk,” he said this week, striding past handsome houses in Los Feliz, a leafy neighbourhood near Hollywood. (...)

“Awesome concept, plenty of screwed up lonely people out there,” said one of his Facebook commenters, suggesting the job is more people whisperer than walker.

But according to McCarthy, paying to be walked does not mean people are friendless. It just means they cannot always coordinate leisure time with friends, a product of fluid schedules in the gig economy, leaving them isolated. “We’re on phones and computers constantly communicating but we’re not connecting as much. We need that human interaction.”

We also need exercise. McCarthy has slimmed down two notches on his belt since starting the professional walking. “I try not to run because it could ruin my brand,” he deadpanned.

by Rory Carroll, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Noah Smith