The Schlep

[Shlep] Verb. Haul or carry (something heavy or awkward); Noun.  A tedious or difficult journey.


She’s fascinating, isn’t she? The woman who arrives on time with her breath intact, hair in place and skirt zipped on properly. In the winter months she hangs her coat in the same fluid motion that she removes her gloves — a smart leather pair which are then folded neatly and tucked into her pocketbook that she hooks to her chair as she sits. “I don’t need a menu,” she says through a smile. She already knows what she wants.

Twenty minutes later you come barreling in, late for a thousand different reasons but the easiest one to offer at the moment is, “Subway.” Your hair is staticky from the hat you’ve just removed in wild pursuit of escaping the rising heat that your body is now generating; the sweat care of your having run one block with a scarf wrapped so many times around your face it’s a wonder you didn’t pass out or choke. Skirt’s swiveled around. You dislocate a shoulder while trying to take your coat off and you’ve just sat down. Not before accidentally punching a stranger in the upper thigh, though. Now you’ve dropped a fork while unrolling your napkin and no, you have not yet looked at the menu. Yes you need one.

You have about 100 shopping bags at your feet because today seemed like a good day to clear out your desk. There’s also a gym bag, a tote bag (for your change of shoes, which you are now — mid-restaurant — bending over and changing into) plus your clutch, which is about two seconds away from falling off of the table that it’s precariously perched upon, and though no one’s ever outright expressed it, you’re pretty sure the whole clutch-on-table thing is considered rude.

This is routine for a schlepper: we who schlep where others simply commute. But in a city where driving is the exception, cabbing is a luxury and walking is the rule, carrying your crap is an urbanite’s rite of passage. To all those who enjoy the sport of backpacking — come visit Manhattan.

The thing about schlepping is that it’s not so much about frustrating logistics or attempting to sooth the lingering notion (and often, reality) that you’ve forgotten something important. It’s more of a consistent reminder that you are not That Woman. The one who arrives on time with her breath intact and all ten nails buffed and her skirt facing forward as it was designed. It’s a nagging shoulder tap, an “Excuse me, ma’am, your life is in no way together” from some voice in your head that means well but does nothing to help. This woman across from you, the non-schlepper, she’s at once your inspiration and your cause for distress. Surely she knows how to do her taxes, has health insurance under control and never once has run out of clean socks.

How did she figure it out? When did she get so good at growing up?

After you share your drinks and promise to do this again some time, you bid your adieus and go your separate ways — she in her heels and her car and you with your baggage and two feet, try remember that whether you glide or shlep doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you’re on your way.

Idea: schlepping in mountain boots may be easier.  

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