by Robert Sullivan
Many of my friends initially scoffed at the notion of an adult stroller, and not a few even doubted my sincerity. After all, I am a healthy, active 46-year-old man, married, with a wife and two children both of whom are grown or at least in school all day, as far as I can tell. I still enjoy walking, and I try to get a few runs in a week on the treadmill at the gym. But I love my adult stroller. It’s one of those things that helps me cope with my career and my life, both of which are, to say the least, hectic. If people ask me why I use it, I tell them I do it for me.
When I am in my adult stroller, the world’s pace comes down a notch. As the stores and shops and businesses pass me by, I look out on a city that is suddenly a little less stressful, a little less anxious than if I were racing through midtown to a meeting, or running to the corner to catch a cab. Things seem more personal, as if the city cares, as if it is cradling me in its strong, gritty arms. As I see it, my adult stroller makes me a better husband and father, as well as, I believe, a better boss.
In fact, I have a great relationship with my pusher, Paul. Paul just graduated from Cornell, a finance major, and was already my personal assistant when he took on his extra duty. All I had to do was tweak his pay. Now, he gets to stay in shape while on the job, and the new arrangement keeps us at a healthy and ultimately more comfortable distance, since we now mostly communicate by cell phone and text. While pushing, Paul has some space of his own; I’m not breathing down his neck, like other bosses at our firm. I didn’t really see Paul much at all last week until Thursday, when, with my stroller parked at the edge of a restaurant table — and with the wheels locked — I dropped my Blackberry. As Paul crawled beneath the table to retrieve it for me, I noticed he had gotten a haircut.
Sure, a good adult stroller can be expensive, especially when you add it onto what you paid for the kids’ strollers! And, yes, I saw the pricey Dutch adult strollers in the Times’ Style section last week. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to spend a fortune. The smoothness of ride is crucial, of course, but then again the jostle of the pavement is part of the charm. At the end of a long day — after, say, I meet my friends Peter and Andrew, two proud adult stroller owners, who will often have their assistants park us all in a bar for a quick drink after work — I have been known to fall asleep riding the cobblestones around Soho or Wall Street, so free am I of worries and family concerns. (Sometimes, I don’t even realize Paul has transferred me to the couch at home.) A large and secure tray is essential for most businesspeople I know. I am able to keep everything I need in arms reach, including an iPad and a smartphone, though I generally wear a hands-free device, for no other reason than to wave at passing children and their nannies.
I do get looks, in the supermarket, for instance, where, if I stop on the way home to pick up some milk and a groceries, I will inevitably meet child stroller-pushing mothers, who will cast disdainful glares, as if I were some detestable man-child. Meanwhile, they are rarely in control of their stroller passengers, who are running free in the market, climbing shelves and wreaking general havoc, free of reprimand. From the adult stroller, I have a unique view of society, and it is depressing indeed, for we Americans are much too soft on our children. They are coddled, like perpetual babies. It’s discouraging, to say the least, and I am often tempted to say something.
My wife definitely does not get my adult stroller. This used to upset me, but at this point in our marriage I have realized that there are some areas where we just aren’t going to see eye to eye. She thinks I’m addicted to my new lifestyle. That’s not true. I took a two-week business trip to Atlanta last month, and when I found out that there were no adult stroller rental services in the area, I went any way. And I did not fly Paul down, though I admit I did look at the price, which was doable, if he hadn’t had weekend plans.
I ran into my wife in the supermarket recently. I was buying my favorite locally made muesli — the Swiss brand will sometimes leave a dry taste in my mouth. It was on a high shelf, and Paul was taking an important call on a deal I was closing that day. I unbuckled myself. I stretched forward as far as I could and was getting up on one knee, when suddenly an arm went in front of me and handed me the package.
“Thanks,” I said, not yet seeing who it was. Then I recognized my wife’s exasperated smile.
“No problem,” she said.
I could feel the tension. I had Paul wait in the frozen foods aisle, until my wife checked out, and then, after he had strollered me back to my apartment, I sent him home early and walked into our place on my own. After all, somebody has to be the adult in a situation like this.