Lou Reed’s 1972 Album “Transformer” included the song, Walk on the Wild Side. The title was a line used by cross-dressing men who relocated to New York City and supported themselves as prostitutes. “Take a walk on the wild side” was what they would say to potential customers. In his song, Reed introduced some friends from his own cross-dressing prostitute life. From whenever it was that meaning of the line was brought to my attention, I was careful not to use it. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. Back in New York, potential customers of street-walking sex-workers were already walking on a wild side. The invitation from the male prostitutes was to walk on an even wilder one.
Every endeavor has its wild side. Though we may think of persons in some occupations as dour or boring, that’s more likely a function of their personality than of their profession. Accountants may do creative things with numbers, agricultural engineers with drainage systems, and assessors with valuations. (Those are just a few occupations that begin with “A”. There are 25 more letters and thousands more occupations.) Taking a “walk on the wild side” comes to mean, “adding risk”.
Twenty years ago, the organization that employed me changed the way that employees’ pensions would be managed. I attended an informational session at which a representative of a large New York bank that was about to take over everyone’s accounts tried to put us all at ease. She was very friendly and competent, but totally lost the portion of the audience who were near retirement when she casually dropped the word “risk” into a sentence. You’d think she was a man dressed up as a woman asking us to “take a walk on the wild side.”
Every endeavor has a wild side, and it has a “safe” side. (Admittedly, the idea of being a cross-dressing street walker in New York City in 1972 gives me pause. I can’t see the safe side of that one.) We can operate in ways that keep us “on the safe side” even if we’re test pilots, fire fighters or airport security screeners. It’s not hard to imagine a politician amending even a tired out stump speech for a different audience in order to “stay on the safe side.” Sometimes college students choosing courses for an upcoming term avoiding certain departments or instructors in order to keep “on the safe side” and protect their potential grade point averages. One can even conceive of young men and women enlisting to serve as U.S. Marines showing bravado in front of their non-enlisting friends, and choosing the safest of the occupational areas available to them when they sign papers with a recruiter.
Neither the safe nor the wild side is sinful. The safe side carries the risk of being bored. I admire George H. W. Bush, who died in November of 2018. Even with various shortcomings that became evident during the four years that he served as the President of the United States, he showed himself to be one who walked on the wild side. He took a lot of risks as he became and then served as president. After he retired he celebrated his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays by going skydiving.
Walk on the wild side. Indeed. See Ya’ there.