Back in the 90s, before I became a mother and wife, I lived in Philadelphia and was a runner. Increasing my mileage was easy — if I felt like going a little longer, I’d do another circle around a block. Before I knew it, I could run 8 miles while listening to grunge and the Pet Shop Boys.
My apartment was in Society Hill, across the street from historic St Mary’s church and part of one of the paths for the carriage rides. I’d run up through Washington Square, around the Liberty Bell park, out to Front Street near the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge where there was a hill coursing up near the Delaware River. I’d skirt the far eastern edge of South Street, through Headhouse Square on 2nd, looping Delancey Street, Kosciusko House, Spruce and Pine Streets, past St Peter’s cemetery where years later I would attend an AA meeting when I was in town to see Queen & Paul Rodgers in concert.
It was never boring to run the city sidewalks, and I’d often window shop, being too poor to buy much of anything, so running past suited me fine. On Chestnut Street there was a homeless man who was always smoking cigarettes and would smile and wave at me as I passed. I started carrying a dollar in my running shoes to drop in his cup as I ran by. I’d hold my breath to keep from inhaling his second hand smoke.
One time I was running near where he hung out when a shiny white Mercedes convertible slowly pulled up next to me, rolling down the passenger side window. I thought the driver needed directions, possibly to get to I-95, so I stopped and removed the headphones from my ears.
“Can I pay you to get me in shape?” asked the man with white gray hair. He was surely older than my father.
“Um, I don’t do that,” I responded. I looked down at myself, confused, wondering what about my scrubby shorts and sweaty t-shirt screamed “hooker”.
“Well, can I at least take you out to dinner?”
I looked around nervously, noting that my homeless friend was not in his usual spot. As if I thought he would jump to my rescue if this lecher tried to force me into his car.
“I’m not really dressed for dining out,” I said.
“Oh, you’re fine,” he said generously. “We can just eat in this restaurant.” He indicated the establishment behind me.
“Thanks, but I really can’t. I have to go, my heart rate going down and all that.” I shoved the earphones back into my ears then took off, running the wrong way down a one way street so he couldn’t follow me.
This morning I got up at 5:45 to go for a run. I used MapMyRun to set a course from my hotel to the Empire State Building, up 5th Avenue past the New York Public Library to Rockefeller Center, through Times Square and back to my hotel. It was about 3.5 miles. The run was a little erratic — I’d forgotten the mini breaks in momentum from having to wait out a stoplight.
It is Saturday and only a handful of pedestrians and the drunks still sleeping off last night littered the sidewalks. I encountered just one pair of fellow runners. The roads reeked of Friday night’s excess, although many shops had already hosed off the area, so it could’ve been worse.
I remembered the joy of running city blocks today, and I’m glad I chose to start my morning this way. It also made me doubly happy that my half marathon in September is the Rock & Roll event in Philadelphia. Part of the race course is a section of my old running route. I will be revisiting the place where my bucket list half marathon dream came to life.