Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Collection of Random Thoughts From a 17 Mile Run Through Chicago on a Cool Fall Day

   Standing on my front step. Looking at the light rain. Hesitant. And finally into the street. The first steps are good. Not great. But better than what I'd feared. Tightness in both upper thighs and my right calf. But nothing that I can't run with. And the left ankle feels fine for now.

   East on 19th Street. Go by the old laundromat. Cross the weed choked railroad tracks. Come out onto Halsted and turn south. I feel good. Better than expected. But this is a long run, and it's dangerous to get too excited too early.

   Over the drawbridge, under the Orange Line tracks, out of Pilsen, and into Bridgeport. The doors are open at Freddie's. They're not open for business yet. But this is the first time I've seen the inside of the building since the fire. It's been completely gutted. Everybody inside is wearing a tool belt. And nobody is eating pizza. But it's good to see that there is work being done.

   A man mowing the lawn in the rain. I remember mowing lawns with an electric mower when I was a kid. Long orange extension cord stretched out behind me. One couple that I mowed for, seemed to always be fighting. I wonder where they are now. I wonder what they're like.

   East on 35th. Run by the ballpark. Tag the statue. Rituals can be helpful. They can help you remember things that might be easily forgotten otherwise. Over the Dan Ryan. Under the Metra tracks.

   Out of Bridgeport, and into Bronzeville. North on State. Through the ITT campus. Dodging students. Umbrellas in one hand. Cell phones in the other. Eyes locked on the phone.

   Traffic on State Street is light, yet slow. A cruising sedan parts the waters of a giant puddle, like a canoe on a small lake. A crosswalk beeps its signals for the visually impaired. I cross the street and make a soft left back onto the sidewalk. Careful with the ankle.

   East on 31st. Moving beyond the campus. Residential Bronzville. Vacant lots behind chain link fences. Old churches. Broken glass in the gutter. A lonely gas station. John J. Pershing Magnet School. The lights behind the windows of the classroom trailer seem dim. The fall weather suits the neighborhood well, and I feel comfortable and at peace as I pass through.

   Onto the bridge that takes me over a dozen or so sets of of railroad tracks. Outbound trains headed for places like South Bend, Indiana and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The skyline comes into view from the bridge. The dark and misty fingers of the sky grab the tops of the buildings like a chess player resting his hands on his pieces, uncertain of his next move.

   Onto the lakefront path. 31st Street Beach. An elderly man is talking to himself about the rain and the wind and the waves. And my first thought is that he's at least a little crazy. But I was contemplating the same things in my head. And he was simply giving voice to his thoughts. Is that gap so big?

   The man fades into the background, and I'm left with one of Chicago's best kept secrets. The south end of the lakefront path. Bird sanctuaries filled with wildflowers. Waves crashing into the seawall. Several miles of quiet open space. The rain picked up as I ran by the Fallen Firemen and Paramedics Memorial Park.

   Next to McCormick Place, I see a small group of ducks with their beaks shoved into small puddles. And I wonder what type of food there is to be found in such a spot. On the north side of Burnham Harbor, I see people fishing in the rain. They're the first people I've seen since the old man.

   Around the aquarium and into the downtown stretch of lakefront. The weather keeps all but the most determined tourists at bay on a day like today. And even this stretch is free of all but a handful of people and a few dozen geese.

   Ohio Street Beach. Oak Street Beach. People standing by the water. Just looking at it. That's incredibly common. Something about the massive body of water just draws the attention of people. I don't remember ever going for a run along the lakefront without seeing at least one person in that trance-like state.

   North Avenue Beach. One last water fountain, before heading into Lincoln Park and turning south to go home. Empty carb packets litter the area around the fountain. Many of this city's marathoners are only twelve days from Race Day. And they will have just finished the last of their long runs.

   There had been trucks scattered along the beaches. Gathering seasonal equipment, and taking it to storage until next year. And the same thing was happening in the park.

   I ran through Old Town. Boutiques and restaurants. Bars and condos. A world that always feels a little foreign to me. I pass the shop windows and give a passing glance to the things that I can't imagine even wanting, much less buying. With the one exception being food. I do love food in all of its delightful variety.

   The fatigue and the soreness were getting hard to ignore. It was a lazy summer, and the rust is still apparent. But there was no sign of injury. And fatigue and soreness can be beat. Besides, I wasn't settling for anything other than total exhaustion today.

   I ran down Orleans, just south of Division. A stretch of road that doesn't seem to fit with any of the neighborhoods that surround it. Not Old Town to the north, or the Gold Coast to the east. Nor River North to the south, or the ruins of Cabrini to the west. Orleans from Division St. to Chicago Ave. serves as a cafeteria for many of the city's cab drivers. Indian, Pakistani, and Somalian restaurants populate this stretch of  the city. A small pocket for the locals, on the outskirts of a downtown area that is geared to the tourists and suburbanites that seem to prefer the comfort and familiarity of the big chain restaurants.

   I turned west, not wanting to get caught downtown. I ran by the home of the Jesse White Tumblers and a large community garden. And I turned south on Halsted, rounding the Tribune building. As I climbed my final bridge, I put my head down and locked my attention into a series of slow but steady strides. Up the hill. Over the tracks. No slacking on the pace. Crest the hill. And bring the head up to feel the rain as the downhill stretch begins.

   This is the spot that tells me I'm almost home. Just a few more miles to go. My steps were slow, and my legs were heavy. But I felt good. I wasn't moving fast, but I was moving clean. There was no hitch. No pain. I was almost 15 miles in, and I was fine.

   My head cleared as I moved through the West Loop and made my way back home to Pilsen. I wasn't thinking much about my surroundings anymore. I was just movement. Steady, flowing, movement.

   I saw a small bird on the sidewalk near the end of the run. It wasn't moving, but it sat upright and from a distance it didn't seem hurt. But as I got closer, I could see it's right wing was sticking out at an unnatural angle. And then I got close enough to see the raindrops collecting on its cold stiff feathers. Beads of water standing on the stillness of a vacant vessel. I stepped over it and made my way home.

   Nine and a half weeks 'til the Memphis Marathon. Time to move.

1 comment:

  1. I really love this one! Felt like you were taking us on a trip with you throughout the city, but also through your mind in a run... a real meditation. First there are all these thoughts and explorations and musings, then things become quieter and just ARE. Ending with the dead bird was a really beautiful touch. Great entry, Chris!