Lilypads are overrated

Here’s the thing. You never know.

Mo and I are out on an emergency frame-buying mission. Don’t ask. On the way back, we stop by the track. Because, well, you never know. I might have mentioned that.

And it’s open.

Two football players on the front stretch. Gazelles on the back. It’s like nothing ever happened. We just look at each other.

Then Mo’s car breaks, and then my car breaks, and I spend a delightful day off confirming mechanics’ suspicions that I don’t have a clue what makes cars go. Sure, I don’t know how a carburetor works. But ask me about a Garmin 235. OK, I don’t know how that works either. Maybe don’t talk to me at all.

But then I eventually get one car back, and then the other, and life goes on. I head to the track just as the sun goes down. The sign at the college says it’s still 95, but it’s that sort of warm summer evening that feels good, even if it’s only April. No more sun, a little breeze. The burrowing owls are swooping overhead, looking for Mo’s pet mouse. Two Chinese tennis players are yammering in the dark on the front stretch between imaginary serves. Other than that, I have the track to myself.

No music. I embrace the perfect silence, other than the freeway traffic in the background and some overcaffeinated tennis players on the court. The lights are on all the way around, giving it a soft glow. It couldn’t be more perfect.

What happened? Did they decide to keep it open? Are they still debating? Did a modern-day Monkey Wrench Gang cut the locks? Those football players a couple days ago looked a bit deranged. I don’t care. It’s Tuesday night and I have a track.

Two miles is all I’ve got. Besides, it’s almost time for “The New Girl,” and life is all about priorities. I wave goodbye to the owls, nod to the tennis players, take one last look.

Maybe the track will close soon. Maybe I’ll die in a flaming car crash on the way home and it won’t matter. Who knew brake fluid was important?

Ruth gonna do what Ruth gonna do. All you can do is watch the show. How will it end? Here’s the thing. You never know. You put on your shoes and try to figure out the 235 one more time. Who needs Lilypads anyhow? Triangles. I don’t even know what this means.

Bring on the garden hose …

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p.s. the train had 91 cars

“I’ve been sniffed.”
— mo sheppo

I’m still not sure what I think of Flagstaff. Is it home? Or just a place to build a snowman when it’s 100 in Phoenix?

We talked about it a lot while driving up today. With the new technology, I can work anywhere. By a weird coincidence, Flag is anywhere. And the oatmeal stout is pretty great. Could I survive life at 7,000 feet when the coldest temperature I’ve ever endured is 62? Has it been discovered a bit too much? It feels crowded these days.

I don’t know. We sat on the courthouse steps where we got married. We had some late for the train coffee. And we basked amid aspens in the sort of silence that goes on forever.

Maybe.

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way back when

Well, I guess that this is now the end
Who’d have thought, my old friend
— the prophet aimee mann

“It’s locked.”

As we’re heading toward the track, three guys are coming out. They’re all shirtless with the bodies of aspiring NFL guys. Football cleats in hand, coated in sweat. We must be giving them the “ummmmm, so where have you been” look, because one of them says, “Oh, yeah, we jumped the fence.”

We tell them what the security guy said about closing. They don’t seem surprised. “Chaparral’s usually open,” one of them offers, referring to the high school down the road. “And maybe Saguaro,” the guy on the right adds hopefully. We’re a bunch of junkies gathered on the street corner looking for a fix. But the fix won’t last. High schools aren’t available during the week, and a track in the city doesn’t replace the panorama that stretches behind the SCC track.

We all shrug and go on with our lives. Mo takes me out on the dirt loop around the school that she had tried earlier in the week. It’s OK, but the back half has too much traffic, and there’s just that karma. Once you’re not wanted someplace, you’re not wanted.

We do the math as we drive home. We discovered the track in 2000, when we had first became us. It was love at first sight. We got an apartment as close to it as we could find. When we moved to the south side of Phoenix, we would make the 45-minute drive to run there. When we moved to South Texas, we would visit the track when we came here for vacation. Go see the Grand Canyon? Only if there’s time after we commune with the track.

“I should have know that it was coming down to this,” the prophet Mann once said. I didn’t listen.

We’ve run on this little stretch of heaven roughly 21 billion times. 18 years. It’s our home.

And now it’s not.

Bye, track. Who’d have thought, my old friend?

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things i wish i had said, part 77

“I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.”
— George H.W. Bush in 1994

Safe journeys, Mrs. Bush. A life well-played. “Rhymes with rich” will always be my favorite quote.

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a drink a day keeps the shrink away

“Anarchism is democracy taken seriously.” 
— the prophet Edward Abbey

He has the shot put out now. I’m reminded of the old saying, “Always keep your eye on an elderly guy throwing a cannonball.” This is why I love the track.

He’s an unapologetically old decathlete. Braces on both knees, Nike spikes, two bags of all the junk decathletes need to decathle. That might not be a word.

What kind of dedication does it take to work on your long jump when you’re in your seventh decade of running the mile? What inner voice is urging you to torture yourself on an April day? Why devote yourself to something that requires so much work? And hauling around a shot put?

That’s the thing about the track. It’s a magnet for the True Believers.

A punter and a long snapper are working out. They have 10 balls. The snapper snaps, the punter punts. They do it 10 times. They trot down the field, gather the balls, and do it again. Ten snaps. Ten punts. Trot. Over and over and over. They’re repeating this ballet the entire time we’re at the track. You only see the result when you turn on the TV on Saturdays. You don’t see the sweat and intensity that goes into perfecting the art. Snap. Punt. Trot.

A guy is running mile repeats in Lane 9. Normally this would bother me, what with Lane 9 being my domain, but I am stricken by the oddity of it. He’s crazy fast. Why is a crazy fast guy running mile repeats in the outside lane rather than in the designated Fast Guy Lane 1? Maybe because he has his fueling station on a table next to Lane 9. Blue Gatorade and a Rockstar energy drink. Breakfast of champions. Mile after relentless mile. That’s what the track is for.

It’s sad. The security cop tells us the Powers That Be are headed toward shutting down the track for public use. Maybe liability issues or budget cuts or the fallout of a dickhead coach who was holding an illegal kicking clinic on the field and caused a major scene. The security guy says he thinks maybe May 1. It’s stupid, he says. People pay taxes. It should be everyone’s track. He shrugs and rides off on his bike.

What happens to the people for whom this track is home? From the Olympic decathlon gold medalist to a hunched over old guy in a big floppy hat, I’ve shared this track forever with people who come to the little oval for mysterious reasons. It’s like the mountain in “Close Encounters,” a force that draws you there for the energy and the views and the solitary glory of chasing your dreams, however silly.

It’s the refuge of the Flagstaff guys coming down from the snow. Fast guys from the northeast on spring break. Countless football players hoping for a shot at the NFL. For gazelles, for walkers, for runners, for humans. It’s our world.

Where will the old decathlete go? Where will the punter go? Where did Dan O’Brien go? Where will I go?

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul,” the prophet Abbey said. But I’m old and tired and anarchy seems like so much work. I don’t have the energy to make it past 5K these days, much less take on a faceless bureaucracy.

“When a man’s best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem,” Abbey said. Which has nothing to do with this post. I just love that quote.

Oh, yeah, the track. I guess we’ll celebrate while we can. And if it happens, it happens.

But damn. I love this track.

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my running club

I want to go back to the way it used to be
— the prophet bob schneider

I used to run by myself. I’m sort of an introvert, in the same way that flat earthers are kind of silly and chocolate frosties are kind of good. And then one day I stumbled across a running club.

I had never been much of a running club person before. We had a little group in Georgetown, but it never much caught on. This running club was different. People from all over. Serious runners, hilarious runners, short distances, insane distances.

We would meet up every day. We shared runs, stories, lives, jokes, barbs. I realized running wasn’t just running. It was a metaphor for life.

We were sponsored by a running company, but nobody thought much about that. We were just a little group of misfits, runners drawn together by chance and word of mouth. It was so much fun. New people would show up, old people would welcome them. It was a party on running shoes.

I made friends. Which is weird for me, because I Don’t Make Friends. We were a family.

I thought the club would stay together forever.

And then it didn’t.

People wandered off. I guess they joined other clubs or got hurt or lost interest or had lives. Hard to say. A few people would still show up, but the numbers dwindled. It’s hard to stop the momentum when that happens.

And then the running company pulled its sponsorship. One of the club members figured out a way to keep the club running independently, but nothing much changed. You want things to go back to the good old days, but that’s life.

I mostly run alone again now. A few friends show up now and then, but the spirit is gone. We pretend, but we know. It’s sad.

Those friends will always be with me, but not that place where we would meet up to share the energy, the laughter, the love.

I miss that running club.

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well, you had to know this was coming

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