So yesterday afternoon I decided to incorporate a visit to my parents’ house into my run. It was in the single digits, and they have an energetic 1 1/2-year-old Golden retriever named Izzy who needs exercise every day regardless of the weather, no aspects of which she finds daunting regardless of the opinions of her humans. My parents are always happy to let me run her around for a while and I’m always happy to oblige. I figured that I’d hang out there for a while afterward and get some work done using their reliable Wi-Fi connection, so I packed my laptop and cell phone into a backpack, dressed as best I could for the weather, and made the two-mile trek from my place to theirs.
Once there, I farted around for a few minutes to warm up, then took Izzy out for three miles or so. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing training schedules, putting the finishing touches on an article about the Olympic Marathon Trials that had taken place the day before, and harassing putative running fans on the Internet, and along the way prepared and consumed some pasta and broccoli, putting the leftovers in a tupperware container. I had the equivalent of a social engagement at 8:30 and then, calling Ohio from my parents’ place, took part in a radio show on WXUT at about 11 p.m. I then took Izzy out into the now-2-degree-Fahrenheit evening for one last excretory salvo before packing all of my stuff up again and heading back toward home.
It was about 12:30 a.m. I’d had a productive day as a freelancer on multiple fronts and the radio show had been fun, so I was on a high even if the mercury in local thermometers wasn’t.
Benign enough, right? Well, it was all a set-up for a brief and annoying comic interlude.
When I was about a half-mile from home, a police car passed me going in the same direction. I was running against the otherwise nonexistent traffic, as is my wont, and given both the lack of cars on the road and the fact that the sidewalks were covered in ice, I was in the travel lane of Silver Street in Dover, N.H. Not in the middle of it, which I safely could have been, but on the edge. When I saw the cop car make a left onto the next side street and reverse direction, I knew its occupant was preparing to engage me, but by dint of habit I switched sides of the road to be as far from vehicular danger as possible. When the car was about fifty yards away, it slowed and its blues flashed to life. Awesomeness!
I eased to a halt (taking care to hit the STOP button on my watch, also the product of habit) and walked toward the officer emerging from the car. He had a flashlight trained on me. When I was a few feet from him, he asked a deep philosophical question:
“What are you doing?”
I was wearing running pants, a gray hoodie, a Delaware XC hat and (insufficient) running gloves to go with my running shoes. Before this bit of interference had commenced, I had been running, using a more or less normal running gait and moving along at the clip of a typical distance runner. This fellow, who was about 30 and not looking like the kind of specimen bred of parents who had helped put satellites into orbit, evidently wasn’t angling for a promotion to detective anytime in the immediate future.
“Running home from my parents’,” I explained. “I spent the afternoon there exercising their dog and doing some work.”
“Where do your parents live?”
I told him.
“Where do you live?”
I told him.
“Why are you in the street?”
“The sidewalks are all iced over.”
“Why’d you cross the road when you saw me coming?”
To get to the other side! an impish voice somewhere in my temporal lobe gibbered. What actually came out was, “I always do that when cars are coming and there’s no one in the opposite lane, to stay out of harm’s way.”
“Got any ID?”
At this point I recognized that I might be delayed a little longer than I had anticipated. I hadn’t brought my wallet with me. Not that this would have done any good; I misplaced my license before I left Colorado and its replacement has yet to arrive in the mail.
“No, I didn’t bring any.”
“You didn’t bring any?” he echoed, his tone like that of someone who’d just been told that he’d just been chosen first in the NFL draft despite never having played a down of football.
“I don’t usually bring my ID when I run.”
He pondered this for a second. “What’s in the backpack?” Did I mention that it was 2 degrees out?
I wanted to say, A sixteen-pound ball of hash and a few sheets of windowpane acid. They’re not mine — I found them next to the Spaulding Turnpike and was planning to drop them off at the police station. As it happens, I live a few blocks from the cop shop, so this would have made a certain amount of sense. It also might have created something of a hassle, so I said, “A laptop computer and a cell phone. And some noodles.”
“A computer?” Apparently, these are supposed to be carried under one’s arm, or transported only in motor vehicles. The noodles were apparently not an issue.
“What’s your name?” I told him, and he called dispatch to make sure I didn’t have outstanding warrants or whatever. This returned nothing interesting, so he moved on to other pressing matters.
“What do you do for work?”
“Freelance writer and editor. Mostly health and fitness stuff. I also design training plans for distance runners through my Web site.” Like this would register or have meaning even if it did.
“How long have you lived at that address?”
“About a week.”
“Where were you before that?”
“I lived in Colorado for about a year and a half. Before that I was in Dover.”
“What were you doing in Colorado?” For fuck’s sake!
“I had a girlfriend out there.”
“Why’d you come back?”
“She’s not my girlfriend anymore.”
At this he broke into a grin for the first time, and said, as if having proven some vital point, “Well, there you go!”
I nodded, for no other reason but to be agreeable. We were on the same page, this nice young chap and I.
He pondered matters for a few moments, the air seeming to grow incrementally colder as he did. Then he said, “My recommendation is for you to run on the sidewalk so that you don’t get hit by a car.” Evidently, what I’d told him about my switching-sides rationale a few minutes earlier had not found purchase anywhere in his brain. Also, I wanted to point out that the number of cars on the road at this hour was roughly equal to the amount of known living inhabitants of Mars, but I didn’t see that moving the discussion in a productive direction.
“Sounds good!” I chirped brightly.
He nodded, satisfied that his efforts had Led To Something. “Okay. Have a safe night.”
“I will.” He got back in his car and I started traipsing back toward home, taking great care not to fall on my ass on the ice-covered sidewalk. Once he had turned around again and driven away, I moved back into the roadway, then hung a quick left and a right. I was home within minutes.
This is the kind of thing that would never happen in a place like Boulder, where you’re more likely to be regarded with suspicion if you’re not running. In fact, it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened here either had I been walking rather than running. But it’s not like I’d been running all-out up the street with a plasma TV in my arms.
If there’s a lesson in this, you can count on me not having learned it. Once I accumulate a few warrants, though, you can be sure that I’ll limit my runs to daylight hours, and may even stick to the sidewalk. At least when people are looking.