Scarlett’s Letter September 12, 2013

I went for a run this morning. It was cool and overcast when I set out, incentive, plus, I needed to run, I’ve been a slug all week. I’ll be traveling for work, again, the next couple of weeks, and that damn marathon is really beginning to loom large on my fitness calendar.

I’ve been running for about a year and a half now. Ninety percent of that running has taken place with my running club, in Sacramento, where we run along the lovely, American River Parkway, devoid of automobile traffic, crosswalks, traffic signals and other perils. Only recently have I begun to run on the street. It is very different, not nearly as scenic, and quite a bit more hazardous, even with bike lanes and sidewalks. Even the streets of Napa. Particularly the streets of Napa, perhaps.

My favorite six and a half mile loop, and a major portion of my favorite twelve-mile loop, encompasses an area of Napa that not many tourists see. I run past liquor stores, nail salons, past a couple of schools (by far the most dangerous traffic, ever, minivans and distracted moms), a gas station where all of the city buses, tour buses and limousines fuel, a couple of hotels, and several trailer parks. That’s the ugly side of my run, the part of Napa that not many tourists see, except for the hotels. At precisely the half waypoint, I, literally, round a corner and am running along a rural road lined with vineyards dotted with traditional Napa farmhouses and a few ostentatious villas. I like to run the same direction around this loop for two reasons, to avoid having to keep crossing the street to be on the “correct” shoulder and, to end my run on the more scenic side.

I am convinced that more people should run, or cycle, or ride motorcycles, because runners and cyclists, like motorcyclists, are much more attuned to the perils of traffic, they know to look, not once, but twice. If I am running on the “correct” side of the road and approach a driveway or intersection where a driver aims to make a left hand turn, I know, almost certainly, they will only quickly glance right as the execute the turn and probably won’t see me, no matter how much fluorescent clothing I’m wearing. I usually just run into the parking lot and skirt around behind them to avoid any unplanned encounter, and I do so at a distance.

In “urban running”, major intersections and crosswalks throw my time off, which makes me distraught, I can’t help it, I’m a calendar and clock kind of girl. Time matters. When I look back on my mile by mile stats, I can always tell where the major intersections are, my time once dropped to almost 19 minutes per mile because I obeyed the traffic signal and waited for the “walk” sign. I can crawl faster than that. Now, I just go around the law a bit, as in, I just run down the street a block or so, then jaywalk, or run, then run back up the block on the other side of the street and pick up my route. I can maintain my pace and even add a little mileage. I know this is probably some minor misdemeanor in the eyes of the law, but they’ve got to catch me first. Jaywalking.

One of my favorite pastimes is walking. Walking in New York City is more than a pastime, it, for me, is sport. I have always been a very, shall we say, “efficient” walker. I want to cover some ground, I do not stroll. Like driving, I would rather keep moving than be stuck behind something slow. Add to my desire to keep moving, traffic and crosswalks and a million other people, all walking way slower than I, and the sport has begun. Like a cyclist, it’s all about pace or cadence, I intend to move through and around obstacles at a steady pace, I do not want to stop, I do not want to slow down. The first trick is to be able to navigate around large groups of slow moving people, or worse, the people that suddenly stop, right in front of you. I usually use the zigzag approach; skirt the crowd on the right or the left, as space allows, switching back and forth as necessary. Sometimes I just walk the curb. Other times, I have no choice but to thread the needle, squeezing between groups, even turning my shoulders sideways, on occasion, to avoid contact. This, by the way, is an excellent workout for the upper body and waistline, as well as the lower body. A brisk walk on crowded New York City sidewalk, threading the needle.

I can walk at a pace, usually, after a few blocks, where I can fall into rhythm with the crosswalk signal. If I am consistent, once I hit a “walk” sign, and I am not impeded in some way, I can hit all of the “walk” signs going in one direction. Once I alter direction, I need to reestablish the rhythm. Of course, that’s only if there are cars crossing the crosswalk. If there are no cars coming, and the signal says, “don’t walk”, well, you do. You can tell the “New Yorkers” from the tourists in a heartbeat. The tourists stand dutifully on the corner, looking a little forlorn and confused while they wait for the signal to change. The New Yorkers cross, and often between oncoming cars, as the tourists look on in shock and bewilderment. I’m not a New Yorker, but it didn’t take long to figure out how to move around in their world.

That is my whole impetus in life; to move through the world in the most efficient manner, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing. Just move. Efficiently. This applies to more than walking, running or driving. This applies to everything from banking to television to shopping, working, working out, traveling, and, well, everything. Life can be hard, it can be a trial, it can be exhausting and wearing, if we don’t know how to move through the world efficiently in every way possible.

My mom, my elderly mom, bless her heart, who will not, does not want to, and will never consider, embracing technology in any way, is stuck in a world that has become unfriendly and hostile; the non-technical world. She will look up phone numbers in the phone book, wondering why she can’t find listings that “should be there”. Not everyone advertises in the phone book anymore, because, only a handful of people use them. There are a million online listings that are faster and way more informative, with reviews and photos and a map, the hours of business, everything you ever wanted to know about a business without having to get out the magnifying glass and phone book to scour for the number to call and get the information. It’s funny that she trusts the phone book so, because they’ve misspelled her name this edition, and she has been in the phone book, with her name spelled correctly, with the same number, for the past 47 years. I think the post office must be involved. So, once Mom has found the phone number in the phone book, she calls and wonders why she is put through an automated maze and then put on hold for a duration. Well, probably because most folks are accessing the information online, the company has only one or two people who are tasked with taking phone calls, in addition to their actual jobs. Not a priority.

My mom will sit down in her office and write checks, put them in envelopes and drive them to the post office only to hope, against all hope, that the least efficient, least effective organization on the entire planet will deliver the mail in a reasonable amount of time to the correct address. I went out and got the mail for Mom earlier today. There were two pieces of mail in our box addressed to someone three blocks away. They were addressed correctly, delivered incorrectly. Mom has a cell phone on my account. Every month she writes me a check for ten dollars to cover her share. Three seconds later I deposit it into my account with an app on my phone. Before the bank app had such capability, I’d stuff the checks in my wallet, for months on end, because I just won’t go to the bank unless I’ve got a check for like a thousand bucks, or something, which is practically never. Thanks for the app, guys!

Mom talked to my cousins on the phone yesterday, first one, then the other, then the first one again. Somewhere along the line, in her second conversation she mentioned that she’d fallen while ironing while I was not at home. She was fine, but this is a very real danger for someone a few short months from being beyond her octogenarian age. Apparently, that cousin called my other cousin, who, then called Mom back. She recommended an app or a setting on her phone that would be voice activated to call 911. My cousin carries an iPhone, which, my mom is completely confused by and refers to as my “facebook” . I got Mom the simplest, easiest to use, made for old folks, flip phone, at her request. So, Mom asks me about this wonderful technological capability. I said, “Mom, in order to use the phone to obtain help you have to carry the phone. It has been plugged in to the outlet by the microwave since I moved in six months ago. If you fall in the family room, the phone, no matter what app or button it has on it, will not be able to leap up off the kitchen counter, unplug itself and fly to your side to help you.” I pulled my phone from my back pocket, “I keep mine here.” She knows that, and gives me shit for it, too, for always being on my “facebook”. Well, yes, sometimes I’m answering work emails, sometimes I’m texting my kids, often I’m Googling answers to the endless stream of random questions Mom has, and, occasionally, I am on a social networking site.

I digress. I had a great run this morning, moving through and around traffic efficiently, and, as evidenced by my ability to write this article, safely. Look left, look right, do it again. We are everywhere, just trying to move through the world, and life, efficiently, and safely.