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September 12, 2010 / elodie kaye

Takoma Park

I was on mile two of a Sunday ten-miler, thinking hard about whether a 46º drizzle is too cold.  Ahead on the asphalt path two cops were walking in the same direction, waving their flashlights into the misty woods to either side.  I measured the gap between them intending to split it when the taller one spotted me, turned and stopped.  I figured this meant I had to stop too.  Clicked the stopwatch.  “Seen anyone on the trail this afternoon?”

“No…?”  I was hoping he’d give me a clue as to the answer I was supposed to give.

“If you do, call into the station.  We’re looking for two men.”  The cop handed me a card, and they walked back the way we had come.  I tucked the card into a zippered jacket pocket, and wondered if they expected me to assume they were looking for two black men.  I clicked my watch and ran on.  “‘Two men’ is pretty vague.  Could be anyone.” I thought.

In 1999, I ran regularly on part of the Anacostia River path near Takoma Park in Washington, D.C.  At the time I lived there, my street was home to the North American director of Greenpeace, and the head of the EPA.  I shared a house with an artist, a Congressional staffer, and a clean water lobbyist.  The main drag is all of two blocks long, anchored by an earnest bakery which produces organic, hand-made loaves daily.  Takoma Park is nothing if not earnest.

In counterpoint, the major street on the eastern border of the neighbourhood, New Hampshire Avenue, had a drive-thru drug market operating at two traffic lights.  I don’t know how the meets were arranged, but the money was always dropped from the driver’s side window from the left lane to a runner crossing with the first traffic light.  The product wasn’t dropped to the driver until a second (or possibly third) pass at another traffic light farther up the street.  Same procedure, different runner.  I’m not really sure what the reason was for a second or third pass, because it only took me three commutes stopped at the same lights to figure out what was going down.

The branch of the river path nearest my house was east, across from New Hampshire Ave.  It has a halting character because of the many residential streets intersecting it.  The cops had parked on one of those streets but hadn’t ventured very far down the trail.  My 10-mile out-and-back route passed a public housing project at about mile four.  There is a large field with grim playground equipment.  They aren’t bright and plastic like in the suburbs, these are old steel: the paint faded and flaked off, revealing the bones underneath.  From the path, there’s nothing to mark it as public housing, but the oppressive institutional sameness looking out from all of the cramped windows is unmistakable.

About a mile before the projects I passed a trio from behind.  Two tall men in dark hooded sweatshirts, and jackets, a girl between them.  The mist muffled their conversation but their tones were relaxed.  The girl’s laughter was bright, glittering, the men’s a low warble, like tumbled river rocks.  Their clothes swallowed up their bodies, but the men stepped lightly, rhythmic and supple, so very unlike the cops who had lumbered down the trail.  They’d probably make good runners, I noted.  I looked at the girl’s braids as I passed, neat rows glistening with drops of rain.  I was feeling pretty comfortable at this point and had decided that 46ºF really isn’t too cold.  I would go to my usual turnaround point, but I was looking forward to the GU when I got there.

On my way back, I passed the threesome again.  They emerged into the light at the feeble lawn.  I glanced at the two men, almost boys.  The girl in the middle was just my height, her eyes level with mine.  I smiled, “I like your ‘rows.”  She returned a sparkling smile, disarmingly shy.  No more than fifteen years old.

A couple of miles later, I crossed the street where the patrol car had been parked.  Of course, the cops would be long gone, almost an hour had gone by.  Fatigue must be getting to me, I told myself.  By then I was thoroughly wet, and the zip from the GU didn’t seem to be enough to keep me warm.  A 46º rain was too cold for a long run, after all.  The last two miles were a struggle; I was shivering so much I stopped drinking.  My legs felt like they were churning in concrete hip waders.

Once at home, I hurried into dry clothes.  I cupped a steaming bowl of soup to warm my hands at the kitchen table, and debated whether I had to tell about the girl with the braids.  I gulped down half of the broth, and realised something was not quite right.  My teeth were clattering on the edge of the bowl.  I fished out the card, reported the little I saw, and left my name, number and address.  When the desk sergeant told me they’d call back if they needed me to come in to the station, I had a moment of panic.  I didn’t remember anything about the men.  The teenaged girl was vivid, but her companions were lost in the haze of 10 miles in the cold rain, and a 103º fever.

Later that week, I was home from school, knocked out with the flu which was to become pneumonia.  In the Washington Post, the local section has a brief listing of all the arrests in the District by quadrant and neighbourhood.  Two men were arrested in the projects for armed robbery and assault.  There was no mention of a girl, but of course there wouldn’t be; she was too young.

*This is the second of two pieces which I owe to the work of Geoff Cordner.

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. gpetitto / Sep 14 2010 2:49 pm

    I don’t want to overwhelm you with praise or excessive flattery, but dang, I thoroughly dig the way you write! And I know it’s a bit early in our friendship as far away running and blogging friends, but I wish we could run through tremendous stretches of wilderness together and then co-write the great meaning of it all, because surely it’s profound and worth examining. Too bad those Great Lakes between us are so formidable. In any case, when your manifesto is complete, I’ll be very eager to read it.

    • elodiekaye / Sep 14 2010 3:49 pm

      Thanks Greg. Does Renee have awesome people-smarts, or what? I do think we would have pretty great writing chemistry, though I’m not sure I could keep up. I often feel your energy strains at being confined by words on a page. At this point in your taper, you could probably swim across the lakes, no problem! There is plenty of time however, I don’t intend to ever be finished running or writing. I believe we’ll meet some day to run through wilderness until our legs and minds are numb. Meantime, I’d better get training. Your running is out of my league.

      • gpetitto / Sep 14 2010 4:04 pm

        I like the way you think! You’re totally right, I feel like I could swim across the lakes these days, but that’d definitely put a damper on the marathon I could have. My running is only out of your league because I have not had to endure even a tenth of what you have over the last several years. Besides, your training knowledge and the wisdom you’ve garnered from all you’ve gone through seems second to none. The idea of a life coach usually makes me laugh, but you’d be a good one for lots of folks! Anyway, I’d trade half my current running ability for half your talents. What do you think, fair trade? Maybe we should resolve to at least share a cup of coffee someday. 🙂

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