Running Through Downtown Los Angeles

A few months before my 25th birthday I found myself fat and dumped.  I had to move out of the cottage that we shared and move into a series of temporary living situations that I hated.  In an effort to get out of the house and shed some of the extra pounds I took up running. 

Anyone who knew me before age 25 might find this comical.  I was never sporty and had such a severe case of asthma that a good joke could send me into a dreadful attack.  Yet I needed an outlet, something to get me through the pain of the break up and the stress of moving forward alone.

I began at the start of summer, in the evenings after work.  At first I could not run past two driveways on the suburban sidewalks without having to stop to catch my breath.  By the end of the summer, I was running two miles without stopping.  My asthma has rarely bothered me since. 

In the 15 plus years since I have taken up running, I have moved to 3 different states. Travelled to many others on vacation. Nothing thrills me more than to explore my new surroundings by lacing up my shoes.  I have run Central Park in NYC, rural Easter Oregon and Downtown Los Angeles. 

When I lived in a loft in Downtown LA, I would run each evening before dinner.  My husband and I lived in a loft located adjacent to Skid Row where I worked with homeless women and children.  Each evening as I would run, the men who lived in cardboard boxes and tents along Spring Street would call out, “Here she is, right on time! You can set a clock to her”.  They’d clap and cheer as if I was in a marathon as I ran by.  One time I turned the corner and into the exhale of a man smoking PCP.  The route took me through the spectrum of social classes as I would run up Grand Ave, pass Disney Hall.  Men in tuxes and women in diamonds would stand at the crosswalk with me as they walked from dinner across the way to the symphony.  Dripping with sweat I’d turn up the Jay—Z in my headphones, embarrassed at the contrast in our scent.

There was one incident that always stayed with me.  Running near City Hall I noticed a young man, around 19, running parallel with me across the street.  Small and wiry, he was sobbing and appeared to have metallic paint over his eyes, nose and mouth.  He was running with determination toward the 101 freeway over pass.  I increased my stride and crossed the street to meet him before he reached the overpass.  “Hey!” I said with a small smile as I ran along side of him.  “I am just so sad!” he screamed sobbing.  We were on the bridge now. Without time to think I said “I know you are, sweetheart. I’m here.  I’m listening.”  I wanted to get him off that bridge.  He was clearly high.  “Let’s go sit down and talk”. Miraculously he back tracked back to City Hall with me and we sat for two seconds on a planter wall.  He sobbed something incoherent, got up and ran down the street. I had a good 40 pounds on him, there was no way I was catching up and I thought to myself, “how far am I actually going to take this?”  Shook up by the experience I went off to run an extra couple of miles.

I have slowed down in the past few years.  Unable to run as fast or as far as I once did, running continues to not only, help me work out things in my own mind, but to see past myself to people I wouldn’t normally interact with in the rest of my day to day life.  May I always be quick to see those around me.