While organizing some files on my computer, I came across some of my old writings. The following was undated, but I suspect that I wrote it sometime during my first summer in New York City. I was living on the Upper East Side.
The first sentence of the piece describes the experience of running along the East River. The last sentence is still true.
The smells of salt water muck and car exhaust enveloped me. My nose crinkled involuntarily and I felt my diaphragm resist a full, deep breath: The air smelled noxious.
This will pass, I reminded myself. I had encountered into the same malodorous swirl during the first half of my run; Pig Pen’s cloud hadn’t accompanied me the entire way.
It was only 5:30am, but the temperature was already near 80 degrees. In addition to smelling like a polluted lake, the air was heavy and thick with moisture. I felt like I was breathing through a soggy, soiled wool sock. My running shirt and shorts, which had wicked sweat so effectively from my skin in Seattle, were now clinging to my damp skin like that last noodle lingering in the almost soupless bowl.
I was not sweating alone, though; other residents humans and dogs in New York were watching the sky alight with the morning sun. A few other runners plodded along; several couples walked hand in hand; cyclists sans helmets zipped past. Several individuals in various states of undress occupied benches. Some had slept there all night. Some were watching the sky, as if waiting for a celestial message.
Encouraging myself to actually smell the air, I took in a breath, timing my respirations with my footfalls. My eyes focused on a bench about thirty yards away: You can make it to that bench.
I had noticed him during the first half of my run. His arm was slung around the slender shoulders of the young woman leaning up against him.
Now, he had risen from the park bench, leaving his faceless sweetheart behind. I noticed him noticing me. He noticed me noticing him. I saw the impish smile form on his face.
When I passed him, he began to run and, within a few steps, was running alongside me. As he approached, I instinctively began to run faster out of alarm, though it was soon seemed that his intentions, though unclear, were probably not malicious.
(… though one never really knows for sure.)
“This is hard,” he commented in a Middle Eastern accent. His loose pant legs rustled against each other as he tried to maintain my pace.
“This is true,” I replied between breaths, playing along. A random stranger just started to run with me at 5:30am in New York City.
He smiled again and mumbled, “How do you do this?” before decelerating. He was soon walking and, presumably, returned to the park bench and the object of his previous affections.
I passed the bench that I had mentally marked earlier and selected the black gate that was about forty yards ahead.
I don’t know. Though I do know that none of this would have ever happened in Seattle.