Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the dark side of the street

This Q&A about takes place between me and an imaginary amalgam of all the people who would likely express worries about my safety.

We begin with concerned person asking whether I'm still running and my affirmative response. Then:

Q: How do you survive this heat? (This fake conversation begins in early July and stretches out over the past month-plus.)

A: I've been running after work, when it's cooler.

Q: Isn't it dark out then?

A: Well, yeah, but that's why it's tolerable for running. Turns out my summer-run suffering was mostly caused by the relentless sun bouncing back off the asphalt, because the temperature and humidity become somewhat tolerable at night. And it also turns out that my inability to wake up/get moving is a moot point: There is no "early enough" to beat the heat, only "late enough."

Q: But you can still see?

A: Yeah, well enough. It doesn't get fully dark until about 9:30 p.m., you know. (Note: This was true when I first began running at night. It's not anymore.) Plus, there are streetlights. The ones in the more residential areas are kind of hit-and-miss, as are the sidewalks sometimes, but so far, so good.

Having said that, my next night run probably will result in a face-plant.

Q: Aren't you scared?

A: I was at first, but I stay along the main streets where there's traffic and businesses, like Walgreens and Kum and Go. Definitely not the rec trails through the forests. I also tend to keep these runs a little shorter, saving the longer ones for earlier start times. And I always bring my cellphone.

Q: What about creepers?

A: I haven't seen any yet. I see a lot of walkers, runners and bikers who apparently have the same idea I do. It startles me when they call out "on your left," but that's about as scared of other people as I've had to be, so far. In fact, I got to scare one of them the other night, when I passed him wide on his left — he was wearing earbuds. Now that seems like a dumb idea.

Q: What about cars?

A: Sometimes their doors slam, their horns honk, their rap music blares or their lights go out/come on abruptly. That startles me. To be honest, quite a few things startle me at night. I'm not sure how much of that is fear-conditioning and how much of that is a natural skittishness when it comes to loud noises.

Q: I mean, can they see you?

A: My running gear is bright, so yes. Also, I stay on sidewalks and look both ways before I cross the street.

Here, the questioner purses his or her lips, shakes his or her head regretfully and indicates through other body language that s/he does NOT endorse my decision. That's fair. I would've disapproved until fairly recently.

I don't have any data-driven rebuttals; the reasons I choose to run at night are that I like running, and that right now it's more practical for me to do so at night. Once we stop doing cartwheels over highs in the upper 80s, I'll head out before work rather than after it. In fact, between the heat wave's break and a shift in my schedule toward earlier start/quit times, the dark runs' reign may be nearing an end.

But the bottom line is, I control everything that I can about my own safety, just as we all do in the rest of our lives. And when all else fails, I think of a French professor at Truman who — I believe I'm remembering this right — went jogging around Moscow during the Soviet days while she was pregnant. On the danger scale, that beats Iowa during democracy and nonpregnancy.

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