Gingerbread Man

Monday morning was my first time running loops in downtown Portland since the beginning of shelter-in-place. The app on my phone said a little rain that morning, and then a nice break until later in the afternoon. Promising me a three-hour window (at least) to complete my 13.1 mile goal and stay dry.

The app lied.

And it is probably good that it did. The rain clouds overhead all morning probably kept more people inside, and made the area feel familiar in its Portland-ness.

Driving down to my usual spot, I had to veer into a different area due to the high number of tents and vehicle shelters. Two lots had been fenced off for the tents to spread out, with porta-potties and stations of hand sanitizer by the opening gate. Along one side of the fence were signs declaring no trespassing, leaving me to wonder how those in charged decided who was allowed and who was not.

During my first loop over the river, it was the graffiti that stood out most. A wall that was painted white two months ago had a series of tags that seemed to be a conversation in a language I couldn’t even begin to understand. Posters hung on light posts and bridge pillars; some declaring that we were in this together and others promising this is the end. With so few tourists wandering the waterfront this spring, it was like ownership was up for grabs about who this area really belongs to.

It was on my second 4-mile loop that the pathways started to feel familiar again. I have run those sidewalks and bridges almost weekly for years, but two months in a pandemic had changed so much. There were no dragon boaters practicing, no Saturday Market shoppers wandering, and no families on rented bikes taking up way too much room. At least the water fountains were turned back on, a kindness to my thirst and my emotions.

After two large loops, I had two smaller loops (2.5-miles) to finish up my distance goal. As the morning had worn on, the rain kept going but there were a few more people out. I shifted to the right edge of the esplanade for families riding bikes together. Two fishermen came down the ramp during my final trudge up. Other rain-soaked runners nodded their heads at me as the unspoken question hung in the air: “Are we being safe enough?” Trying to give space was the best I could do; that and trying to believe that everyone (including the two women taking up the whole sidewalk with their huge fluffy dogs) are doing the best they can do.

Long long ago (pre-pandemic), my normal celebration after a half marathon involved receiving a medal from a kind volunteer at the finish line, and then picking up Starbucks on the way home for a shower and nap. This time the medal was for a virtual race, and laying on my couch at home. And instead of drive-through, I made macaroni and cheese to save a little money and exposure. There was a picture with the medal, a shower, and a nap. There just wasn’t normal.

There is no normal right now, and no normal on the horizon. Instead there is this other side of the looking glass we are all living on. Try to give yourself space and kindness in it. And give space and kindness to everyone else too. We are all together in this non-normal.

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