I've been slowly picking up running again. When I lived with Majd and Ari I ran down the eight-lane-highway-esque sidewalks of Dolores from 17th to 24th almost every day, plodding up and relishing the crest of each hill. 17th to 18th was clear; then I'd dodge the ice cream line that wrapped around the corner and, across the street, the patio seating of Dolores Park Cafe, where there would be at least one dog. On the hill between 19th and 20th I'd wonder where exactly does Christian live (I never found out), and on the way back up the hill at 22nd I'd glance at #864 to see if Alberto might be around. On Saturday mornings the same homeless man sat on a doorstep between 18th and 19th and judged my strides. I knew he didn't care, but it didn't stop me from kicking my heels a little higher as I passed by on the way home. The whole way I'd lazily count the palm trees, the absurd row of them lining the median strip of Dolores.
Where I live now in the Inner Sunset, there are three obvious options. One, run toward the Park—to it, through it, or across it to the Richmond. Two, run on the hills around the house, or climb up and down the 15th Ave steps. Three, run toward the ocean. The first option means three traffic lights and a downtown area worth of pedestrians to dodge on narrow sidewalks before reaching your destination, and then more traffic, if you want to enter at 9th. The second is fine; you get a nice view from the top of the steps, though the rest of the roads are not amazing to look at. The main problem with this option right now is it is extremely demoralizing because it is hard. What used to be easy is now hard. So lately I've been taking the run to the ocean, which is... mostly flat and slightly downhill.
I question, though, whether it's the downhillness, or even the distance, that attracts me to this course. The sidewalks of Kirkham are wide but less wide than Dolores, and everything else about the scene, especially after I pass 19th Ave, is the opposite of what I'd grown attached to. Low, boxy, pastel-colored houses stretch out into the distance on streets mostly devoid of pedestrians. Occasionally I pass someone, more often on the lower-numbered avenues—a middle-aged Asian man pulling weeds in his little scrubby patch of green in the early morning; a white-haired, bent-over Caucasian man walking his slow dog; a woman in tights pushing a baby stroller (I guess tights have really made it everywhere). There are two traffic lights between me and the ocean, and at the rest of the intersections there are only sometimes cars, but semi-aggressive cars that seem hell-bent on escaping this maze of monotonous houses.
The relative lack of stimulation means more thinking time. I'll wonder, how many more seconds of daylight does the Outer Sunset see at the end of the day than SoMa? I'll go through people and events like flashcards—what do they mean? Or I won't. Regardless the ocean beckons. Whenever I've stood in front of the ocean listening to the crash of waves on rock, thinking this is the edge of land, I've been keenly conscious of being small and mortal. The vastness of the ocean is incomprehensible, having swum in it once and, mouthfuls of salt water later, realized how far something that looks so close actually is, when you're on the water. How we ever find sunken ships or downed aircraft (even with radio and sonar) seems miraculous. The earthquake shakes, but the tsunami swallows.
So I think it's this: the act of running reminds me I have a body; the ocean reminds me I have a life.