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Run 50: Wanted: Hippies

July 9, 2012

Miles: 7.5

Other Runners: zip

Two truths about my current city: It is flat. Sometimes, it is dangerous.

I lived in Chicago as an undergraduate and for four years ran willy-nilly through my Rogers Park neighborhood, blind to potential hazards. One winter, I ran every single day. I ran on icy sidewalks and through snow drifts, past people selling drugs on the corner at the Morse red line stop, along desolate stretches of frozen lake shore. A relative country-bumpkin from Small Town, Wisconsin, I was too awed by the slamming magnitude of wind and high-rises and waves and traffic to be concerned with safety.

I’m older now, and not always so successful at moving blindly and blissfully through my days.  It’s been a crime-heavy summer in Chicago; currently, the homicide rate is up 38 percent from where it was a year ago. The absolute worst thing anyone can do on a Monday is check the Chicago Tribune, for weekends are a particularly tumultuous time- and sometimes the tumult happens on streets I recognize, and once on a street I had recently incorporated into my long-run route.

We live in a safe neighborhood, to be sure. There are retired cops and firefighters, a big, leafy park just a walk away, and the incessant, mostly-endearing  shrieking of the passel of kids who play in the pool a few doors down. It sounds idyllic, I suppose, and I’m sure it is (and hope it continues) for my neighbors. As I run through this area, past so many low, brick homes and clean cement stoops and manicured, often treeless front yards, I generally feel very safe. I also feel… bored.

I desperately want to re-frame my life- and my running- through a lens that is entirely present; the truth, however, is that I am wearing a pair of Seattle-tinged sunglasses.

I left the house early yesterday morning for a cool(ish) Sunday morning run. The clouds to the south hung ominous in the early light, and dry leaves flickered overhead while bunnies scampered in funny patterns alongside me.  I ran to the west, thinking about storms, excited by the potential of something besides a long, dry day. There’s a tiny hill at Wright College on Montrose, so I ran up it, then down, then up again. And then I ran further west, about three more miles, convinced that I had reached hilly (“hilly”) ground. Because here’s the thing about hills: not only do they make a run much more interesting, they also work a wide variety of muscles. This fact is often only appreciated after plodding along on flat concrete for an hour- it really does a number on the knees.  Anyway. I did not find any hills. Just a lot of low, brick homes and clean cement stoops and manicured, treeless front yards.

The storm didn’t come. It grew light. I continued to run west, convinced that if I ran far enough I would find something that might feel like “home.” But what is home? As I ran along, growing more disgruntled with the blahs of northwest Chicago, I confronted the harsh reality that home is a lot closer to what I bemoaned in Seattle (and outright raged about in Berkeley) than I’d like to admit. Though I  located my physical home in some spectacularly dodgy apartment buildings in those areas, it was always within running distance of hills dotted by colorful, differently-shaped houses. Houses with yards overgrown with wild roses, or with terraced, pruned greenery a la Martha Stewart or with tree-houses or sleepy-eyed cats or magical twinkling lights or Tibetan prayer flags (sigh) or random sculptures, like a gigantic bust of Siddhartha Gautama balanced precariously on a stone slab. In other words, I have lived very close to rich, white hippies. It wasn’t great in Berkeley (when I was a waitress to said home-owners, who were often wildly demanding and generally out-of-touch with those of us who had to, you know, work). But it was better in Seattle, and now that I’m in Chicago, in a fine, safe, clean neighborhood, I want a little of the hippie mess. I want to run by just one yard where it seems like someone has flung a handful of seeds into the grass and they’ve sprouted into something that looks like a woods, and also like an explosion. I want to see benches and old rusty bicycles and lanterns and colorful pillows and ferns and a million and one secrets waiting, if you look just a little longer. I want to plan a run around not just where it’s “safe,” but where the St. Bernard lives and where the blackberry brambles are and where I can smell the four o’clocks, which only open at night.


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  1. ooh! ooh! i offer up at least one hippie couple and 2 cats, complete with hammock, messy apt, disused fire spinning toys, and 15 instruments.

  2. They still owe you big drinks for taking care of said cats…

  3. Said cats are adorable! And the hippie couple needs to expand its hippie shenanigans to the front yard. More fire and more brambly bushes, please.

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