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Run 53: Houston, Part I

July 23, 2012

Miles: 6.5

Other Runners: Lots, all very sweaty.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone at this point that I’m not weathering life in Chicago very well. Part of this is, actually, the weather. It’s hot (90-100 F), and we have a window AC unit in the back bedroom. That’s it. So unless a person is keen to sleep, eat, and work alongside husband and cat in just one room, it’s not great. I miss my $1.98 cups of thick coffee and long, rainy (sometimes mildly depressing) afternoons at Zoka Coffee Roasters. It wasn’t always easy reading X Boring Article amidst spandex-clad cyclists who clip-clopped proudly across the wooden floors in their special shoes or tables of showy yoga-PTA moms, but there was always a chance that a friend might drop by and –the best gift yet- work would stop mattering. And if that didn’t happen, the coffee was always good.

The bourgeois luxury it is, coffee culture doesn’t really exist in our neighborhood. And while another potential workspace, the public library, has provided great AC and some good interim friends (namely Julia Child, Ruth Reichl and David Leibovitz- just wait until I venture from the cookbook section!), it’s not really conducive to critical data analysis.

In sum: I’m lonely.  And I’m hot.

I cried every single day last week, and for the umpteenth time, my sweet, loving husband sat me down and spoke very gently about the importance of staying positive. I really am trying, but sweet Lord, it is hard. One day, we made a list of things we can anticipate as we move out of July and the sauna that is Chicago summer. Maybe we’ll go camping. Maybe we’ll get a dog. We visited a church together. We drank Miller Lite and watched silly Christopher Guest movies. In this trying, sweaty time, he’s emerged as always a good man, and I a wreck of a woman with frizzy hair.

I flew to Houston on Friday morning for a sudden and very fast research trip. I knew nothing about Houston, and it was also my first time in Texas. Houston, it turns out, is very pretty. It sprawls, of course, and I’m sure it has its problems, like any other city. Still: Today, I give Houston an A. (It would get an A+ if it had hills.)

I slept in a little on Saturday morning, then ate the rest of the previous night’s dinner (an enchilada languishing half-frozen in my hotel ice bucket) and headed downstairs. I had planned to spend some time in the hotel’s gym, but said gym, it turns out, has one treadmill- and someone was on it. Despite my best hopes for hotel anonymity, I courageously (for me) stopped by the front desk and asked for a map. Two lovely front desk women helped me mark my path: They said I should go to the Rice University campus, where “there’s a park, and a lot of runners,” and with flashy long nails, they traced the streets I needed to take. Kirby… something else… Rice… I nodded, only half-understanding, then said, “So I would take the sidewalk out front and-” At this point, Front Desk Lady 1 looked up, very startled, and used her flashy long nails to push up her glasses. “You plan on running there?” Front Desk Lady 2 likewise shook her head and said, “Oh, honey, why don’t you just drive?”

Hmm. It was hot, and I ran.

That first mile and a half wasn’t great: there was lots of sun, traffic, an inordinate number of car washes, and the ubiquitous smell of grilling beef. I’m fine with one or two of these things, but taken together they’re a little oppressive. I turned left down a side street, then right, and I was in a place that somehow managed to be nothing short of magical at 10:30 on a muggy Saturday morning. Here’s why: wealth, and live oaks. I’ve had to admit in the course of this little web log that I am deeply prejudiced towards old stone houses, tangled, colorful landscaping, and plenty of shade. And for better or worse, this sort of thing runs rampant near universities- in this case, Rice University. I passed long, terraced rows of spindly roses, stone walkways lined with exploding fuchsia and gold and purple blooms, walls covered in thick vines. There were also lots of Priuses and Range Rovers and campaign signs extolling so-and-so candidate as “A True Conservative.” Which makes me wonder: university money, or oil money? Texas, you are a mystery.

Besides the wealth, the other thing no one tells you (or no one told me, at least) is that Houston has live oaks. Many, many live oaks. I don’t know very much about them, but they are the most beautiful, sprawling, complicated, steady trees, their limbs stretching and curling across the street, their leaves waxy and resolute, a deep emerald-black. I felt good running below them, and I was happy to be joined by similarly sweat-drenched runners. Together, we moved slowly in the thick heat, tracing the gravel path that circles Rice’s campus.

I got off the path after a while, venturing east towards a fountain that marks a central spot in the city’s museum campus. I ran around it, then paused in a very small brick pavilion. It had its own tiny fountain, where water bubbled up and around a simple patinaed sculpture. It was shady and quiet. I was struck by how peaceful I felt there, how content. Noticing that each of the small columns circling the pavilion was adorned with a plain copper plaque, I stepped closer and saw that the first one read: “Positive Mental Attitude Walk.” At this I said out loud, “Oh, you are kidding me.”

But the tiny park was for cancer patients, and each subsequent plaque offered a message about cancer help-lines, and the importance of staying active, and about knowing that you will be in the percentage of people who beat cancer. I love that places like this exist, that there are benefactors who believe in combining beautiful things with a shoulder up and a little push forward.

I ran on, no more or less positive, just trusting in the moment and surrendering myself to the dizzying heat and emerald-black leaves above.

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One Comment
  1. Anne permalink

    darling! i love that you ran around rice – i have a great story about that for you when we chat next time. i actually ran that same path once years ago. hilarious. SO HOT. sending you beautiful happy weekend vibes. say hello to the hubby and the kitty for me. mwah.

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