Running in California

This building has nothing to do with running.
But I am coming to peace with the fact that words have lost the struggle with images.

I run wherever we travel, which is a gift. I have time to absorb the slow pageantry of new places off the beaten path. Running can also mean hours of meaningless boredom and pain, but I’m used to that. And, since I don’t run with a camera, I have to trust memory — a diminishing resource — to record what I see. So before I forget:

In Long Beach, I turn right at a massive blue pyramid marking the entrance to the California State University campus, then past the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center — both alumni, and why does he got top billing? — then left on Palo Verde, and there it is, nestled in a corner of a service station: a baby blue 1968 Ford Mustang, being fussed over by a mechanic, so bright and glistening is the car, it appears newly hatched.

In Santa Barbara, I take the asphalt path by the beach road, and as I cut through a parking lot, I see a firetruck surrounded by firefighters. They’re furiously stripping off their uniforms, shrugging on wet suits, and running onto the beach with surf boards. Too many questions.

I’ve run this path now several times, and each time I see the same pair of hobos. (Is it bad to say hobos?) The hobos have the dark leathery skin you associate with living rough, a brownish mixture of sun damage and dirt. They’re sitting on the ground, propped against the back wall of a public toilet. Beside them, their towering packs. They’re reading hardcover books. They glance up as I pass: they are startlingly handsome. They could be Tom Ford models. Expensive eyeglasses, manly stubble, square jaws, gleaming smiles. Have I stumbled past a “Nomadland” photo shoot, and did the crew just break for lunch, promising to come back with egg salad sandwiches for the talent? I should stop to find out more, but I can’t imagine what I’d say.

On another day along the Santa Barbara beachfront, I pass rows of picnic tables surrounded by Mexican families. The ages range from newborns to ancient abuelas. Men stand over smoking barbecues and pass around cans of beer, as kids scurry between their legs. Women pile paper plates high with food. Years ago, I ran through a hilly park in Washington State and paused beside one such family to catch my breath. They had just finished lunch and were handing around watermelon. A kindly uncle offered me a slice and, out of shyness, I declined. My rudeness haunts me to this day.

12 thoughts on “Running in California”

  1. These words describe more than photos would have. Though I’d have loved to see the two hobos!

    The last “image” reminds me of when I was on Mount Royal years ago with Shari and Cheryl. A family of middle eastern origin (I presume) was having a similar big family meal at the picnic tables. I went over to say hello and asked about the food they were preparing. I passed them a bit later when we left the park and they offered me food. My first instinct was to decline, but I didn’t. We enjoyed a plate of chicken drumsticks and pita. Shari will remember.


  2. Lovely and illuminating snippets Spyro. As if we’re there with you.., And always your distinctive human touch. Thanks!


    1. Great to be writing again for you, Laura. The pharmacies here have a large selection of film. Although I find colour film too expensive for my needs. Thanks for reading.


  3. Oh man those pics …. and of course the text along them … art everywhere … even running … when are we running together again is the question that follows all this!


  4. How about “what are you reading?”

    I engage more often than not, almost always to my benefit and more often than not, I like to think, to the benefit of the interviewee. I do this in everyday life to satisfy my curiosity but when I’m travelling a bit of forwardness sometimes nets me photographs I would otherwise not have taken. I am especially bold when I have a bicycle with panniers between my legs, which is often, as you are aware. People are constantly wondering “where are you go?” I’m thinking that your running gear might not have the same effect. After all, “where are you go” is not likely to be any farther than grandma’s house . It may even be that those hobos might have made a play for those mickies strapped to your waste. Thoughts?

    I have long ago made up my mind about the struggle between words and images and you know where I stand on that. I could repeat my comment on your last post here. It might be different if I had your talent for writing.

    Thanks again.


    1. Your suggestion is spot on. Another friend emailed me and suggested “what are you reading” as the perfect ice-breaker. Yes, a bike offers a good advantage. I am not as bold as you and, although I did bring a water belt, I haven’t used it: this place is blessed with public washrooms and water fountains all along my shore route, so there’s no need. I resisted pictures for a long time, but I’m coming around. Why fight the inevitable? Thanks for reading and commenting.


  5. Loved this pice Spyro! You transported me right to every interesting place! Thanks & hugs, Mur❤️🌴🏌️‍♀️😎❤️

    Sent from my iPad



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