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.