Mile 10, as it so often is.
The concrete vibrates through my running shoes, into my feet and ankles, up into my legs, and even begins to rock my head. I turn up the Led Zeppelin on my ipod, focus on my form, and try to tune-out the pounding. But I can’t.
I spent the last 90 minutes running from the R.E.I. near downtown Denver, past industrial zones of warehouses, factories, and power plants, alongside and under interstates, highways, and busy surface streets, through the projects, and next to the Platte River in all its urban might. While I knew my route before I began, and though I smiled at the guts of the city, there’s no way in hell I’m running back.
Lindsay is always thrilled to receive a phone call from me in the middle of a work day, especially with an update about how my long-distance leisure run is going. There’s no doubt I need to bite the bullet and buy myself a smart phone to find my own way out of the concrete grind. But I neglectfully left my city map in the car (the rules of urban survival are really no different than those of the wilderness), so I must call.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I ask sheepishly. “Well, uh, I’m near Hampden and Santa Fe,” I pause. She knows what this call is about. “Is there a light rail station around here?”
A moment later I have my directions. I run a section of dirt trail to ensure I get my 16 miles for the day, and then I head into the suburban sprawl of Englewood. A spur path leads me right into town, to the light rail station, the civic center, and yes, the courthouse.
“Can you buy tickets on the platform?” I ask the first person I see.
The woman gives me a strange, somewhat worried look and nods yes. I jog up the ramp and catch a few more folks eying me with a mix of caution and confusion. The next train arrives and leaves in five minutes. Perfect.
I reach into my pack for my credit card (thank goodness I threw this in with my I.D. today), but as I go to swipe it at the ticket terminal, I realize the machine only takes cash. “Shi**.” I don’t yell it, but enough folks hear me. I can feel more stares.
As I contemplate which direction to head for an ATM, I realize how strange I must look. My shoes have shiny blue souls. I’m wearing long underwear (which pretty much look like loose-fitting spandex leggings) underneath my running shorts, and I’m sporting a bright green, short-sleeved shirt and a red mesh running cap to match. The top layer might be less odd if it was the middle of summer, but it’s 37 degrees and the dead of winter. Don’t worry, mom, while I’m by no means wearing a coat, I have spandex running sleeves on.
I sip from my hydration pack and do the only sensible thing I can do with everyone admiring my running costume, I jog through the Civic Center and into the parking lots of the adjacent strip malls. There must be an ATM around here somewhere. Maybe I can make the 1:30 train in fifteen minutes.
I find a bank, not the bank for the card I have with me, but a bank none-the-less. A wind picks up from the west and I feel the chill on the back of my neck as I dodge a white delivery van. Oh yeah, I’m in civilization.
I begin my interaction with the money god. “Please enter your pin . . .”
“Sh*!” This time I yell it. I never use this card to withdraw cash and no where in the resources of my mind did I hide the personal identification number. Through the haze of my running brain and the growing cold, I develop the idea to make a purchase at a near-by store and get cash back. I see the red of either a Target or an Office Depot down the block, and continue my jog.
“What brings you to Office Depot today?” A store attendant asks as I pass through the sliding doors.
“Oh, I need money for a light rail ticket.” I continue down the nearest aisle. It’s a perfectly honest answer, but could possibly only make sense to me. So it goes. It’s warm inside.
I search for an inexpensive item and even contemplate, what do I really need? Nothing comes to mind, but there in front of me is my ticket home. Plastic. Made in China. A perfectly formed round edge. A perfectly formed straight edge. Markings for inches (and metric units as well, thank goodness). And 180 degrees marked in bold black numbering so I can measure the angle of my absurdity from this moment to the one when I left home without the almighty instrument.
I hand the clerk the protractor and swipe my card. I wait for her to ask how much cash I want. The receipt prints out and she hands it to me smiling, “Have a nice day!”
“Oh, I, uh, needed cash back.”
“We don’t have that option for credit cards.”
I enjoy a soothing sip from my water hose. Do I argue? Do I make another purchase and try again? Do I give her my long story of why I’m standing in the Office Depot of Englewood, Colorado, just a few blocks from the courthouse, wearing running gear from head-to-toe and buying a protractor?
No. I do no such thing. It’s 1:29. If the Chase branch down the street will let me withdraw money without my debit card, I can make the 1:40 train back to downtown Denver, run the 16th street mall (dodging site seers, homeless musicians, and the 9-to-5 enjoying Starbucks), cross over the pedestrian bridge, and arrive at my car before my 2:30 phone meeting.
I slip the protractor proudly into my pack, (it fits perfectly), and I jog out of Office Depot.