On May 29, I had to drive the kids to school, across DC, from Prince George’s County, which is to the east of the District, to the far NW of it, in the damned rush hour traffic. (Their dad usually drives them because he works there.) I decided I wanted, needed to cover 13.1 miles, my private half marathon, in downtown DC, for kicks. Actually, I was due for a long run, and the area is blessedly flat compared to my hilly suburb. I parked on Ohio Drive in West Potomac Park. The weather was cooler than usual for late May in this swampy region. I was grateful.
Over the course my two-hour run, the city offered sights and sounds that struck me and have stuck with me.
1. I was maybe a mere mile into the run, which had wrapped under the Memorial Bridge and climbed up to the Lincoln Memorial. I was on the wide shaded path between the Reflecting Pool and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On my right, a bunch of adorable, heart-melting ducklings, maybe six or seven, waddled off the path, toward the pool. Their mother herded them. As I approached and passed, she hurried them, then turned on me, beak open, and lunged toward me. I knew I was faster and would escape unscathed. Really, how much damage could she do to my lower leg? I confess, however, that I was a bit scared of mama duck in protective-threatening mode.
2. (Preamble: When I was in eighth grader at Bank Street in New York City, the whole grade visited DC in May.) The month of May seems to be the “school visit to DC” month. Damn: Hoards of school groups covered the Mall area. They were in my way, with their matching T-shirts or caps (a modern paranoia of losing kids; my eighth grade didn’t wear matching neon tees). I noticed that one spot on the far side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool seems to be the preferred class photo stage. A group in white tees was arranged on the few steps there. At least two other groups waited for their chance. Who knew?
I made my way up Capitol Hill. At the top, I dodged school groups waiting in line for the underground Capitol Building Visitor Center. When I was 14, I wondered why DC was so interesting. Still do. I know, I know, American history, the federal government, blah, bah, blah.
As I returned along the south side of the Mall on the gravel, one group of kids showed off by making fun of the local runners, me included. The boys tried to outpace me and each other, pointed, laughed, “There’s another one!” Dude, you all are, like, 14, and I have already run at least seven miles. Are there no runners where you come from? Shut up, youngsters, no one is impressed. Yes, I know you are bored. Come up with something else.
3. Taking into account at least 24 hours of heavy rain the previous week combined with high tide on the tidal Potomac River, the cement walk around Haines Point was mostly flooded. Park benches were standing in at least a foot of water, the base of many cherry trees were engulfed as well. The asphalt of Ohio Drive was fine until I nearly reached the point. I now know the lowest point of the road around Haines Point. Even as tried to avoid the many inches of standing water by veering into the interior grass, my sneakers were soaked.
4. Realizing that I needed to run the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia to the Mount Vernon Trail to make my distance goal without having to drag myself past my parked car, which is demoralizing, I ran up the steps up at the end of the Haines Point portion of my run, and turned onto the bridge’s footpath. A cyclist passed in the opposite direction. He said either “congratulations” or “evacuations” to me. Hm. I was wearing a Marine Corps Marathon tee, and the Pentagon was in sight. No one has ever congratulated me when I wear a race tee. I remember cycling to the Mount Vernon trail on September 11, 2001, and seeing the smoke rising. Evacuations did and still do happen in this town. Damn. I didn’t bring my smart phone with me to check. Was he warning me? I looked for smoke, listened for sirens. Nothing. Perhaps he just said “salutations,” but that’s just silly. I have to assume “congratulations.” Thanks!