Every morning, after I’ve worked at my desk for a couple of hours, I go walking in a nearby park. It’s a ritual I’ve followed for 14 years, ever since my husband, my son, and I moved to our Los Angeles house.
I smear on sunscreen and pull on a hat and sunglasses, and off I go for my usual four miles. Even if it rains (unless it’s torrential), I do 13 laps around a track that meanders along a playground lined with strollers, curves around a bank of jasmine past baseball diamonds and soccer fields, and slips coolly under pine, magnolia, and pittosporum trees.
This head-clearing march, which I do for obvious reasons (exercise, weight control), is also a never-ending source of midday entertainment. Do anything in one place long enough, and you come to know the regulars.
At my park, these run the gamut, from babies in slings to the ancient grandpa with a cane to other track rats like me. This latter group includes friends who meet to stretch, run, or walk their dogs (one guy jogs with a scrappy terrier, one girl trots with a stuffy, dignified Bouvier); an older woman with an ever-shifting cast of pals; a nonstop talker who, even alone, is constantly on her phone.
Over the months, I’ve watched a man with a gray crew cut and the name of a Russian professional boxer on his T-shirt whittle away an impressive gut. Another guy, who runs shirtless, a religious medal bouncing on his chest, is a lane hog: Running clockwise, counter to prevailing traffic, he claims the inside track; if someone’s on it, he bears down, muttering curses, till the person moves. Yet he, too, has dogs, a German shepherd and a poodle mix he brings for catch with a tennis ball–a sign he can’t be all bad.
Since I am in the land of cute, toned actors with iPods, the sights are sometimes unexpected: A line of people on Segway scooters may roll past on the sidewalk below the track. A group of joggers might appear in high-topped plastic boots with giant springs in place of soles.
Change comes to my park, too: I’ve seen children pushed in running strollers outgrow them, to be replaced by smaller siblings. I’ve watched a speed-walking couple, the woman in heart-patterned pajama pants, suddenly break into a fight, departing in different directions.
One girl in a bandanna used to regularly meet a guy who didn’t appear to notice what was obvious to me–her painful crush on him. They haven’t been back in a while.
Last week, though, my cloak of walker’s anonymity was lifted when someone signaled that she’d noticed me.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said shyly–a slim, familiar–looking walker with a ponytail and shorts–“but I recognized your hat. I’ve seen you here for years, since I first came with my baby. I used to think, Wow, look at her. She’s so good; she totally works exercise into her day. Then it dawned on me: If I’m seeing her, I’m here, too; I can work this into my day. I’ve lost 30 pounds because of you. I just wanted you to know.”
I blushed and beamed. I told her she looked terrific–she did–and then I pushed off. I still had three more laps to go.