Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Race Against Toronto

At the same time that Jason and I were split up but trying not to be, we also took up running. Perhaps I should have read more into the symbolic meaning of it than I did at the time, but I was probably too busy trying to outrun my own shadow to notice. When I would visit his crappy place out in the suburbs, we'd run past people's perfectly clipped lawns and their yappy little dogs, and the tricycles left outside, and the newspapers unretrieved at the end of driveways and cars parked crookedly alongside curbs. When he would visit my crappy place in the city, suddenly running wasn't just a way to be done working out faster than if I'd walked, it was fun. It was interesting. It was addictive.

It has led me to confirm a longstanding suspicion: the best part about Toronto is the sidewalks.

I'm not a fast runner. I'm not a graceful runner. There is nothing easy or effortless about it. I am awkward, and panty, and my feet look funny in running shoes as opposed to high heels, but damn if I don't get some crazy satisfaction out of it anyway.

I love weaving through the morning rush, the expensive people swinging their expensive briefcases, juggling their expensive latt├ęs while trying not to scuff their expensive tassled loafers.

I love the gritty feel of the pockmarked concrete slabs; I love evading the wads of still-sticky gum; I love the stupid, gutsy pigeons who don't have the good sense to fly away when something comes careening towards them; I love the splatter of a ketchup packet that has already exploded under someone else's heel.

I love the blank stares of the people who are sitting on stools on the other side of the Starbucks' window, clutching at their morning caffeine with equal amounts of hope and disgust.

I love Albert, the homeless guy who sits on a milk crate cajoling coins out of pockets by offering a belated play-by-play of last night's game.

I love darting around the obstacles: the graffiti-ed mailbox, expired parking metres, signs begging me to come in for a perm and half off foil highlights, window shoppers transfixed by the nudes hanging in the gallery, street vendors and their questionable wares, strange-smelling hot dog carts, jittery wild-eyed junkies looking for their next fix, bored looking people on cell phones waiting for their dogs to find the ideal spot to take a leak.

I love the sound of impatient horns and cabbies rolling down their windows to shout invectives, the familiar strumming of the guy who earns his paycheque one dollar at a time deposited directly into his guitar case instead of his bank account, the blaring honk of the bully buses, the kind beeping of pedestrian crosswalk, the weird hum of a thousand ipods singing into two thousand ears, the scrape of reluctant feet dragging sleepy bodies closer toward office buildings.

I love winking at people as I pass them by. I love the people who smile at me. I love the people who raise their eyebrows in greeting. I love when people half-wave from the other side of the street, because the blur of my purple stretch capris looks a little too much like their friends', and then their sheepish smile when they realize that I am just another stranger out for a jaunt.

I love waiting at the corner for the red hand to turn into the white walking man who tells me it's safe to cross, even though in Toronto it's never safe to cross. I love the dedicated runners who don't wait idly, but hop from one foot to another or jog sillily in place, doing anything to keep that heart rate up. I love that you can always tell a serious runner by their backwards fanny pack, as if running makes fanny packs acceptable (it doesn't).

I love choosing a marker that's a few meters away, and closing my eyes, and running towards it blindly. I love it when I make it there unscathed, and I run extra hard to celebrate. I love it when I overestimate or underestimate my mark and I run extra hard to make up for it. I love it when I smack right into someone, and I giggle but don't stop as I yell my insincere apology while running extra hard to get away from my embarrassment.

I love seeing the same people as I saw yesterday. I love seeing new people that I have never seen before and never will again. I love the achy feeling in my thighs and the sexy bulge of my calves. I love the bobbing of my ponytail and the way my breath sounds inside my head. I love stretching in the elevator on my way down and gasping for breath as I run the last 6 flights up.

I love having an excuse to buy those cute little ankle socks. I love ordering poutine without a side of guilt because I had a damn good run this morning. I love breaking a sweat before 9am. I love taking up a new hobby that is so unJaylike that even I am completely baffled. I love the feel of Toronto as it unfolds in front of me, and behind me. I love how people part when they hear me coming, how they shuffle to the side and nod slightly as I glide past. I love you best, Toronto, when we're both going full tilt at an impressive pace.

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