He runs unburdened by the hundreds of sacrifices these commuters have made to arrive at this traffic jam on time—the breakfast missed, the children unseen, the husband abandoned in bed, the night cut short on account of the early morning, the weak gas station coffee, the unpleasant carpool, the sleep lost, the hasty shower, last night’s clothes, last night’s makeup.
He ignores the commuters sealed off in their climate controlled cars, trapped in the first news cycle and the wheel of top-forty. He holds a straight line through the morning’s small desperations, the problems waiting to unfold, the desire to be elsewhere, to be anywhere but here today and tomorrow and all the mornings that run together into one city-wide tangle of freeways and on-ramp closures and Sig Alerts, a whole day narrowed to the stop and go.
His expression is mid-marathon serene, focused on the goal and not yet overwhelmed by the distance. He shows no strain. But the woman in the battered soft-top convertible will say he looks drugged. The man in a souped-up hatchback claims he was Crazy-high, totally loco, you know what I mean. A couple of teenage girls driving a SUV way beyond their pay-grade insist that, although they barely noticed him, he looked like a super-hero, but not one of the cool ones.
The runner is on pace for an eight-minute mile or so it seems to the man behind the wheel of his SUV who woke up late and didn’t have time for his own jog. He missed his pre-dawn tour of Beverlywood, the empty silence of the residential neighborhood when he visits other people’s cul-de-sacs, peering into the living rooms of dark houses as his pedometer records his footsteps, marking calories and distance until the morning’s ritual is complete. He wonders what went unseen—coyotes slinking home before sun-up, a car haphazardly left in a driveway after one too many, a man sleeping in the blue glare of his TV, a teenager sneaking through her back gate, liquor bottles shoved into bags and left at someone else’s curb. During these stolen hours before his wife and kids need him, he believes he glimpses his neighborhood’s secret soul, seeing beyond the facades of the bungalows and the manicured squares of unremarkable lawns into hidden discontents.
He begins to leave downtown, emerging into the no man’s land of medical buildings, drab apartments, and off-brand restaurants. He passes businessmen in flashy cars headed for the glass towers of the financial district, delivery trucks returning to the warehouse district, cyclists darting between the stop-starting busses.
It’s an odd crowd that watches him: arrivals for the first shift in the sweatshops, homeless who’ve wandered up from Skid Row a mile or so to the east, hospital workers—medic techs and tired nurses—leaving their overnights, residents of the few tumbledown apartments, undocumented workings hustling gigs in the Home Depot lot. To those who see him over here the runner is an apparition.
As usual, his parents began the slaughter early, hoping to finish before the sun reached full-strength. The day was still—the desert holding its breath. Sound carried from the highway, bringing the roar of trucks heading towards Las Vegas or Los Angeles. The crows circled overhead then settled in the palms to watch. A hawk swooped down on the action.