I woke up from a restless sleep this morning and decided to go on a run. For me, running is this weird thing I picked up in my late 20s that I’m still not very good at. However, like everybody else in their early 30s who sees exercise as more of a penance for drinking too much than a decision to lead a fresh and healthy lifestyle, I reluctantly crammed my feet into a pair of Adidas and poured myself out onto the street.
In tow was Fred, my pit bull mutt (or “terrier mix”, depending on who’s asking) I had ironically rescued as a mistreated stray from the same park where we were headed. It was cold outside. I felt the mist deep in my lungs, wondered if I was ever going to completely quit smoking, and jumpstarted the comically uneven pace at which I jog.
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window. My arms were flailing, an enthusiastic white dog trotting alongside of me, and I was wearing a puffy windbreaker that a Russian olympic trainer might have sported in the 1980s. In fact, the jacket was originally part of a Halloween costume I’d once worn to a party in the Western Addition, the details of which I have since repressed.
I looked ridiculous. But then I thought, “Well, at least I’m out here getting the blood moving.”
My route starts in the Lower Haight, goes through The Panhandle, and pretty much ends wherever I crap out. It’s a unique tour of the many different layers that make up the tiramisu that is San Francisco.
Huddled under the eaves of Victorians and Edwardians of my neighborhood, I noticed enclaves of well-appointed young urban professionals, staring at their phones and waving expectantly at every hybrid car passing by, convinced that their Uber had finally arrived.
(Sidebar: My girlfriend drives a Prius and whenever I’m behind the wheel I like slowing to a stop in front of groups of people who look like they’re waiting for an Uber just to mess with them.)
As I approached the park, I passed by the DMV and saw a much different group of people. Actually, I had to stop for a second, since Fred likes to poop in the ivy that lines the parking area between Broderick and Baker Streets.
Unlike the homogeneity of the Uber-hailers, the absurd crowd that forms in the DMV lot each morning is a diverse menagerie of everyone else in the city; another striation of the tiramisu. Until quite recently, I was a high school teacher in SFUSD, and I observed that the DMV is a lot like a public school, in that there is no barrier to entry. Everybody gets to/has to go there, and this lack of social filter presents one of the most accurate cross sections of city life available.
In fact, this may be why some people feel so uncomfortable at the DMV. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, you need to wait in line just like everyone else. It may be the only place people can’t send their personal assistants to do their grunt work for them.
I reached The Panhandle and picked up the pace. I was feeling pretty hot to trot at this point, acknowledging other joggers as they passed by with a tacit nod that said, “Hey, look at us, out here making it happen.”
Most of them didn’t nod back.
Just past the tennis courts at Ashbury Street, a homeless woman was packing up her Coleman tent next to a bush on my right. She had sores on her face and looked upset, and her partner, emerging from behind a eucalyptus tree, seemed angry. It made me feel sad. I thought about their middle school photos with the blurry blue backgrounds and their awkward smiles and it made me wonder what led them to where they were.
I eventually got tired and turned around near Stanyan. I found myself in a pensive mood that was hard to shake. Fred didn’t give a shit, though. He’s a dog, and he wasn’t running to make himself feel better — he was just happy to be out there getting some exercise.