Track etiquette

Flowers bloom, pollen dust coats all the cars, women are wearing short shorts again, and there’s a gentle, swinging, perfume-scented breeze in the air. It’s Spring, and so it’s once again time for the ever-short-lived Quiet Bubble Exercise Regimen.

I plan for this one to last longer than the past ones. I suppose I always say that. At any rate, this means for the time being: three miles of fast walking, five days a week, with 20 sit-ups and a few stretches a day, and a reduction of red meat in the diet. The last part’s easy—I’m pretty much a poultry and fish man anyway. It shouldn’t be, as I love walking. The weather’s perfect, so it’s fun right now; when it’s mid-July and 95 degrees by noon, we’ll see how I feel. Anyway, what makes walking hard is the local park.

The park closest to me is Manhattan Park, a half-mile park that’s tree-filled, with two well-kept playgrounds. It’s not a very interesting park to look at, though, and it’s flat. (There’s exactly one incline, and it’s minor.) The short loops bring a false sense of accomplishment—I always know that I have to make more loops to make that three-mile mark. It’s not well-lit at night.

Parham Bridges Park, a mile-long track, too has lots of trees. The tennis courts are always filled with pretty, fit women playing. The track winds deceptively—those 1/8-mile markers are always farther away than I think they are—and there are lots of inclines (ahem, challenges), so I feel like I’m working out different sets of leg muscles. The tennis courts are flooded with overhead lights, as is the park after 7:00pm. It’s my favorite park that’s close to home. My only problem with it is that it’s the favorite park for lots of people. Walking or jogging the Parham Bridges is like being in a traffic jam.

This brings up an issue I rarely have to deal with at Manhattan—track etiquette.

Passing. If I’m passing a lone hoofer, this is easy. I either start jogging, so my steps clop more loudly on the asphalt. The hoofer usually hears and silently steps aside to let me pass. I do the same for those passing me by. If the person I’m passing is wearing headphones, I’ll quietly say, “On your left,” and make the pass.

Team walkers are harder, especially when it’s a group of chatters, especially when it’s chatting women. They almost seem to resent your passing them—they crowd the lane, or refuse to step to the side despite your entreaties, as if they’re daring you to pass. If it were flirting, that might at least be fun. But there’s usually no smiling involved. I roll my eyes, behind their backs, and make a pass on the sides, toes tapping on the grass.

Most people on the track go around clockwise, but a third of the folks go counterclockwise, causing all kinds of passing trouble. You get a chatting team that converges with a counterclockwise chatting team, and you can bet good money that the two groups not only know each other, but haven’t seen each other since church two weeks ago, and decide to stop on the asphalt in a crowd to catch up.

Eavesdropping. I’m never sure when it’s appropriate, and I’m bad about this even in the best of circumstances. This evening, I was going along at the same good pace as two talking women ahead of me. They were natural comedians, spitting out funny comments about so-and-so’s tramp sister and that no-count nigga that Tracey was dating right now. I’m pretty good about stifling laughter, but this was hard. Anyway, as they slowed and I passed them, I heard the one in the orange t-shirt repeat, over and over, “A Twinkie. A Twinkie. A Twinkie. A Twinkie.” I giggled, just for a millisecond, but her glare could’ve deadened Mount St. Helens.

A mile later, a woman passed me, talking on her cell phone. She was having a heated, loud argument with what I assume was her lover. “No, I don’t think you understand, but you had better start,” she said, enunciating each syllable of each word she said in that way that only women on the verge can pull off. I didn’t have to see the person on the other end to know he was ducking for cover.

Then again, what on Earth do people make of me on the track? I carry on interviews with myself: “So, after years of obscurity, how does winning the Nobel Prize feel?” “Well, Charlie, I never really started writing for the awards, and in some way I think all this concentration on prizes and attention can actually be bad for the work.” “But the $250,000 must not feel bad.” “Oh, no, I’m out of debt for the first time since 2001, so that’s nice.” Most of this goes on in my head, but I must mouth or mutter stray fragments. Do people passing me consider me to the Parham Bridges drunk?

Staring. I’m good at the furtive glance, and I’ve got a great visual memory, so one quick look at an attractive woman is all I need. It’s rude to stare. Still, I get caught looking occasionally. I catch people at it, too. (Hey, I’m not that tubby, thankyouverymuch.) Once this happens, passing the person who caught you can be difficult. If she speeds up as you pass her, is she trying to outrun you? Or keep up with you? If a counterclockwiser grins widely at you as you’re going, are you looking good, or do you have hanging snot dangling from your nostril? If you stay the same distance behind someone for a quarter of a mile, will she think it’s because you’re just staring at her bouncing ass?, when the truth is that you really wish she’d step aside so you can pass her?
———————————

The track is an odd place, because the borders between public and private aren’t so clear. Most people jog or walk in their own private worlds, but are constantly being reminded—when someone passes them, shouts “Hey, man!” across the way, when we hear an elderly man’s strained breathing and marvel that even he’s out here hoofing it, by the clop-clop-clops of marathon runners in training—that we’re in public. At Manhattan Park, because so few people traverse it, I can walk more or less in a social cocoon.

For whatever reason, I’d rather have the challenge of Parham Bridges, and all the times I’ve been caught looking won’t change my mind. So, it’s Parham Bridges for me. Wish me luck.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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4 Responses to Track etiquette

  1. Franje says:

    I wish you the best! I’m sure you can stick to the regimen. If you like, and with your permission, I can remind you about it every so often. Sometimes, you need that kick in the butt.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    As a former college track (and field) athlete, I really have to comment here. I’m one of those people who goes to the regulation (one oval makes 400m) tracks at high schools and junior highs with her spikes in hand (in blatant disregard of the signs saying “no spikes allowed”) and risks imprinting your 5-year-old with polka-dots if she and her training wheels wander into the path of my oh-so-fast (but not as fast as they used to be) sprint workouts.
    I do understand that these tracks are community property, and kids need a nice, level, safe place where they can learn to ride their bikes. Those who don’t run should have a soft but firm surface to walk on. Joggers don’t need to get some kind of competitive glint in their eyes; it’s just working out, after all.
    But more people should be aware of the essential rules of regulation track etiquette, which are in addition to the above (well-articulated) flirt-n-go procedures.
    1. Pick a lane and stick to it.
    2. If someone is sprinting on the track, please check six before getting on or off.
    3. If you hear someone shouting “track” behind you, accompanied by the sound of fast footfalls, it means you’re in the way. You should relocate quickly.
    4. If you don’t follow the above rules and someone runs into/over you, you will “get spiked.” That means the metal teeth on the bottom of my shoes will leave minor contusions all over your pretty little skin. And you will have been warned!
    Ordinarily, I’d say, “Get over it, you former, has-been athlete!” It’s just, you can ride your bike, take a walk, fly kites, or let your dog take a poo ANYWHERE. You don’t need a rubber track for that. The people who DO need a rubber track are the ones with bad knees, and sprinters with sharp, pointy things on their feet.
    Last summer, I almost collided with a Texas housewife with big hair, and she proceeded to yell at me for about a minute straight. I suppose that’s one way to burn calories, but if you want to be annoying and stupid, there’s always beer.
    Thank you for permitting me my soap box.

  3. Laura says:

    I miss walking in Jackson. I can remember a really nice wide street from Millsaps up to Belhaven and back through some of those lovely older neighborhoods, now a mixture of students and retirees. But thank you for stirring up my smiles for spring; yesterday’s lunchtime was spent blissfully on our back deck amongst all the flowers that survived the hailstorms last Friday. My best walking is done in the mornings in my neighborhood here in the Boro. My 2 1/2 mile jaunt takes me past dozens of lovely gardens full of perennials just blooming – tulips and irises now that the daffodils are spent. The other choice is to head to our Greenway, a walking/biking path laid next to the Stones River. At any time you might see families, dogs, bikers, runners, couples savoring the springing springtime and the now-rushing, soon-to-be sluggish waters. Avery the pug especially loves his Greenway trips – both the drive there and back (head out the window, naturally) and the actual walk, full of smells and new dogs to meet. Just my share of the joys of April here in Tennessee.

  4. Tank says:

    Franje,
    Good luck with your wishful thinking. No one knows your personal set of rules but you. In this city, the laws, not Franje’s rules, which govern behavior. I can’t be everywhere, but if I catch you, I’d be happy to pepper, TAZER, and get your attention with my nightstick. If you were to run into someone blissfully jogging along even at a snail’s pace, just because he or she didn’t hear your warning of “track” or didn’t understand you, you would be charged with assault, battery, and/or reckless endangerment. People have the right to be left alone and not be run over by anarchists such as yourself. Your violations of rules forbidding spikes will promise easy wins by the plaintiff in civil suits against you. And you will spend what free time you have (I mean when you get out of jail) paying off your legal fees and judgments with your last hard-earned cent.
    Let’s face it, you’re a loser. Get off the track and drown yourself in beer. This goes double for the bicycle riding wannabee racers aka public nuisances in Central Park.
    Love,
    Dad

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