Running on Tilt

Season 2, Episode 1: Williamsburg Bridge revisited

Love on the bridge; Project Geezer

Listen | Time: 4:19 · Format: mp3

In 2002, at my 10-year high school reunion, a classmate talked about her mortgage. It seemed like the finish line to adulthood, a mortgage. She had previously gotten married, bought a car, and had children, but a mortgage – that made it official.

My wife and I are expecting a baby in early December, so though we don't yet have a mortgage, a new phase of life, if not full-fledged adulthood, is on the way.

As an indirect consequence of the global economic hoo-ha, my work hours recently shifted. I now need to be at my desk at five in the morning. I leave at about two in the afternoon, or whenever the work is done. I alternate between running, biking, and taking the subway to and from the office.

To arrive in the financial district by five, I need to leave my apartment in Ridgewood, Queens by four. On the subway at that hour, about 80% of passengers are trying to sleep. The best seats for sleeping are the two person benches at the front and back of the cars, with railings to rest your head against. The train terminates at Broad Street, where officers and dogs spill out of bomb squad vans and a dimly lit Starbucks opens between five and six.

When I run in the morning, I take a fairly direct route down Metropolitan and Grand avenues, over the Williamsburg Bridge, and down the Lower East Side waterfront.

The first time I ran this at 4 a.m., I noticed a number of people sleeping in their cars parked on the side of the road. The second morning, a rat scurried in front of me and leapt into a drainage pipe that drops from the elevated section of the FDR. I wondered whether the rat would climb inside that cylinder to the road above, or whether he would just hide for a few minutes and fall back out.

The third morning I biked, and I got an eyeful of an adult thing, but adult in a different way from a mortgage. As I pedaled up the bridge, I saw about 100 yards ahead of me a couple on a footpath urgently undressing.

As I approached the two, the male person, who had stripped to his boxers and had his back to me, shifted. At first I thought he was trying to distort my view, but soon I realized that his shifting had everything to do with his own situation and nothing to do with mine. The next thing I saw was a woman on her knees. She was performing an act on him that according to one of my Canadian sources, was illegal in Canada until the 1960s. She was wearing black undergarments, and judging from her actions and her boots, she was probably being paid, but who knows.

I snuck one more peek after I had pedalled some distance past them. They had shifted to a more canine expression. I pedalled on.

This isn't something that happens only on that particular bridge in New York, or "only in New York". In any city, spent condoms appear in the darndest of places. Given that it was just the third day of my pre-dawn commute, I wondered whether I would see such an act on the bridge between four and five in the morning about 33% of the time. But I haven't seen it since.

My most recent race was the Fifth Avenue Mile, which I ran in 5:01, a little faster than I thought I would, though a touch over my goal of breaking five. Now it's time for a more ambitious goal. After running 5:01, simply breaking five would not mark much progress.

The first rule of Project Geezer, said a running friend of mine, is not to talk about Project Geezer. At the risk of being clocked in a dark alley, I'll sketch it out. When I joined the Central Park Track Club last fall, I set goals of 5 minutes for the mile, 18 minutes for the 5k, and 3 hours for the marathon. These round-number goals were grounded in the likelihood that I had lost footspeed since adolescence. My PR in the 5k is 16:50, run during college, and my PR in the mile is 4:41, run during my senior year in high school, half a lifetime ago. Beating those times would be a kick.