Friday, May 11, 2012

Ode to a water fountain..

I have every intention of recapping my wonderful Charleston trip, and I will. But first:

Today I had one of those runs that reminds you why you're a runner, the kind of run you don't want to end (and that is a rarity, even my good runs I count down the steps until they're over). I kept finding ways to extend it, to go a little longer, down one more street or block. I am kicking myself I've never run this route before.

I started on Monument and went down the Boulevard towards the Carillon. I ran past the Carillon, past Maymont, past the public tennis courts and the dog park and across the Nickel Bridge.

I spend so much time longing for Charleston, for the ocean and marsh and endless bodies of water that dot that beautiful city. And yes, Richmond does not have an ocean or a marsh or a harbor. But my God, it has a gorgeous river. I love the Cooper and the Ashley in Charleston, but I don't know if they can compare to my James. I feel slightly ashamed, living here since I was born, and never really giving the James its due. I've lived by it, driven over it, swam in it, and loved it, yes, but I don't wax poetic about it the same way I do about the water in Charleston. And that's a mistake on my part. Because it is beautiful, and this run just gives you a front row seat to the most beautiful stretch of the James-all rocky and vast. I absolutely love the running trail on the Nickel Bridge, because you're protected from the cars by a guard rail, and I cannot believe I only did this today.

I was planning on ending my run and turning around at the end of the bridge, but like I said, it was one of those rare runs where you want to keep going. So I did, up the hill to Riverside Drive and down a block to my childhood home, the home I was brought home to from the hospital. The majority of my memories of this house are a little blurry, since we moved away from it when I was seven, but what the memories lack in clarity they more than make up for in strength. I ran past that house and I remembered all those summer nights playing baseball in the front yard with a plastic bat and wiffle balls, playing until it grew too dark to see and my mom called us in for supper, 4th of July parades in the street with all the neighbors, the snowy winter day we found a stray dog and "adopted" him, keeping him in the garage, the post-pool evenings when we'd been in our bathing suits for hours and it was still so hot outside all we could do was run to the one room with the window unit and stand in front of it, letting the frigid air blow our wet hair until it felt like ice.

I ran past the house, past the houses where my best childhood friends lived (in my memory literally every house on that street had a kid my age, waiting to play at a moment's notice), past the corner where we used to play toll booth on our bikes (until I was like 20 I thought toll booth was a classic childhood game, then I realized that the kids in my Westover Hills neighberhood grew up next to a toll bridge, and that might have had something to do with the frequency with which we played it). I ran down the street to where you get another spectacular river view from the top of the hill.

On the way back I ran past the lake in Byrd Park, and even though I'd run 5 or 6 miles at that point, I still didn't want to stop. So I ran down to the trail that goes around the lake and ran around it, past all the geese and ducks and kids feeding them pieces of bread.

I feel like any runner will identify with this kind of run, the rare time when pleasure outweighs pain, when you forget about your lungs and your muscles and just enjoy everything around you. I ended up going 7.3 miles, the longest I've run in a while, and it felt so much easier than the 3 or 4 mile short runs I sometimes do on Monument.

And a big part of why it was so enjoyable is that there were actual water fountains on my route. You have no idea how many times I've prayed for a water fountain during a run. I've changed my route to run through city parks, assuming a water fountain would be there, but so many times there hasn't been (apparently the Fan does not believe in water fountains in their parks, go figure). But there was as water fountain right before the bridge next to the Carillon and water fountains at Byrd Park. On a hot day that makes a huge difference for a runner, especially one like me who is easily dehydrated and who HATES wearing those water bottle fanny packs (I have bought several of these, all highly recommended, and they all are TERRIBLE, I usually end up with 90% of the water all over my shirt and shorts).

But today there was actual water! From water fountains. I don't know if I can adequately convey how much I love a good water fountain, and how endlessly amazed I am that water fountains aren't on every city block. I actually get downright sentimental over them.

Here's a pet peeve of mine. People, in this country, who complain about tap water or refuse to drink it. And the thing is that's almost everyone. Whenever I go on beach trips no one will drink the water because it's "beachy." I'm surrounded by a nation of people who drink from water bottles, store bought water gallons, from water coolers, from any source of water other than the tap water available from literally any faucet.

And yes it's bad for the environment , but that's not why it bothers me. It bothers me for the same reason I love water fountains so inappropriately much. Excuse me while I step onto a particularly sanctimonious soap box.

Drinkable tap water represents everything America has at its advantage, and everything Americans take for granted, turn their noses up like it's nothing.

The bad part about travel is that it makes you obnoxious. I know it's obnoxious to say these things, that everyone would prefer if I just shut up about tap water for the love of God.

But the places I've been prevent me from doing that. I will drink tap water from any water source in this great nation, forever, and I will do it proudly and gladly, even if it does taste "funny" or "beachy." I don't care what studies have been done, showing such and such in the water supply. Because ultimately water in this country is safe. We won't get diseases from it. I lived for 6 months in a place where the water wasn't safe, and I'll never forget when I got the flu and I had a crazy high fever and was so thirsty, and all I wanted was water, and the only way to get it was to walk 10 minutes to the store. It sucked. I would have given anything to be able to drink from the tap, to do what we can do here so easily and safely.

In Haiti I saw a 6 year old girl walk miles down a mountain cliff, in unbearable heat, with a jug almost the size of her, to fill up with water and bring it back to her family. We were in a truck with our leftover drinking water for the day, and none of us could stand it, so we broke the one rule every mission trip is supposed to follow-don't give out things (water, food, gifts) to locals. There are many good reasons for that rule, as cruel as it sounds, but in that moment we didn't care. None of us could stand to see that little girl walk any further, on that dirt road in the heat. We gave her all the water we could, and it still broke every one of our heart's, because we knew that for today we had helped, but tomorrow that little girl, and so many like her, would face the same thing, the same brutal search for clean water.

I think of what the presence of a water fountain with clean water would mean to a country like Haiti, or to a place like India, where children would beg us for our cokes or our sprites, because they were thirsty, because they didn't know when they're next drink would come. I think of what it would mean in nations in Africa, where HIV positive women are advised to breast feed because those babies have a better chance at life than if faced with the alternative, mothers mixing formula with water, and all the water-borne diseases, quick and lethal, that come with it.

There are so many places in this world where people die because they don't have access to clean water. And that's so ridiculously unfair and absurd. I can't wrap my head around it, and never will be able to.

And that's why I think a water fountain is a beautiful thing, to be celebrated and cheered, to be placed on every corner. It represents this ludicrously unfair advantage we all have and have never had to earn. And I will never turn my nose up at that advantage, because it tastes funny or because I think it's gross compared to bottled water (which, let's face it, really is tap water).

All of this came to me on my wonderful run today. I usually don't get so philosophical on runs, because inside my head is too full with "oh the humanity! make it stop!".

But today my head was clear and calm. Today I had the run, the mystical unicorn of runs, absolutely perfect in every way.

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