Saturday, October 13, 2012

Falling in love with Richmond.

(photo taken by Phil Riggan,

I was born and raised in Richmond. My dad was born and raised in Richmond. Ditto his parents, and their parents, and so on. Richmond is home. It's where my roots are and always will be. And I love it for that.

But in terms of loving Richmond on its own merits, as a city separate from my friends and family and memories, we've had an off and on relationship. I know that I always miss it when I live somewhere else, and there's nowhere I love coming home to more.

But sometimes we're more "eh" than anything else. Richmond is like family. You're obligated to love your family and do so naturally and unconditionally, but sometimes you get on each other's last damn nerve.

Training for the marathon has given me something I never expected, a new and deepening love and admiration for the city I thought I knew completely.

Richmond is at its best, at its most perfect and lovely, on a long run on a crisp and chilly fall morning. I'm falling in love with this city in a way I never thought I would, the way I love Charleston, a soulful, passionate kind of love inspired by beauty.

Today I ran down Monument, with its beautiful homes and stoic statues. I ran down West Avenue, my favorite street in the Fan, where families leave toys out on the sidewalks 24/7, where kids ride bikes in the street because hardly any cars drive down the street. West Ave has that hidden, secret village feel, like the rest of the city forgets its there. It's smack dab in the middle of the Fan and VCU, but it's an entirely different world, calm and soft and impossibly charming.

I ran through the VCU campus, where five musicians were sitting on a sidewalk playing Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, that beautiful aching heart of a song. I ran past the Cathedral, my favorite kind of Catholic Church-big and imposing and unapologetically gorgeous. I ran up Main Street, past all the pastel stores and businesses, places where people eat and work and live every single day.

I ran past Lamplighter, with the smell of coffee heavy in the air, over the expressway to Byrd Park, with its big, still lakes flanked by packs of ducks and geese. I turned at Maymont, this gorgeous, free park filled with happy, fat, little (and not so little) animals I've taken for granted all my life. I ran past the Carillon, where on this morning bagpipes rang out loudly. I ran past the public tennis courts, past the baseball fields where tiny little children in oversize jerseys "played" baseball.

I ran through Carytown, past all those restaurants and their wonderful, breakfast smells, the doughnut shop, Can Can, Montana Bread Company. I ran up Cary, shaded by big, steady trees, alongside Windsor Farms and then turned over to Grove, another street shaded by big, solid trees and flanked by neighborhood after neighborhood of beautiful homes. I stopped, as I always do, at the Grove Avenue Water Stop, a sight that always makes me a little misty, because it's such a purely nice, decent thing to do, for a stranger to fill up a cooler of water every day for more strangers, with no benefit or gain. I always stop there for water, and it makes me proud of Richmond that a place like that even exists.

I ran past the Libbie/Grove area, full of people getting coffee or seeing a movie or just out walking with their families and their dogs. I ran to Three Chopt, past a farmer's market at St. Stephen's, past St. Bridget's, the church I was baptized in and had my first Communion in, the church I practically grew up in. I ran down Maple to Patterson, past stalls selling fresh produce, past more teams of impossibly cute children playing sports.

I ran back home down Patterson, and ended up in the middle of some kind of charity walk. The streets were filled with smiling, laughing people, filled with my fellow Richmonders, enjoying our city on a beautiful October morning.

This sounds rose colored, and well it is. I know Richmond isn't perfect. I've frequently compared Richmond, rather unfavorably, to a city like Charleston.

But Charleston, for as much as I love it, isn't Richmond. It doesn't have to earn anyone's love. The moment you step foot in that city you never want to leave it. Richmond isn't like that.

I've always thought that to love Richmond you have to live here for at least a few years. It has to become your home. And then you love it with a stubborn, dogged kind of loyalty, a love born of routine rather than appreciation.

But maybe I only feel that way because I did grow up here. All the places I ran by today are places I've spent hundreds of hours of my life in or driving past. They've been dusty and dull in my mind because of this over-use, because of the way time can turn things mundane.

But there's something about the effect of a long run, of cool air in your lungs and blood rushing through your veins, that changes your vision. Things that were dusty and routine get clearer and more precise. A city that I've known my whole life, that is profoundly and intrinsically a part of who I am and who my family is, becomes saturated in color and life when I'm running.

When you run, especially on a long run, there are these moments of clarity. It's part endorphins, and partly a result of the fact that the physical task of what you're doing takes so much effort, that you can't waste energy on needless thoughts. You get these razor sharp moments of quiet in your mind, which for me, and for most people, is a rare thing. It's kind of like a mask coming off.

And not to get too Oprah here, but that's what makes running an optimal time for epiphanies, for realization and ah hah moments (I actually really hate the over-used phrase ah hah moment, but it fits here so I'll allow it).

My unlikely epiphany has been that I love my city. Not because it's home. Not because it's where I was born and where so many of my family and friends are. I love Richmond, very much, just the way it is.

And yes, I just bogarted that quote from Mr. Darcy. Sue me, I just ran 13 miles.

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