Running While Black

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post initially was entitled “Person vs. Two Pickups, a Pistol and a Rifle,” until I saw a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Running while black.” One of its footnotes cites an article, Running while Black: Why we are not all in this together, in which the author, Dewayne R. Stallworth, states something that must haunt many black runners:

As an educated black man who enjoys taking contemplative runs in my neighborhood, I must confess that I leave my home with the thought that I may not return (and this is before Arbery’s killing). I think about my attire — would this shirt cause someone to think I am a burglar.

Jogging as a black person in the US is a thing. Being black imposes new risks on top of the usual difficulties with urban running: effort, breathing bad air, possible sprained ankle, collision with cars….[1] Driving in the US is also a thing. It imposes new risks to the environment, pedestrians, bikers, and animals. Where the two meet in this post is the power differential that automobiles offer. Cars and trucks make it not only easy, but extremely easy to injure nature and society with almost no effort at all.[2]

This power differential demonstrated itself vividly in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery (age 25). While he was out running on Feb. 23, 2020, he was chased by two pickup trucks and hit by one of them before that other power differential so loved by some Americans, the firearm, made the chase lethal. It’s not that violence would stop with the eradication of pickup trucks or firearms, but the terms of engagement would alter radically, creating a more level playing (or battle) field.

Consider the suspects (they’ve only been videotaped and charged, not prosecuted). Two heavy-set white males, Gregory McMichael (64) and his son Travis McMichael (34). Assume they see Mr. Arbery take his short detour into the home construction site, from which he left, carrying no stolen goods. They think he’s the same black man that Travis reported to 911 on February 11, as a burglary suspect. So they put on their Hoka One shoes, grab their baseball bats, and start running after Mr. Arbery. At the same time, a neighbor, William Bryan (50), grabs his smart phone and jumps on his mountain bike to start videoing the incident.

Nothing except embarrassment to the pursuers would have likely come from this. Gregory’s energy may have flagged first, while his son, Travis, could keep the chase up longer. Knowing that Ahmaud frequently went running, I doubt either would have caught him, and even if one had, if Ahmaud were willing to wrestle a shotgun (as he did in the actual confrontation), he certainly could wrestle a baseball bat from Travis’ hands. And William, the videographer, would have been more the witness he originally claimed to be (before it became known that he corralled and hit Ahmaud with his truck—which is why he was later arrested and charged with with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment).

In short, Ahmaud would likely be alive if these men had relied on their strength and not their machines. This post neither attempts to address the deep racial problems rooted in US culture nor pretends to offer a practical solution for even the more recent and less sinister problem of relying far too much on cars and trucks. It only stands to remind us that many problems are interrelated and addressing one may often bring another one to light. Racism strikes most of us as the greater evil because it blatantly involves human will and intention; the general ruin of the environment, however far reaching its effects, will seem to many as something inadvertently done, something that may be looked back on in history with a sigh, “if only we had known….”

epilogue

While searching the Internet for incidents of “assaults on joggers united states,” I was reminded that one of the most vulnerable classes of outdoor runners are women. The preponderance of search results about assaults against female runners stunned me. Technology, again, often accompanies the assaults. One headline that captures the breadth of assaults is from the BBC news site, From catcalls to murder: What female joggers face on every run. Being black, female, and a runner poses a confluence of bad possibilities, at least in the US. As Tianna Bartoletta, three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field said, “I’ve run through streets in Morocco, Italy, Barcelona, Netherlands, China and Japan . . . and it’s only in my home country that I wonder if I’ll make it back home.”[3]

short bibliography in no particular order

Some sources may be pay-walled, but often if you re-search for the title, the search result may allow access for various reasons:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Either word, running or jogging, suggests people who are involved in a healthy activity for the improvement of their bodies and minds and who are not out looking for a fight. Among the many articles from my search on “assaults on joggers united states” was this one, Stop Calling Women Runners “Joggers”. This article makes a point relevant to any group of runners who are being dismissed or belittled, howsoever unintentionally: “‘Running’ defines a motion. ‘Jogging’ implies a speed—a leisurely one, devoid of intensity.” The only justifications the word “jogging” has for my concerns is that it (1) suggests an outdoor, urban setting, as opposed to indoor track runners and long-distance trail runners, and (2) it is used in most of the headlines about Mr. Arbery. Outside of that, “running” seems to be the better choice unless you know the runner’s cadence.

[2] The danger of cars and trucks merits an FDA warning on every commercial and advertisement, as well as on every dashboard of every vehicle. It would be similar to the cigarette warning, “caution: Driving May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” We know, however, that the cigarette warning is often ignored, which is one reason its expansion includes thirteen proposed warnings (Cigarette Health Warnings). If you scroll down on that page, with its photos of cancer, a dead heart, a child gasping—then you get the idea of what kind of warnings our next automobile czar should make mandatory.

[3] New York times, After a Killing, ‘Running While Black’ Stirs Even More Anxiety

Wait, Wait, Peter, Don’t Run From Me

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post offers some quotes from Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running (2018), a confessional book, both humorous and insightful.

covers: Incomplete Book of Running

Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! is also a notable amateur runner in his own right. At the age of 46, he ran a sub-40 minute 10k, a sub-90 minute Half Marathon, and a 3:09 Marathon. In his words, “Sub-three [hour marathon] people, while not quite the separate species that sub-2:30 marathoners are, are still different from the rest of us. If you run a 3:09 marathon, you’re a great amateur runner and you should be very proud, as I was. If you can run a 2:59 marathon, then you can do anything, including, perhaps, depending on the day and the field, winning the thing” (143).

Some of the readers of this web log are “different from the rest of us,” but even they would probably appreciate the book for its humor and honesty. One of my daughters lent me the book and said Peter was not as snarky in the book as he is on the radio show. I completely agree, and this makes him more lovable.

Peter Sagal also qualifies for “person versus automobile.” One day while riding his bicycle, an “Orange Nissan of Death” failed to yield to him at an intersection, with the result that he left a Peter-shaped impression on the car and had to recover from a broken back. His critique of the American dependence on machines is worth quoting at length:

Citizens of these United States don’t so much travel as we are processed through space, like some sort of industrialized, extruded meat product, human Slim Jims. Metal boxes carry us to processing centers that put us on conveyor belts that put us in metal tubes that take us to other processing centers and conveyor belts that put us in different metal boxes that take us to temporary storage cubicles, many of them with lovely minibars for overpriced sustenance. Like hamsters in Habitrails, we think we’re free, because that’s what the enclosure’s designers want us to think. If we didn’t do something drastic to punch through the walls, we’d never even know we were trapped. (xii)

While Peter, as do many of us, finds running a way to explore a city, he concluded some cities are not worth exploring that way, such as Los Angeles: “Eventually, I realized all that brown stuff hanging around the horizon was being sucked into my lungs whenever I ran, and I gave up running to devote myself to more practical forms of exercise, like failure” (32-33).

Running appeals to the minimalist within us, the part that sees no need to accessorize:

No: you have everything you need to begin. If you don’t have sneakers, just grab your most comfortable shoes, or go barefoot on dirt or sand. If you don’t have shorts, get an old pair of jeans and cut off the legs. If anybody judges you for wearing ratty clothes, one of the privileges and benefits of running is leaving people behind. (35)

Before setting his personal record on the marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon, he realized he had “no notion of what the course would be like…”:

So I consulted Ian Chillag, a Wait, Wait producer, onetime Philadelphia resident, and 2:39 marathoner.
I asked him, ‘Any advice on the marathon?’
Chillag said, ‘Yeah, don’t be stupid.’
‘Don’t be stupid?’
‘Yeah, you’re always stupid. You always go out too fast. So don’t be stupid. You want to negative split this course. If you cross that halfway mark fasther than 1:37:30, I’ll hit you.’ (137)

He did cross at 1:33, wasn’t hit by Ian, didn’t bonk—but it is refreshing to hear the sometimes snide host of a radio show allow others to call him stupid.

Part of the impetus behind his 46-year old effort at a new personal record was to refute an economist (Professor Ray Fair) who predicted that, “on average, marathon times inevitably decline about a minute per race for every year of age past forty…” (129-130). And so it was that on finishing the Philadelphia Marathon, while he “had not reversed time, or gotten any younger,” he had shown, at least to himself, “that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped” (143).

During this amateur running career, Peter’s marriage was failing terribly, and he occasionally likens a marriage to a marathon for which one has not trained. The two were not related only metaphorically: running was what kept him above water, mentally, during this period:

The next year, 2012, was the last year of my marriage, with its many and increasing trials, and during that time, and in the years since, I have often tried to hold on to that feeling from the early miles of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Not the confidence, or even, God help me, the sense of having been well and truly prepared for what I was enduring, because I knew, as my divorce unfolded, that I had never trained a single moment for that. No: what I have tried to remember, and occasionally achieved, is that sense of handing myself over to the moment I was in, trusting that what had brought me there would carry me through, allowing things to transpire not with effort, but with something like ease, even grace. (144)

Peter then ran two (and about 24/26) marathons in which he guided runners who had severe vision problems. The first provides the epic story that is important to the book but also has been told outside the book: he was guiding William Greer whose occipital lobe had been damaged years before, with the result that while his eyes worked fine, his brain could hardly interpret the images it was receiving. This run occurred, epically, in the 2013 Boston Marathon, co-inciding with the bombs detonated at the finish line.

The second runner he guided was Erich Manser in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Erich suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, which narrowed his field of vision to the point that it was as if he saw the world “through a cardboard toilet-paper tube” (146). It became clear to Peter that “Erich never complains, about anything, despite his surfeit of reasons. Maybe I could absorb some lessons from him; after all, he also found it difficult to see his kids. (I was known around Team With A Vision for my tasteful sense of humor.)” (156)

Guiding Erich became problematic when Peter began to get dizzy, either from dehydration or from not taking some medications he had left in another city. Luckily, another available guide, Monte, joined him, so he was able to hand Erich off to Monte. They continued while Peter drank Gatorade.

This was worse than death; this was failure. In the end, just as I had feared would happen when I guided William the year before, I had promised somebody I’d be there for him and I couldn’t do it. I cheesed out. I hadn’t been strong or dedicated enough. I’d blown it. Well, add the 2014 Boston Marathon to a long list of things attempted but not conquered: marriage, fatherhood, lawn maintenance, baseball…
I got another cup of Gatorade, and as the runners streamed by, I thought about Jacob Seilheimer. (162)

Jacob was a man who, in 2007, “ran” the Boston Marathon course, after the race had ended, in roughly eight hours, due to his obesity and lack of training. He was someone Peter, in his cockier years, hated for not applying himself. But later Peter got to know him and realized “Jacob has carried with him more burdens, handicaps, and back luck than I…Could imagine” (167). Inspired by these reflections and refreshed by the Gatorade, Peter began running again, catching Erich and finishing the race as his guide.

The book ends happily, as many do, with the acquisition of a couple of dogs, something Peter’s marriage disallowed because of his wife’s allergies.

Post script: I would be remiss not to mention what is likely the most useful chapter in the book, Chapter Five. It covers both his anorexic tendencies and his discovery of what a good diet consists of. He writes, “At the age of fifteen I looked into the mirror and saw somedoy I didn’t like, so I started to run away from him. I used obsessive running as a way to make my fat self disappear, as quickly as could be managed” (83). The problem was deeper than fat: he couldn’t see or accept himself; he couldn’t even see that he had become thin.

On dieting, he writes, “One thing that will help of course is diet, and that too, is something your running will affect, and something that will affect your running. By diet, I mean what you actually eat, not what some magazine or author or murdered doctor or celebrity or wife of Jerry Seinfeld recommends you should eat” (89). This sentence is followed by common good advice about eating well without swallowing a new neurosis in the process.

Covidiocy, Covidity, Covitality

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

I was pretty sure I had invented all those words, but that’s not the case. Covidiocy refers to people who make inane statements or perform inane actions relative to covid-19. Covidity refers to having a proclivity toward respecting the guidelines for slowing down the spread of the virus. Covidity has its own Facebook page. Covitality predates covid-19. It is a kind of therapy for adolescents (especially). It phonetically contrasts with co-dependence. In Person vs. Automobile, however, I give it a new meaning.

Covidiocy

The facts do keep shifting concerning the virus, but that does not exculpate conspiracy theorists concerning covid-19. The theory that comes to mind is the one that states the threat is manufactured by the US or a consortium of governments. I’m thinking of Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, who said, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated.”[1] If I thought my faith could keep 1,000 people safe from the virus, even though that’s a tall order, I guess I’d keep meeting with them, as he has been even after being cited on six counts of violating the governor’s executive order.

There’s a bitmapped message floating around on Facebook that generally seems to be posted to show that the covid-19 threat is minor compared to well-known causes of death. Generally, I like that approach: we often fear the unlikely dangers while we ignore the most likely danger. While a fear of flying is involuntary, it was the drive to the airport that put us on the statistical radar.

However, I decided to check the sources for this info graphic, since some of the causes of death (starting with the beginning of 2020) seem dreadfully high (and they are). But in the process, using the same source, worldometers.info, I compared the 2020 world-wide-death-count numbers as of 4/2/2020 with those of the 3/25/2020 info graphic (an additional 8 days). The count of ALL of the causes of death was 109% greater except covid-19, which was 249%.

Here’s the info graphic:

Here’s my comparison (except I couldn’t find hunger statistics):

It is this rate of covid growth that concerns epidemiologists (but not perhaps conspiracy theorists).

Covidity

Not every pastor—in fact very, very few—has ignored the mandates and recommendations to avoid public gatherings. Take my sister, for example. She resides in Oklahoma as a Methodist pastor. Oklahoma is among the five states that had, as of April 3, done the least to prevent social gatherings.[2]

She, herself, is a woman of faith, but she doesn’t take chances. After her husband returned from a trip in his automobile that required him to leave the state, she quarantined him for 14 days just to be safe. (Don’t read too much into this!)

In my peer group, I occasionally hear millennials dismissed unfairly through a kind of bigotry and over generalization. This irritates me because when I dream at night, I’m usually a millennial by age. It also irritates me because in several respects, millennials are on top of their game, including recognizing a social threat when it wanders into town. My daughter and her husband returned from China (and Paris) only to find Colorado becoming a hot spot. They quarantined themselves for 14 days. When we took our first carefully distanced walk, they were quick to note how I and a few other, older passersby failed to cover our mouths when we coughed. Kudos, sharp witted millennials.

Covitality

Covitality, as I use it, refers to the hidden physical opportunities during this time of distress. No doubt, many of us breathed a (perhaps contagious) sigh of relief when Governor Polis issued the order to stay at home. It of course allowed for essential services, such as liquor stores and dispensaries, to remain open. That was nearly a given. But it also allowed for going outdoors to exercise at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, the amount of drivers on the road subsided drastically. First in China and now in places such as San Francisco, the air is becoming notably cleaner.[3] Los Angelas has now cleaner air than it has had since World War II.[4] Similarly, the number of car accidents is plummeting.[5] Finally, life is quiet. In fact the earth is quiet, allowing seismographs to detect smaller earthquakes.[6]

While the cause for this freedom from traffic is truly awful, the result has been heralded by bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians as a long-sought advance in society. I used to seek the trails to avoid cars, but now I seek the empty roads to avoid all the people on the trails.

A friend of mine who (like many) cannot visit her aging parents and who has had to learn to teach her students online—in other words, who is paying a price for the pandemic—remarked to me that she thought it good that we have to slow down. She hoped—as I do—that when the virus subsides some of the good habits it caused us to acquire will not.

One Good Habit

Closing with a video as I often do, here is one from Don Bushey (who authored a post about almost dying on his bicycle) that might cheer you up:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] He’s quoted in an online site, Reason, which, quoting Christianity Today, provides this: “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” pastor Tony Spell told CNN affiliate WAFB. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

[2] According to an April 3, 2020 article in the Guardian, Which states have done the least to contain coronavirus?, the states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

[3] The stunning impact of COVID-19 social distancing on air pollution.

[4] As of April 6, 2020: As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades.

[5] See, for example, Traffic collisions are plummeting in several US cities and Car crashes down by 75% in Phoenix metro area as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[6] According to this article, the Earth has quieted down to the level normally reached on Christmas day: Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves.

Person Meets Police

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This is “person meets police” not “person vs. police,” please note.

Tuesday, April 2, I discovered late in the morning that I had a business meeting in Denver. The only bus that would get me there on time is the “LD2,” a regional bus that happens to skip my home town. So I decided to run out to highway 287 to catch it, which isn’t a big deal or a long run (about a mile), except that there was no bus stop where I expected one.

So I began to run south along the wide-shouldered highway toward the real bus stop, a mile away. Meanwhile, time was running out, so when cars came by, I turned around and stuck out my thumb, hoping someone would give me a short ride to the next stop.

Nada.

When the bus approached, I held out my iPhone, attempting to show that I had just purchased the $10.50 all-day pass and that the driver should make an exception and pick me up. We had a friendly hand-gesture conversation as he passed, with me beckoning him to stop and him protesting.

Soon I was at the real bus stop but no more buses were coming for hours, so I turned around to go home. Just then, two big, black Lafayette police SUVs pulled over to the shoulder. One with lights stopped behind me. One without lights stopped right in front of me.

Knowing I had done nothing illegal, I proceeded to walk past the one in front of me, and as I did, the Officer (Todd) asked if I was all right. I explained the situation.

He paused for a moment, and then said, “I can take you as far as the Broomfield Park-n-Ride.” That was a great option, since frequent regional buses stop there.

As I was about to get in the SUV, the other officer approached and asked Todd if he had searched me. It was awkward—Todd was about to help me and the other officer wanted to go by the book (I assume). I pulled out my cell phone and my running headlamp (I guess I was prepared for a long day), and Todd said, “Fine. Hop in.”

And so we drove:

Sitting in the back seat of the police SUV
From the back seat of the police SUV en route to the park-n-ride

Todd[1] dropped me off and within a few minutes I was on the bus. When I arrived at the meeting a half hour late, the business owner asked, “So did you take the bus?” And I replied, “You mean after the police car?”

From the point of view of this web site, Person vs. Auto, my wish is this, that the person or people who called the police to alert them to the presence of a pedestrian on highway 287—that instead of calling the police, one of them would have stopped and given me the short ride to the bus stop. But I understand. We live in a culture of fear, people fear strangers even though most violence occurs among acquaintances, people feel helpless to help, and so they call professionals. It just seemed like a lot of commotion over nothing to me.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] I looked up “Todd” on the Lafayette Police web site in order to verify the spelling, but couldn’t see him listed. An officer by that name was, however, part of a recent story that involved receiving a call that led to the rescue of a dog from Waneka Lake.


Next post is the promised “Driving Less in a Public Transportation Desert,” a guest post from Marc Syrene, who converts his cars to use the diesel that he makes.

 

Why We Run in the Street (a picture story)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post is a public service announcement. With a web log named “Person versus Automobile,” I owe drivers an explanation of why I still risk running in the street. In this respect, there is no antagonism, only competing risks.

There’s a slight analogy here: as far as I know, my father avoided crosswalks because they provided false security. Whenever I feel I may trip on the sidewalk (if it exists), I shift to the street, assuming it’s empty.

Ok, on with the picture story.

Sometimes the sidewalk ends suddenly...happens a lot where I live.
Sometimes the sidewalk ends suddenly…happens a lot where I live.

The sidewalk may end but the roofing job may not...always go around, not through.
The sidewalk may end but the roofing job may not…always go around, not through.

I like this... a zig, a zag, an intersection, and then no sidewalk at all.
I like this… a zig, a zag, an intersection, and then no sidewalk at all.

My hood is pretty good about this, but some have three or four inch cracks that reach up and bite you.
My neighborhood is pretty good about this, but some have three or four inch cracks that arise. Let’s face it: most streets are maintained better than sidewalks.

Sometimes it's bumpy, then leafy, then bushy, and by then you are in the street again.
Sometimes it’s bumpy, then leafy, then bushy, and by then you are in the street again.

And some cars like the sidewalks, too.
And some cars like the sidewalks, too.

Branches hang down, getting in one's face.
Branches hang down.

When it snows, some people don't shovel until noon or the next day or never—hey, that's my sidewalk!
When it snows, some people don’t shovel until noon or the next day or never—hey, that’s my sidewalk! Better take care of it.

Run at night time and you have a great reason to run in the wide avenue.
Too all this, add night time and you have a great reason to run in the wide avenue.

We Almost Drove Over My Real Estate Agent

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

When it was over, I gasped, and said, “We almost drove over my real estate agent!”

Hannah looked at the split-rail fence that had put her Subaru to a final stop. Little damage done.

The wintry day was sunny and the roads were mostly dry. We had just turned onto Marshall Road, outside of Boulder, speed limit 25.  

As we rounded a corner, I saw a woman running on the opposite side of the road, facing traffic, as one should do. She was blond, young and… 

“It’s Sally!” I thought—my real estate agent who had helped me sell my house in Coal Creek Canyon. Suddenly that thought gave way to, “Dang it, we’re sliding toward her!”

Hannah’s driving was fine, just not her tires. But then I was exacting monthly rent from her, for the detached room she rented, so I was tangentially complicit in the financial situation.

The normally dry road had turned to ice, causing the car to slide on a tangent, toward Sally, who’s a pretty fast runner.

Before I knew it, Sally had run past the front of the car and escaped collision—as we continued into a small ditch and against the fence. 

When I jumped out of the car, Sally had stopped and turned to look at her assailants. “Hi, Sally! Out for a run?” I asked, rhetorically. She smiled and turned to continue her run, her heart no doubt beating faster than usual.

Moral of the story? You can draw as many as you like. What I like to point out is that this exemplifies the dangers that big chunks of steel, plastic, and iron pose, even among friends.

Hannah bought some nice all-weather tires.

Sally got married to Chad.

Chad with Sally
Chad with Sally

But what if we had hit her (hard)?

Chad without Sally
Chad without Sally

Person versus automobile and wins!