It’s always fall on Montrose Beach.
This summer I started running regularly for the first time since high school. I began on Glenwood Ave., where I could very easily track my miles, and by the end of the first week I could make a continuous 3 solid. I haven’t been going very fast of course, that never was my thing in Cross Country. . . but I can keep going.
Today I decided to up the ante and run around the lake, which is real runner’s territory in Chicago. I managed a full 4-mile stretch, plus some lunges on Montrose Beach. It felt great running beneath the beautiful pre-fall foliage along the edge of the water. I can’t say it enough—Lake Michigan is stunning, every season, every moment.
On the last, slowly jogged mile home along Argyle St., I thought how strangely poetic it felt to be running along the street rather than walking, and how. . . empowering it felt.
I love my neighborhood, with its steaming spicy Pho and moon cakes and gay men. Please do not doubt it in my following words.
Argyle St. is difficult along Little Vietnam. Difficult in the way that I feel wrong saying it’s seedy because there are so many out-of-luck folks asking for money—difficult in the drug dealers along Kenmore—difficult in the multiple people experiencing homelessness sleeping on the Lake Shore overpasses.
It is heartbreaking, every day, to be among their (our) poverty. I know the people asking for help really need it. I study the reasons behind their reality in my graduate classes, and yet, I rarely stop. And I feel bad about it, every day. Chicago is not an easy city to live in, unless you cocoon yourself into the most posh areas, and never look out the window.
I do not exaggerate when I say multiple times every day, I am gnawingly talked to on the street, asked for money, for time, for a date, for a signature. I always acknowledge everyone, I recognize their humanity. But I am also constantly in turmoil over how I feel and what I should do, and usually, I turn away. I go on with my day. I know I should carry apples or granola bars, or singles to hand out.
But I don’t.
There are so many—they are the relentless tragic reality of our city.
But today, I had this rare triumphant feeling while running down Argyle St. I was full of a runner’s and an autumnal high and I waved at a lady sitting out in her wheel chair close to Magnolia at the old folk’s home. She had on these big black-rimmed reading glasses and looked at me with an intelligent nod of her head.
I stood at the stoplight at Sheridan, stretching my legs waiting for the light to turn and ignored what always happens on Argyle St.—so many stares. I ran passed the poor man without his legs at the usual spot and confidently flew past the drug dealers and glanced into the El stop to see if my Latino guy was working, before rounding the corner past Tank Noodle—the only white people restaurant on the block—back onto Argyle St. and it’s orange-robed Cambodian monks strolling the quiet side of the street where I live.
I wondered today why it was different. Why it felt so good to run, rather than walk down Argyle St.
It’s because it gave me a damn relief.
I could see without seeing and be seen without caring. Without going through the ever-present sadness, guilt and frustration about why the world allows people to live on the street—in my beloved neighborhood. And why I’m a part of that problem—why we all are. And why I never feel like I have enough time or space to address it.
Instead, I could run with Beirut blasting on my headphones and laugh in the face of anxiety, laugh in the face of the gentleman loitering on the corner leering at me and at everyone. I could laugh and run and feel the pain in my legs and the endorphins in my brain. I could laugh at the cruelty and feel the cool air—the perfect Midwest fall air.