Yesterday, walking south along the Hudson River, I saw a guy running sprints on a pier. The temperature hovered around 50F (10C). It had rained on and off all day and was raining then. He was alone, running sprints in the rain. I call that commitment where no one would know if you didn’t glorious.
I was out on my daily walk to pick up litter. I was taking a long walk despite, or partly because, of the cold spring rain. I guessed, correctly, that few people would visit my neighborhood’s newest attraction, The Little Island. I also wanted to wear a pair of jeans wet that needed some stretching, coincidentally because my thighs are bigger from lifting. Few people were out for a holiday weekend. Twenty degrees (F) warmer and clear skies and I would have seen a hundred times more people. I wore a bright yellow jacket I normally wear skiing with the brimmed hood protecting me from the cold rain. My hands lost their dexterity from extended exposure to wet and cold carrying litter I picked up. The litter was sadly well distributed and trash cans less so, meaning carrying bottles and takeout containers the better part of a mile sometimes, my exposed hands getting wind-chilled.
I walked onto the pier. By then he had finished his sprints. He was catching his breath and walking along the AstroTurf to the raised concrete landing, I would guess to do a different exercise. Since he wasn’t exercising in the moment, I said, “I saw you running sprints in the rain.”
“Yeah.” His face lit at the acknowledgment, amid caution at who-is-this-guy-approaching-me.
“Seeing you reminded me of twenty years ago.” I turned to face and point north. “When I played ultimate Frisbee, I ran sprints alone in the rain on a pier just there.” The particular pier I ran on was the next one north, which had been removed amid construction of a new park or something I hope not oriented too much to tourists and more toward community. I continued, “I haven’t thought about it in a while. Now I may have to contact some old teammates and share the memory.”
He said, “I wasn’t going to run because of the weather. Normally this pier is too full of people, but since no one else is here, I can run sprints.”
We spoke a couple minutes. I shared how I meant to ride my bike to Gateway National Park, all the way to the Rockaways, following my conversation with Mayoral lead candidate and podcast guest Kathryn Garcia, but instead, because of the rain, rowed extra on my rower. As usual, I meant to row at a moderate pace but rowed fast. In short, I was totally exhausted, also feeling glorious for it.
He told me about the book he was listening to while sprinting by Matthew McConaughey, saying the actor read the audio and made it wonderful. We speculated on his running for Texas governor.
I told him I didn’t want to keep him from his exercises, so he asked me to say hi to my old teammates if I used the occasion to call them. He went back to McConaughey and his next exercises, solo in the cold rain.
As I walked away I reflected on the difference between seeing him and what I mostly see while walking. Mostly I focus on cleaning up, which means seeing litter in insane amounts. Since most of the litter comes from doof, I see American diets of Starbucks milkshakes, Gatorade and other sugar-water, McDonald’s and other factory farmed heart disease, and various other contributions to an eighty percent overweight and obese (using 23 BMI) population costing us hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Also paying for packaging, including for just plain water!!, driving a system choking our oceans, land, and rivers with poisonous waste.
The opposite of what you crave, when you crave it, how you want it, no matter who pays the costs is running alone in the cold rain. It’s crazy to think that people choose pizza and TV over running in the rain. This guy and I connected. That human connection is the opposite of what happens when we blame others for pollution coming from a system we all pay for.
Feeling social from the interaction, toward the end of my walk, in Washington Square Park, where the New York Post in Washington Square Park ‘drug den’ horrifies Greenwich Village neighbors picked up on my stories of syringes, crack, heroin, and the neighbors retreating, and where I pick up at least three pieces of litter from the northwest corner, I saw a couple cops under the arch.
As I passed, I said “Happy Memorial Day” to the closer one.
He thanked me. He said cops from around the city take turns in Washington Square Park.
“You’re not from the sixth?”, I asked, partly to imply I knew my local precinct.
“Nope, from the ninth.”
I said, “Well, I appreciate your work and the uniform.”
He warmed up. He told me the pros and cons of working in the rain—fewer people make easier work, but it’s cold and wet.
We spoke a bit too. As I walked away, I wished I’d told him about how I was there to pick up litter as I’d done daily since 2017 and counting. I think service begets service, not that I’m risking my life.
I know this sentiment is anti-American today, but I love exercise and service and can’t believe people choose gluttony and entitlement over them. Past American ideals celebrated and practiced the former. Today, as much as I see examples of them, America celebrates and practices the latter by an overwhelming majority. Today is Memorial Day, a day for remembering fallen heroes. I can’t criticize honoring them by indulging in material plenty. What did they fight for if not for our freedom to act how we want? I choose stewardship and service, I hope providing more for others, including future generations.
Here’s a clip illustrating glory:
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