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My Peace With My City

My mom said that she feels incredibly relaxed going into this Thanksgiving. Not that most years it ends up being completely crazy, but when you have a fair amount of guests attending and food/space to wrangle, things can become a little fraught.

But this year? Stress is going out of the window.

November has been a whirlwind of a month, to the extent that my complaints earlier this year seem utterly narcissistic and base. It started with a hurricane; my family are still dealing with that destruction. It continued with an emotional blow; the cancellation of an event to which I had put into a lot of energy, effort and mental exertion.

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Fortunately, other events lit up this cacophonous calendar like the last fireflies of the summer: one of my best friends got engaged to someone with whom she is utterly in tune that it makes the universe that much more harmonious, I spent some valuable time with my family, and have been grateful for continued health, well-being and the promise of what’s next. Things are exciting, but calm, wonderful but grounded.

November also marks a year in New York City. Okay, yes, fair enough, I live in Jersey City, but who’s splitting hairs?

I feel like I made my peace with the city over the past few months. Or perhaps I made peace with myself, and stopped just trying to flow with the craziness and lifestyles to which I did not want to subscribe here. Not being the kind of person who wants to conform has not changed with age, despite some of my former righteous indignation going out the window. Instead, I’m grateful for my outlook. There’s no need to complain viciously about that which cannot be changed, instead all I can do is create my own oasis of sanity and try to unite with like-minded individuals who see things from a “less-conventional” perspective. I’m grateful that I can be the kind of person to take the time to listen to someone who really needs to talk, despite it being highly likely that I will never see that person again, that I can be kind to random people on the street that display equally thoughtful feelings towards me, and that in this “new normal” that has hit the city post-Sandy, I keep it together.

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And this Thanksgiving? I’m grateful for my family – all of them, even those not blood-related. I’m grateful for the way my friends have grown, have brought me back into their circle and the reunions that have taken place. I’m grateful for new friends and how they have broadened my world. And I’m grateful for the random, the unexpected and the surprisingly wonderful. I eagerly anticipate what’s coming next.

Oh, and I’m extremely grateful that this Thanksgiving, I am not suffering from the stomach virus from hell. Because being ill and debilitated for three days while empting the contents of one’s insides is not the best gift on the Welcome Wagon to the East Coast (thank you, Thanksgiving 2011.)

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Two Marathons in New York

I have learned many things while training for now TWO marathons in New York (even though I have yet to run one…). This is my most valuable lesson so far:

You see, anyone can run over a bridge. But there is a special art to properly crossing said New York City bridges in full running regalia with a smile on one’s lips and a Serious Runner Expression across one’s face.

It helps keep the tourists out of the way, for a start.

Having lived here over a year now, I have become well-acquainted with several, runnable bridges. I offer the breakdown as follows:

The Brooklyn Bridge

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Convenient to my work and definitely such stuff as tourists’ dreams are made of, the Brooklyn bridge is the prettiest of the set. At least during the day.

And…shhh…but it’s as old as shit too:

This means there are lots of tourists on it. All. The. Time. In the summer at 8 AM on a Saturday? Tourists. At 5 PM on a 90-degree Wednesday? Tourists. In the dark at around 6:15 in the winter? Tourists, tourists, tourists. It also feels horribly narrow, so between the zombie-like foreign visitors, insane bikers and kids who think it’s hilarious to slam right into you, running over this bridge is an art. One must have strength, a pissed-off look and the right speed to actually encourage people to leap away to one side. I’m still learning how to do this.

The Manhattan Bridge

Running over this bridge offers some of the most voyeristic views in the city. I may have mentioned before that I enjoy being nearly invisible as a runner in Manhattan. Here the thin curtain between the public and the private barely exists. In the same way that I don’t think my neighbors can see in my window because of the leafy tree right in front of it, people living near the Manhattan bridge deem the screaming subway and moderate traffic to act as a screen. They don’t count on pedestrians or bored runners looking into their buildings, windows and lives. I wish I had similar something more exciting to report than pigs ears drying on washing lines on Chinatown, families crowding around small tables for large meals, and Gothic wannabes posing for rooftop photoshoots in their Victorian-eqsue, painted glory. Occasionally, I get to see how “the other half” live and gaze into their well-lit, chrome and beige aparmtents that, even from such a distance, reek of privilidge and Wall Street’s heady scent. And no, that’s not just the pot fumes from the stoners perpetually at the bridge’s foot after 5 PM.

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This bridge is long, creepy and makes me want to buy mace for crossings in the dark.

The Williamsburg Bridge

If the Williamsburg Bridge is the gateway to hipster heaven, then its rusted rails and impertinent graffiti are as pearly and shiny as any Biblical depiction. In reality, however, crossing this bridge is like running in a prison, or some long-forgotten railway line.

Somehow, the tourists are not deterred by fears of the seedy Lower East Side (apparently these days, its cleaned up) or the spice-crazed smells of Chinatown, and they venture out this way too. Whether its through hopes that Williamsburg’s hipster goodness will filter through and back to their hometowns, or just weird curiosity, they hang out on the bridge in matching hats (yes, really) on windy, chilly Sunday afternoons and humid Saturday mornings equally. Fortunately, this bridge has its share of scary runners in too much gear, hipster runners in old gear – and with beards – and people like myself, making it a very running-friendly bridge.

The Queensboro Bridge

For the longest time, this bridge filled me with hate. It was the scene of the crime of many of my early long runs with Jenny as we trained for the Brooklyn half marathon. There was a particularly painful 8 mile run committed over this bridge before I learned that you really, really can’t do a long run hungover (shit, I am old). There was a horrid 11-miler that was supposed to be a simple out, back and loop of the park, before we realized that coming back from Manhattan, this behemoth of a bridge is actually steeper than the initial, fresh-footed crossing from Queens. Or the hill is longer. Or it was just the end of a run; I don’t know.

It wasn’t until finishing up a 15-miler on a moderately pleasant day towards the end of marathon training number 1 that I gained an appreciation for the bridge. It had a nice slope. And really, that’s about the best thing I can say about it, as insipid as this sounds. During said run, I made it over and back with a minimal amount of pain. And, for the most part, fellow runners and bikers were both normal-looking and respectful in behavior and affect – except for the odd leering commuter on a bike, but those ruffians are just about omnipresent in Manhattan, bridges or no. I may or may not have told one to fuck off; it is not a simple task to traverse the harmless-seeming Queensboro bridge, you know.

I have yet to tackle the George Washington bridge – apparently the route up from Jersey City and over is a lot of fun – and the Triboro Bridge remains a scary, loopy mystery to me right now. So I’m sure there will be an eventual update to my bridge breakdown, and while the exact details are unknown, I have a sneaky feeling that the crossing of the two will have their own quirks and complexities.

Because, one does not simply run over NYC bridges, you see.