I check in with the off-duty policeman with the mustache, show him my park badge. His blonde lady-friend who visits him and flirts isn’t there today. He says hello and tells me to have a good day.
Two little boys at the broken water fountain: spraying each other with the high-powered nozzle and trying to drink from it. Their mommies are standing and chatting; paying no attention to them. One mom stands laughing with a baby on her hip. Between squirts, the boys discuss whether they will play in the sandbox again and look at each other before heading over there, dripping wet.
I start my jog, slow and steady. Smells good, fresh. I breathe in the scent of damp shaded, cool earth under the trees. It’s one of my favorite scents in the entire world.
Chiseled-face gentleman is there, looking like an ex-military general with ball cap and sunglasses; he is Man with 2 Dogs…now down to one. I’ve never spoken to him until today but he is a regular at the park. On the jogging track, I stop and unplug myself from my music to ask where the other retriever is…she’s passed away; leaving what I learn is her sister, also an old dog. He smiles sadly as he tells me how she took it hard when her sister died. I look at him and know that he took it hard too.
Back to jogging, I look at the trees; watch the squirrels…one digs in the dirt, little paws working quickly. He’s so busy he ignores me as I run by but keeps one cute beady little eye on me all the same.
British Man with English Sheepdog is there, walking his route around the perimeter of the park. I wave as I pass by when we make eye contact. He waves back. He’s a regular too. Maybe someday I’ll ask him what his name is so I don’t have to call him British Man with English Sheepdog. He has a yellow suede cap and looks very distinguished. He wears it everyday.
There are grackle birds pecking around on the soccer field, they hop away as I get near…I swerve into the field, chasing them and grinning. The field is damp and soft beneath my feet. The flock squawks and flies away like a black cloud. I laugh, knowing they will be back as soon as I return to the trail.
A new person drives up and parks. Gets out and heads to the courts with basketball and a little lunch bag. His baldhead is shiny in the sun. He shoots a few baskets, then puts the ball down and starts walking on the trail. He won’t look at me when I jog by going the opposite direction. He stares at my feet every time I go past. He’s strange and either shy or unfriendly. The third time I pass him he looks at my face quick then down to my feet. I chuckle a little when he’s out of earshot. I don’t know why I chuckle. He makes me uncomfortable.
Another new person arrives wearing grey sweatpants tucked into his socks. That’s funny looking! I dub him Man Committing Fashion Mistake. He looks like he’s ready for PT. He stretches by the track, and then does jumping jacks for a bit, then some pushups on top of the stone picnic table. He starts walking around the track, jogging a little. He has a big belly and is very tall. He wears dark sunglasses but nods a hello when I give him a little wave as I run past him. He only goes a few times around: walk, jog, walk, jog. He checks his watch and leaves. I think to myself, “That’s it?”
Man with Black Dog arrives in his red pickup. He walks the perimeter of the park like British Man. I can’t remember his face, just his dog’s face; it’s black with cute triangle ears and a white tuft of hair on its chest. It has a fluffy tail.
I’ve gone three miles, the last stretch my favorite song comes on and I begin to sprint. The blood rushes through my veins and my heart races as I feel as if my shoes sprout wings. I fly. The song crescendos, sending me into one last burst of speed before coming to a slow jog and then a quick walk the rest of the way around the trail. I float back down to earth and grin. Give a silent goodbye to the familiar strangers in the park and ride home, looking forward to another Jog In The Park.