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LORDS OF THE SIDEWALK by Jeff Edmonds | published 08.07.09

I run with a guy that calls himself 'The Thunder.'

Yesterday was a typical run. We started out easy. For a guy who calls himself The Thunder, T. T. is actually pretty chilled out about his running. He likes to keep the pace easy and conversational. When you run with T. T., it's never a hammerfest. And that's alright because T. T. knows how to keep things interesting.

Our easy run departed from its usual course. Normally we do an easy 12 out Belmont, back into town, and around Vandy. This time we just lapped Vandy. The run started off as it usually does. Runners know that there is a strange side-effect of distance running. Something about the ease of the motion, the increased heart rate, perhaps a surfeit (or maybe it's a lack) No Spitting Signof oxygen to the brain breaks down the barrier between brain and mouth. Runners are gabbers. We gab on about just about anything like drunks around a table. So, we headed off at Thunder easy pace, gabbing on about who knows what and just about everything. Laughing, joking, even talking about serious stuff like how fast we ought to run the first mile of our next race.

T. T. is a great guy. Easy-going, funny, self-deprecating. But there's one other thing you should know about T. T. He is Lord of the Sidewalk.

You see, to run in Nashville at rush-hour is to face a gauntlet of frazzled and inattentive drivers, sidewalks packed with (sometimes quite large) pedestrians, the occasional speeding hipster on his multi-colored bicycle, pretty coeds hanging dreamily on the arms of their dates, and dog lovers being dragged around by their goofy pets. T. T. has one tried and true strategy for dealing with this variety of obstacles. He runs straight ahead, unflinchingly. Erect, determined, and relentless, he radiates his Lord of the Sidewalk status for all to see. Would be obstacles avert their eyes and slam on their brakes. Dogs slink away. Hipsters swerve to the side. People get out of the way. T. T. strides right on by. Woe to he or she who would challenge the Lord of the Sidewalk.

Well, yesterday, some idiots did.

They were the lowest of the low. Teenagers piled into a car. Just as runners have to gab as they roll on down the road, there is something in the physiology of teenagers that makes them holler and make faces at runners as we do our thing. They were victims, I suppose, of their chemistry.

The drama unfolded as it always does. As they rolled by with their windows down, they yelled out various funny noises and made strange movements with their hands while scrunching up their faces. The meaning was inscrutable, but the intent was clear: they were mocking us. I played my part in this tired drama, sending them back a one-fingered salute, completing once more (or so I thought) this tiresome ritual.

As every runner knows, one of the great pleasures of hitting busy streets during rush hour is that we get a chance to show off the virtues of our more primitive form of locomotion. While enraged motorists hunker down within their hermetic chunks of steel, herking and jerking their way forward, we glide by fluidly and effortlessly. As the fates would have it, our teenagers were trapped in traffic. They thought they would make one pass and be free of us. But the standard ritual of cat-calls and fingers was about to be extended. There was a lot of traffic. We were gaining on them.

They began, frantically, to roll up their windows.

This was when T. T. made his move. The Lord of the Sidewalk strode straight into the street. Windows were being rolled up faster and faster. I kept a safe, nervous distance and watched. The teenagers were crowded up against each other, their derisive faces now transformed into masks of fear. T. T. took a few strides beside the car and did what runners do countless times over the course of their runs.

He spit.

It was a beautiful loogie. It hung glistening and stretching in the air in orbit for seconds against the sky. The teenagers shrunk below, mouths agape. The loogie came splatting down, square in the center of the windshield of the teenagers' car. The Thunder didn't break stride. He just hopped back over to the sidewalk and we cruised onwards.

Behind us, all kinds of commotion was being raised. Windows were unrolled and epithets hurled. We paid them no mind. But slowly and inexorably, the traffic became slightly less jammed. Cars were passing again. The teenagers caught back up. But the closer they came the quieter they became. They drifted past us, the braver of the few staring out the car. One of them tried to return fire, but the wind caught his feeble spittle and dribbled it down on his own door.

As they passed by, we surged and matched their car with our strides, rolling down the hill, literally flying. High on a goofy sort of feeling. You know, you don't get to be boss of much in this world. But yesterday, running with The Thunder, for a brief moment, I was boss of just about everything.

I was a Lord of the Sidewalk.

JEFF EDMONDS is a Philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University. A former college runner at Williams College in Massachusetts, he has a marathon PR of 2:38:06. Of his five marathons, he has won two - the 2006 Flying Mokey Marathon and the 2009 Avenue of Giants Marathon in California. He maintains a blog devoted to Running and Philosophy at http://thelogicoflongdistance.blogspot.com/

 

 

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