Monday, February 27, 2012

Missed Calls and Memory Lane

I checked my watch and noted the distance: 14.93. Ok, I thought. Let’s make it an even 15 and call it a morning. I clicked my watch and came to a stop just feet away from Table Talk, the restaurant where I planned to meet my two friends for breakfast. A cold wind blustered around me but the warmth from the run still lingered. I had timed it perfectly both in terms of route and time. Or so I thought. We planned to meet at 9:30 and it was 9:27. I did a quick scan of the cramped parking lot: jammed…but not with my friends’ cars….

My wife has the misfortune of spending 11 days in a hotel in Alexandria, VA a mere 20 miles away from our home. However, her company has seen fit to put her up in the hotel with other co-workers to conduct a training. Well, I got to missing her as you might imagine, so decided to spend Thursday night through Sunday with her at the hotel. While she worked on Saturday (all day), I decided to re-traverse the routes I ran a few years ago when we lived in this area, a run down memory lane of sorts. I fastened on the zipper pouch I keep my gels in but instead dropped in my credit card and hotel room key and let out from the hotel. I decided to leave my cell phone in the room….

I took another moment to walk off the run and do a few stretches, all while keeping an eye on the lot. Instead, I only saw the line to the restaurant get farther and farther out the door. So, I decided to walk in, or at least into the narrow lobby, and wait for a table. “Three,” I signaled to the overwhelmed hostess by holding up three digits. She blew a strand of hair from her face and didn’t bother to write it down. She had some kind of system going…or maybe she didn’t. I waited in the stream of sunshine pouring in through the glass that kept me warm….

When I set out just over two hours ago, I took off down King Street’s uneven brick sidewalks toward the waterfront. Old Town hadn’t woken up yet and I shared the empty street with a sparse number of early morning runners. A sliver of solitude before the town stores filled with shoppers, tourists, eaters, and all of the above. When I hit the waterfront, I turned left and ran alongside the piers where the sun began to ripple along the Potomac. From there, I turned again onto Cameron Street, trading shop fronts for colonial town homes and a steady climb….

At 9:43, I stood among a throng of “the waiting” while we eyed each table in their various states of dining, willing the occupants to eat faster. I kept reflexively sniffing around me wondering if I smelled like sweat. The hostess pointed at me and in broken English asked if I was ready. I squeezed through the others and took my seat, nervously glancing out the window for my friends. Instead of worrying about whether or not I smelled, I worried about not being able to fill these two seats. The waitress took some time to come over. She took my coffee order and I apologized saying I’d order in 10 minutes if my friends hadn’t shown up. “Oh, I don’t care,” she said, dropping off a glass of water. My eyes shifted around the place, wondering if I should have taken a spot at the counter or…oh, God, what if they were on the other side of the restaurant and I just never saw them. I reached for my phone, but it was back in the hotel….

If the hill up Cameron Street was steep, the hill up King from the Masonic Temple was a monster. Still, I made my way up casually, not worrying about pace and enjoying the memories of marathons past as they resurfaced. I tapped old landmarks that signaled mile markers or the trees and bushes that marked the near end of a climb or the stretch where I “raced” some adversary who wanted to push the pace on the other side of the street. At the “summit,” I took a sharp left onto a trail where the wind blew harder and colder. It carried a bite and pushed the dark cloud that split the sky ahead. Blue skies and sun behind me, black and foreboding ahead. When I came off the trail, that ominous cloud opened up with…snow. The sun continued to beam behind me as the snow swirled, light at first, then heavy all at once. Then, just as soon as it came on, it disappeared. I turned around, passing our old apartment, our first place together, a small smile breaking across my face as I turned down the backside of those up hills…

I sipped on my coffee and my tension melted away. I watched the lobby spill over with people and nervously tapped my fingers on the table. They had to be looking at me, wondering why they would ever seat someone with those two seats open. Then I saw one of my friends sift through the crowd and I waved over to her. She sighed with what looked like relief and went out to grab our other friend.

They both sat down and the waitress came over with coffee for them.

“You don’t have your phone do you?”
“No, I never went back to the hotel,” I said, sheepishly. “I didn’t have time.” They laughed.
“Well, you’ll have about 20 texts and missed calls from us.”
“We got here about five minutes early but there was no place to park so we thought about another place to go to eat.”
“Oh, no! I must have just missed you. I got here at 9:27.” We shared a collective eye roll.
“We went to your hotel. Then we started to wonder if something happened to you. We got coffee at Panera and continued the search until we got back here.”
“We even checked Twitter to see if you tweeted about your run like usual. Nothing. But here you are.”
“Here I am,” I said, turning red and not from the wind.
“Just know that we care about you. Now let’s eat some pancakes.”

And whether you’re on a run through the past or a run for breakfast, it’s probably good to have a phone on you…somewhere.

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