The Runner Diaries: Early May

When Running, I bring a book along in case I need to wait in line to enter a grocery store, or wait for food to be ready if it’s a to-go pick-up. There usually isn’t much reading time in any given Running session but it feels existentially awful to have a time lag and no book, so I prefer to err on caution. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles kept me company for awhile; I read it slowly, on purpose, because I did not want it to end. The echoes with “reality” enthralled me; the sensory deprivation of the bottom of the well, the weird interpersonal interactions, even the missing cat (my own cat had gone missing last fall, then turned up again 5 weeks later, a bit skittish and considerably fatter but otherwise fine) all seemed to mimic my strange and shifting life.

One long wait that stands out to me was at a Whataburger. This was the first time in my life I’d been to a Whataburger (the same could be said of several other fast food establishments during my stint as a Runner/GrubHubber); when my car finally crawled to the microphone, I looked down at the order and was amazed at the gross abundance of food and drink, of fat and grease and calories. I think I must have transported around 40,000 calories worth of “food” to this particular customer. Sometimes I feel I can no longer continue to do this work; this feeling arises most often in the depressing mazes of apartment complex parking lots, or when I’m in my car driving through an evening filled with people outdoors enjoying perfect weather. The enormous bag of crap food and the drink holders heavy with sickness made me wonder if I could do this work for even one more day.

Later, I brought a small and tidy grocery order to an elderly man who lives in my neighborhood, just a few blocks from my house. His list was perfectly organized, produce together, then dairy, then pantry. His items were lean yet of good quality; organic strawberries, a head of romaine; one pineapple, a certain kind of soup, etc. It made me happy to shop for him and drop the three well-packed bags on his front porch, and another day of this work revealed itself as possible.

In truth, there’s a slightly addictive aspect to it, the thrill of anticipation when the ping of an offer arrives. A little dopamine rush, like you’d get at a slot machine. I’m not proud to say that, but it’s accurate. For every moment of despair there’s another of hope. That’s ridiculous, I know. but it’s a ridiculous circumstance.

Emmanuel Carrere’s recent book of essays came next. I tend to have at least three books going at a time, often more, so there was a bit of overlap. I was in my car in a long line at P. Terry’s (a popular local burger chain that I frequented back in real life on behalf of my kids, though I’d been known to indulge in an occasional veggie patty myself, and had certainly stolen plenty of my children’s french fries) when I got to the chapters excerpted from an Italian women’s magazine. Captivated, I shifted from neutral into first with the book open on my steering wheel, moving forward a stilted foot or so at a time, engaging and disengaging the emergency brake with one hand, turning pages with the other. After I picked up the order I delivered it to a large house on a cul-de-sac; chickens ran free in the street. There was fenced in front yard that clearly contained a swimming pool, and a small pool party seemed to be happening. A handsome young man in swim trunks came to the gate to collect the food. He thanked me in a charming Aussie accent, and the tip was good.

The best tip I’ve yet received came yesterday evening, my last Run of the day. Seven pizzas and two anitpasti salads from a cult-fave pizzeria near UT campus, to be brought to an address in an expensive part of town, a bit far away in the hills to the west of the city. I suspected the tip would be large; I imagined, correctly, a rare gathering of teenagers– in this case, a 16th birthday party. As I drove through the gate and up the driveway I spotted the requisite balloon sculpture in the otherwise eerily abandoned front yard. An anxious dad stepped out and gestured for me to place the boxes on a bench to the left of the front door, next to a large jug of hand sanitizer.

“How great that the teenagers are able to get together to celebrate,” I said cheerily. “I bet they’re very happy about it.”

He looked exasperated. “They’re supposed to be staying six feet away from each other, but they’re not,” he said. I realized that behind the exasperation was raw cold fear. Later, the Favor app informed me that his wife had tipped me $51.75.

On my way home, I took a wrong exit and ended up at a boat ramp under the 360 bridge stretching over Lake Austin. I parked, walked down to the water. A young couple was toweling off on the shore. There were several motorboats out on the lake; it was a gorgeous evening, who could blame them? I placed hands in the cool clear water, sifting idly through sand and shells. I’ve been desperate for a swim, but I din’t have a swim suit or a towel and I wasn’t keen on the boats for company. I’ll find a time to come back, I thought, later at night when the boats are gone. I took two shells home with me to prove it had really happened, I had stuck me hands in lake water, it wasn’t just another vivid dream.

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