It is simply labeled "Blues" — a jazzy three-note riff played four times before landing on the tonic. And then again, with a minor crescendo. This is the iPhone tune that wakes me up at 6:00 every morning. It is also the only musical notes to an otherwise silent social symphony in which I engage for the next 90 minutes.
I love running in the mornings. I get to see the city wake up. I have a front row seat and a minor role in what urban activist Jane Jacobs called a "sidewalk ballet." Before the chaos of traffic, school, or work begins, there is an orderly calm- a routine. And it is beautiful.
As the first rays of sunlight stretch over the horizon, I stretch my tired hamstrings, quads and calves. As I take off, there is only the sound of my footsteps- sluggish, at first. The crisp air wakes me up. My heart rate begins to rise. I now begin to hear the faint rhythmic splashing of lawn sprinklers, set to go off at precisely 6:15 every morning. ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch. I push on- my steps and stride almost automatic from a now intimate familiarity with these streets.
There is a Carl's Jr. at the exit of my development. Every morning, early workers (or returning graveyard shift workers- I decide on a new personality each day) navigate their way through the drive-thru lane for their greasy fast-food breakfast. I immediately feel better about myself.
As I round the corner, a large tractor trailer is idled in the Von's supermarket parking lot, unloading the day's groceries. The window in the Rite-Aid shows a lone worker setting up shop. Across the street, a woman in her 70s is on her morning walk- always wearing a reflective vest. I am less prudent.
There is one major intersection on this run, at the corner of Genesee Avenue and Governor Drive, both 6 lane roads. If I am lucky, the light will change right away. If I miss it, I stand there stretching as the traffic flows. The regulated and rhythmic order in which this happens is almost soothing to this born-and-bred New Yorker. You go, then you go, then you turn, now I go.
The remaining mile and a half stretch of Governor Drive on which I run back and forth has a school, a church, a park, a small shopping center and is the main thoroughfare for a retirement community. This particular mix happens to yield a lot of early risers and characters in my daily street ballet.
There are several dog walkers. A gentleman wearing headphones with a german sheppard, a female speed-walker with a dachshund, a pair of elderly women (sometimes sporting awesome visors) with a yorkshire terrier. We now exchange knowing nods or "good mornings."
Then there's the high school couple. Freshmen or sophomores, I'm guessing. The guy waits for her at the bus stop, three stops before the school, so they can walk the final part of their commute hand-in-hand. There's also an elderly couple. Or I assume they are a couple. They meet every morning just outside the park on Governor Drive. The woman comes from somewhere north of the park, and the man from somewhere west. They walk together- never holding hands, as if that's too 'hip' for them to do- back in the direction where the man came from. And luckily enough, they traverse along my running route. They linger on the corner of Governor and Dunant to chat- sometimes for the time it takes for me to run 2 miles, sometimes for 4- before the woman walks back towards the park. Who says romance is for the evening?
As my run progresses, more people join us on stage. Groups of spunky, energetic children walking to school, trailed by their less-energetic parents with the dog. Couples kissing each other goodbye in their driveways as they go their separate ways for the day. Well-heeled professionals juggling a coffee mug, briefcase and newspaper as they get into their BMWs or Mercedes. I, of course, play the part of 'principal runner' in this ballet.
I see this unfold everyday. It is scripted, scored and set. This being San Diego, even the picture perfect sunny skies remain the same. Yet it doesn't get old. People travel and move for adventure, for excitement, for the unknown. I know I do. I love happening across a new bar, or trying a new cuisine, or jumping into a new culture. But I also find great pleasure in the everyday-ness that characterizes my run. The Czechs call this "všednost," which means appreciating the mundane, routine-ness of life. My daily run along Governor Drive is my všednost. It is ordinary, largely uninteresting, but it is great to witness and to be a part of. In a city that is new, strange and exciting to me, I've found a steady and familiar pulse.
This street ballet is less Balanchine or Stravinsky than it is a Tchaikovsky interlude or underscoring, but it is beautiful and awesome nonetheless. And 90-minutes after "Blues" rings on my phone, the curtain is drawn and I return from my performance ready for the challenges of the day -- routine or not.
I love running in the mornings.