I first saw him last summer. He was carrying a tarp covered backpack. His skin had the color and consistency of an old Dale Murphy edition Rawlings baseball mitt. He wore a soup-catcher that would make Sam Beam jealous. He wore the hell out of it. He had a little paunch that only the good living of summer can give a man on the move. I'd see him twice a week or so- him in his faded cut-off Levi's and me in my New Balance lightning dry suspension running shorts. We were both showing a little too much thigh and a lot too much belly. We'd done the obligatory respect nod for months as I would come humping up the widow-maker hill at the tail end of my runs. I had been training for the Hearbreak Ridge Half-Marathon on Camp Pendleton and unfortunately for me that meant running through the hills of Vista and finishing up on the dreaded "Widow-Maker". The "Widow-Maker" is the unofficial name for the official end to most all of my training runs that summer. It starts at the 76 and Vista Way and proceeds up to Franklin Ln. I've ran steeper hills before but this one is just a long, slow grind uphill that usually had me contemplating darting in front of one of the numerous cars that grazed my left elbow as I worked my way up along the shoulder. Hence the name. In the middle of my longest run at the time, I was looking like a bag of ass coming up that hill and was quickly scanning the ground for enough loose change to allow me to catch a bus the rest of the way home when I looked up and saw him. He turned and saw me and set down his pack and began doing a Rudy clap for me as I passed him. I couldn't say for sure but I thought I saw a faint smile under his whiskers. We had nodded to each other up until that point and I guess he felt I needed a little something extra that day. After that, he would always clap as I passed or at least throw me a fist pump. This went on for a few more months but as the race date grew near I was increasing my miles and the course didn't always cover his grounds (from what i could tell, his turf was vista way from the 78 to gopher canyon rd). I would still make an effort to run that route weekly in hopes of seeing him, to see how he was doing. As the seasons changed we had both put shirts on but you could see he was slimming up some. He looked seasoned enough to weather to cold but I still worried about him. Our relationship was never one where I could offer food or he would accept it. I never even really thought to ask and I'm sure he never did either. He was never the guy asking for change or holding up a sign explaining that it was tough on the streets. No, he was out minding his business trying to make it just like the rest of us. He just chose his own definition of making it. Those days we would pass each other it wasn't someone with a home and job passing someone without, it was just two guys doing what they needed to do. I think after awhile the nods weren't just out of acknowledgment, but of an equal respect.


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