The morning runners of Normal Heights are self-entertained, community loyalists to their core. For 7 years, this neighborhood has been my categorical “comfort food” running route and home, but it took some getting used to.

At first, I held my breath when crossing over the Adams Avenue bridges. I ran over Interstates 805 and 15 like they were swaying above hot lava; my trepidation originating from a combination of local earthquake literature and childhood years playing hot lava monster with my younger brothers. In the beginning, I jogged past Lestat’s in a gothic cloud of 24 hour-nicotine-infused curiosity, surprised that I belonged to one of the last communities without a Starbucks. Initially, I avoided eye-contact with eccentric local collectors of yard art watering whatever corner of their lawn was sans garden gnome and painted animal. I had never seen anyone water plastic flowers before. I used to groan at the sight of on-coming-barking-snarling-sidewalk-Chihuahuas as I prepared to hurdle them and glare at their owner in a simultaneous sidewalk stare down.

Now, as I run over the Adams Avenue bridges, I slow down to take in the view of Mission Valley, thankful that I do not live next to the mall. I love that my husband and I can run down the street and grab a beer at Rosie O’Grady’s on a Sunday afternoon and not see a single hipster sharing a cocktail with his kid in an adjacent stroller. I am confident that the engineer who designed the arch-style Roscoe E. Hazard Memorial Bridge (805) in the 1970’s knew what he was doing. Like others in my neighborhood, I was saddened when Starbuck’s opened right across the street from Lestat’s Coffee House, who serves delicious Diedrich coffee all day and night. Similarly, I quickly realized that most of the people who patronize that Starbucks don’t give a rat’s ass about the truly good quality coffee right across the street from them in the first place. I say hello to the yard art collectors and smile at the increased number of native plant gardens and water-wise landscapes that have gone in over the years since my arrival. As for the Chihuahuas, well, I now stay my course and run right next to them, even stopping to pet them on a rare day. We finally understand one another.

My 4.5 mile morning wake-up runs have come a long way in 7 years of running in Normal Heights. Their unpredictable familiarity is a most welcome teammate now, and like a big, hot slice of Dimille’s lasagna, I am comforted by it.

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