[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
It never rains in Southern California, but it's raining today. Fat drops splattering across dingy pavement that hasn't seen water in months. Oil resurfacing on the interstates, making driving doubly treacherous. Since it never rains here, nobody knows how to drive in inclement weather, either. There is a leak in the building I live in, causing water to seep onto my grey tiled floor. I pay $1,600 a month for an insignificant amount of square living space, complete with a sagging roof and leaking floors. One day, I found literal cat turds in the community washing machine. Another day, my kitchen faucet handle came completely undone, held down by what looked like Gorilla Glue.
My apartment building was not built for strong rain, nor was it built to withstand nearly a century of multi-tenant wear and tear, but I digress. It was raining, and I couldn't wait to run in it. I found an old rain jacket that's more water-resistant than water-proof, and laced up my Altra Outroads a new Altra shoe that's a hybrid road-to-trail mash-up. Earlier this year, I fought a string of nagging injuries. Something like tendonitis that lingered for months, followed by a hamstring strain. Months later, I'm finally feeling strong and fit again, and I wasn't willing to let a little rain deter me from my run.
I found some old corded headphones, circa 2018, that I didn't care if the rain would ruin. Remember when headphones were big, bulking, heavy things? Remember when you didn't have to charge them? Growing up, I had a Sony MP3 player that housed roughly 200 of my favorite teen bops as well as some classic rock; Paint it Black, Hotel California, American Pie sort of stuff. Most of the time though, I would tune into the local Wisconsin Public Radio channel to listen to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me or Fresh Air or This American Life. Peter Sagal was my favorite, and I had an adolescent crush on him. If Public Radio was too dry, I'd listen to Bob and Tom in the morning, a couple of semi-raunchy middle-aged dudes talking about everything and nothing.
Now, my earbuds are wireless, but I always forget to charge them. They sit in my ear canal snugly, and I can tap them once to pause whatever I'm listening to, twice to skip to the next song or the next episode. Now, I don't need to skip through fuzzy radio stations on a back country road where my only two options are public radio or middle-aged radio comics. Now, I have the world of content at my fingertips always, and sometimes, the infinite choices are overwhelming. My old MP3 player was small and screenless and limited. Through that limited device though, I learned all about current events, wars and recessions, saving for retirement and the merit of classical music. I listened to horticulturists and farmers and politicians and artist. On days when I didn't feel like sifting through the static, I ran with no sound at all besides my steady breathing and the crunch-crunch-crunch of my feet against the gravel that sided rural country streets.
Today it is raining, and the rain reminds me of home, too, when every green thing turned a shade deeper, and the earth seemed to open up and drink. It's raining, and I love the rain, almost more than I love the sun. Normally, I would leave my phone and earbuds at home, but I'm nearly done with my latest Audible book, I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. It's an honest, harrowing tale of growing up with a narcissistic, abusive mother who not only pushed McCurdy into being a child actor but who also pushed her headfirst into an eating disorder. I let her words keep me company as I ran around the harbor, watching the waves crash angrily against the shore. I love the ocean angry almost more than I love it calm. McCurdy fell into the same trap I had fallen into, of restricting calories, binging, then purging. I wondered how many people have lived the same story, painted in slightly different hues.
By the time I finished my run I was drenched from head to toe. My rain jacket had done nothing to keep me dry, and my feet were wrinkled and pale. Once, when I went to get a pedicure, the woman clipping my toenails called my feet "meaty," which I took to mean, "strong." I glowed. I knew that my feet were only strong and meaty because I use them.
I uploaded my run to Strava and quickly scrolled through my social media channels. "No excuses!" one person wrote, accompanied by a photo of them running in wind and rain. "Don't let a little rain stop you!" posted another. Get-after-it they say. Never stop, they say. Keep hammering, rise and grind, tell-the-world-how-hard-you-are, they say. Running in the rain doesn't make you strong, and neither does posting a photo of it on the internet. Consistency makes you strong, but that's far less sexy.
Scrolling through social media made me miss, more than ever, those long, quiet runs on empty country roads with corded headphones, a shitty MP3 player, and no little black phone box full of ego and lies.
It never rains in Southern California, but it's raining today. Fat drops splattering.