Saturday, March 14, 2015

Awkwardly Curious

At  least we are guaranteed temperatures north of single digits, that was my thought as I headed south on State Route 23 from Marion to Columbus. Mother Nature had been wreaking havoc on us since the holiday season. It is now only February 21st, but with an expected high of 28 on this Sunday it might was well be 80. The last several weeks had us lingering in the area of 15 to farther below zero than anyone in Ohio would like to see.

She did drop five inches of snow on us yesterday, but now the frozen, frosted horizon made the 45 minute drive serene and peaceful. Our group, the Hangover Flag Football Club, plays nearly every Sunday morning at Antrim Park. I always get there early, this gives me time to relax, stretch and warm up. I just turned 39 and I don't warm up (or recover for that matter) that quickly anymore. I'm still just as in shape as most of our guys, many whom are ten or more years my junior, but I still have that athletic mindset. Figure I need to fulfill my weekend warrior phase while I still can....or at least try.

Another reason for arriving early today is for the picturesque scenery, I brought my camera to document the snowfall's aftermath before the bikers, joggers and dog walkers and what have you trample it all. About two thirds of the way there my phone starts buzzing, a quick glance and apparently some of our group have changed their minds and a couple of have been called into work  unexpectedly - or, more likely, the thought of playing in five inches of fresh snow is less than satisfying.

So the excuse hamster wheel has started to turn. Another buzz - T.J., the football facilitator, says if we don't have at least eight we will not be playing. Ten minutes out and this is not what I want to hear. "Well crap...", I say out loud to myself. I can almost hear my 10-year old Honda say the same thing. She isn't cut out for these trips much anymore - especially those that end up being unnecessary. Honda's are made to last, but I ran her hard over the years and she's holding up as best she can. I find myself talking to the car like an actual person quite a bit. Some think its weird, but the Honda and I have been through a lot and she has been my only real mainstay...despite my perpetual ignorance and occasional stupidity.

By the time I arrive at a somewhat empty Antrim Park, the text I was hoping to avoid arrives. "Sorry fellas, no game today. We'll try next week.", T.J. writes. Damn it, that's two weeks in a row! At least last week made more sense - it was three degrees without windchill, 15 below with.

I decide to wander the park, trudge through the snow, and take some scenic midwinter undisturbed nature pictures. Its much better than turning around and driving straight back another 45 minutes. I used to live in Columbus, but a good job with decent benefits and employment security are not a dime a dozen.

I love that phrase, "A dime a dozen." It makes me think of my late father and grandparents. It was a favorite of theirs and I find myself saying it under my breath or louder to myself than I should on occasion. The looks I get from others for my ensuing dorky smile are humorous. They assume I'm making fun of them, then I have to explain that its a personal inside joke - the looks then get that much more weird and confusion sets in. I just flash a smile and shrug my shoulders, then change the subject quickly. Reason why I'm single #58: Audibly verbalized inner monologues.

Only a handful of folks are braving the snow, but I sense that more will be coming as the morning moves along. I cover the majority of park in my ski pants, over top of workout shorts, three shirts, two pair of socks, running shoes and a wool-lined, navy blue hooded zip-up jacket. I'm warm and cozy down to my ankles. Alas, in a game pitting half a foot of snow against running shoes - my feet get the raw end of the deal. Now if we were playing football, constantly running and stopping, it wouldn't be that big of a problem. Since the majority of my wuss bag football friends left me hanging - I'm starting to lose feeling in my feet. I try to ignore it and trudge further on in search of my old stomping grounds.

I head down the hill, under the Route 315 overpass and make my way to the Olentangy Trail and its peaceful neighbor Antrim Lake. A few runner/walkers are working their way through down here and I'm finding a number of cool winter photo ops, but I have to laugh at those passing joggers. They may be wearing different styles and colors, but are more/less donning the same workout attire: Toboggan (or Skullcap), thin gloves, running pants/tights, sunglasses and some shape or form of a NorthFace zip-up jacket. Compared to them, I look like I prepared my outdoor get-up in the trunk of a car loaded down with goodwill donations.

Until they get closer, its even hard to tell who is male and who is female - almost a Stepford Running Club scene. "Maybe there's a Meetup for that, I'll have to research it sometime", I jokingly say to myself and myself alone...for once. They keep to themselves and at least smile and nod "hello" as they pass. Glad to see they aren't all athletic, unfriendly lemmings and cyborgs.

After taking way too many pictures and now unable to feel my legs from the knee down, I decide to make my way back. I catch my reflection in my camera lens and realize the hood on my jacket is over-sized. The kind that hangs over your eyes and covers most of your face. Great job Craig, picking the stalker look for an afternoon at a secluded, wooded running trail - there's a reason the joggers stuck to the dress code. They don't have the time to explain to police that they mean no harm and, instead, are just fashion illiterate. I apparently do though.

I put my camera in my jacket and start jogging. This works two-fold: I get a little bit of a workout and that, too, since my hands are free, it doesn't look like I'm carrying anything that resembles a weapon.

From the frozen lake I cross the trail and go back under the Route 315 overpass toward the entrance near the parking lot. Ahead of me, in my direction, another would-be jogger is preparing to brave the elements. As I get closer, it looks like she is hesitating. Like she's trying to decide if this is a good idea or she should just turn around, go grab breakfast, and maybe the New York Times and crash.

She looks up to see me headed toward her, catches my glance and smiles. Thankfully, my Unabomber look isn't as threatening as I thought. She slowly moves forward, still looking at me and smiling (that's a good thing...right?) and says, indicating to the path below us, "Is the trail plowed or does it all look like this?" A quick look down and we are wading in a deep, trampled, slushy mess of winter's fury.

She is dressed similar to the cyborgs from earlier - but this one, she has personality and seems less gung ho about running in the snow. I stop my fake jogging and push my hood out of my eyes... breathing hard already..... and struggle to blurt out, "Actually, its not bad. Its pretty well packed down and sort of plowed. Nothing like this gazpacho looking goop here." She laughs and removes her shades and I notice, finally, that she's attractive - very attractive.

Shoulder length, strawberry blond hair lightly dangling from her winter hat, freckles around her cheeks and nose, big brown eyes and a cross between athletic and curvy. She was easy on the eyes.

Typically this is where - in the past - I would take the easy route and do or say nothing. Then proceed to kick myself for the next few hours for not having the cahones to have at least made some sort of conversation. My wavering confidence has been the bane of my existence for years. Someone reaches out, I freeze to avoid confrontation, freak out and smack their gesture in the face. This is usually followed by a "Sorry, I know not what I do"-like look pleading from my face.

She takes her hand and moves the bangs about her eyes and tucks them behind her ear. "Good, at least it won't be as bad as I initially thought", she says breathing a sigh of relief.

A minute or two later...she's still there, not moving on - hesitating again perhaps? I'm smiling back at her, doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. "Damn it, say something you dolt!" my mind is screaming at me. Suddenly I pull my hood back off  my face (again) and say something like, "Is it a solo run today?"

Good Craig, that's real good, asking a woman if she is by herself at a remote trailhead in my disturbed neighbor costume. I should be hearing sirens any minute now.

To my surprise she purses her lips and rolls her eye before saying "My friends aren't big fans of breaking hibernation early." Relieved and delighted, I take off my glove and stick out my hand, "That's too bad. Oh, um...I'm Craig by the way," the words nervously roll off my tongue. Feeling ready to jump out of my skin, she accepts my attempt at a greeting, shakes my hand and replies, "I'm Elizabeth...or Beth."

My heart is pounding, butterflies are puking in my stomach and why am I fighting to ignore the abort mission sensor going off in my subconscious right now?!

Sort of timid small talk continues and I notice Elizabeth (Beth) is drifting toward the trail - oh yeah...right... you came her to run, I remind myself. "Well, it was nice to meet you," she says as she puts her shades back on and turns. "Great to meet you too", I say turning the opposite direction but scrambling to find an excuse for this to linger for another minute or two at least.

After two steps I stop, turn back and throw out a string of words that sound something like, "Hey, would you want to grab breakfast or something instead?" HOLY COW, where in the hell did that come from?! The butterflies in my stomach are not only puking at the moment, but are now also procreating. I have never had an out-of-body experience, but this exactly what I believe it would feel like.

Luckily, she didn't take off in a horrified sprint in the opposite direction. Rather, Elizabeth stopped jogging, turned back with a broad smile, looked down and heads toward me. Before I could apologize for being a too forward schmuck, she bends down and reaches for something on the ground.

In my state of no man's land, I failed to notice I had dropped my glove. She picked it up, walked to me and handed it over. Sure that I was about to be shot down, she mockingly glares at me and says in a semi-serious, semi-joking tone, "You guys are a dime a dozen." My heart sank a bit, but my brain and heart are high-fiving one another. I couldn't help but laugh, hoping it didn't seem like I was making fun of her.

She continues to smile, but I can't read her eyes through her dark sunglasses. Elizabeth then turns and begins jogging away. Still in shock and outside of myself, I'm in a trance watching her move farther along toward the trail, hoping to burn her image into my mind somehow.

Finally catching my breath, I go to put on my retrieved glove and find that something seems to be blocking one of the finger sleeves. Digging for it, I pinch the corner of whatever it is and pull it out.

Oddly, it's a folded business card.

That's when I hear, yelled from a distance, " should just call me sometime instead!" Looking up, Elizabeth is about 20 yards away with sunglasses in hand and this huge beautiful smile beaming across her face. Through my foggy glasses I see her playfully wink and slyly bite the bottom of her lip, then put her shades back on and disappear around the corner down the snow covered path.

Dumbfounded, I unfold the crumbled business card and it reads:

Elizabeth S. Brandywine Photography
206 Vintage Ave. Suite 4
Columbus, Ohio 43302
Phone: 614-555-7617

Remarkably Unique

Slowly I turn around and make my way up the hill, passing timid would-be joggers and to my car. All the while I'm still trying to get a handle on what just happened. That's when, in succession, a handful of late arriving, uniformed football buddies begin trickling in. Nick, Roman and Adam all have confused looks as they glance around the empty, snow covered parking lot. Pulling up along side me, Adam - from the passenger seat of Roman's bronco - rolls down his window and asks (already knowing the answer), "We don't have numbers, do we?"

Smiling ridiculously with the folded business card still grasped between my gloved fingers, I look back at the trailhead in the distance. Then say under my breath, but clearly loud enough for everyone to hear, "I have ten of them."

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