This is not a story about food.
This is a story about the Santa Monica bike path, a man in a turban and me.
I woke up unreasonably early this morning. I cringed when I saw the angular numbers on my alarm clock that read "6:15." I tried to fall back asleep -- tried to hush the thoughts away of everything I had to do before meeting my friend for lunch.
It was a futile effort. After approximately 25 minutes of willing my eyes to remain shut, I gave up.
"It's really better if I get up now," I reasoned as I tugged myself free from my tangle of pink sheets and trudged into my living room to find my running shoes.
"I'll avoid the traffic. I won't have to worry about the sun scorching my skin cells at the beach. I'll have time to go to the Santa Monica farmers' market after. I can get corn. I can get asparagus. I can get English peas." My thoughts stumbled out in a rush, desperate to erase the absurdity of getting up before 7 am on a Saturday morning.
I arrived in Santa Monica a little after 7:15. The sky was still a groggy grey and the bike path that is normally cluttered with joggers, bicyclists and Midwestern tourists was blissfully unadorned. I smiled as I began striding down the sidewalk -- past Casa del Mar, past the red and white Hot Dog on a Stick shack, past the pier.
"This is why I love coming out here," I mused as I surveyed the empty stretch of path ahead of me. No stoplights. No cars. No police officers pulling me over for jay-running.
On the Santa Monica bike path, I can just go. I can just run. And I can daydream to the point where everything else around me fades away into a blurry haze of nothingness -- grey like the sky.
I continued down the now familiar stretch that winds through a seemingly endless Sahara dessert of sand. Despite the early hour, there were still a few bicyclists and other joggers and walkers battling exhaustion with me. There was a man running approximately 25 meters ahead of me -- a man in a turban. He wasn't moving particularly fast. His feet were thumping the ground in a sluggish, uncoordinated rhythm, and I was gaining on him quickly. In just a few strides, I would easily pass him.
I picked up my pace as I ran by, eager to get away from the sound of his shoes clomping on the pavement.
"Terrible form," I thought as I turned up the volume on my iPod to drown out the increasingly grating noise. "My high school couch would not approve."
I continued speeding up -- trying desperately to escape it and escape him, the mysterious turban man. But it seemed that no matter how fast I ran, no matter how high I turned up the volume on Lady Gaga, the clip-clopping of his feet was still there. It stabbed a hole through my daydreams of what I was going to make with my asparagus, corn and English peas. It stabbed a hole in my blissful mood. It stabbed a hole in my quiet, idyllic run by the beach.
"He's not going to let me pass him!" I finally realized with alarm.
Every time I quickened my lightly-falling snowflake steps, he quickened his sledge-hammer steps too. Anger seeped into my straining muscle, my eyes descended into fierce narrow slits, and my jaw contorted into an aggressive, masculine posture. I was a pit bull ready to snap. And the man in the turban continued on my tail like a freeloading roommate.
"I will break you," I thought as pushed my legs to move even faster. I was flying down the bike path now -- running faster than I have in months -- possibly years. I was channeling Prefontaine. I was running with the Buffaloes. I was running like I was Forrest Gump.
But he wouldn't be broken.
I looked desperately to the people biking and running in the other direction for sympathy. I wanted them to yell out in my defense, "Hey turban man, stop harassing that poor girl. Just let her run. Dude."
But they didn't yell. They didn't come to my rescue. They waved. They smiled. They cheered him on.
They all seemed to know him. They all seemed to love the turban man.
I did not.
I whipped around, squared my face into my fiercest angry runway look and snarled, "Stop riding my ass! Run your own race!"
I restrained myself from adding, "freak."
The turban man stared at me with a blank expression -- his tan, bearded face not giving away any emotion. Despite my outburst, he made no effort to slow down or run ahead. He remained stoically in his place -- directly behind me.
When I reached my turnaround point at 26 minutes -- approximately four minutes faster than I had the week prior -- I whipped around without hesitation. I was not going to continue playing his sick game. I wanted peace, dammit. But his face haunted me for the rest of my hour long run. It was glued in my head -- seeping into my daydreams like a viscous odor.
I had to tell someone about him -- someone who would share my horror at the man who wouldn't be passed.
As soon as I picked up my friend for lunch this afternoon, the story came tumbling out. I made dramatic pauses, I varied the inflection of my voice, I arched my eyebrows up and then down for further animation. I couldn't wait for her to gasp and groan in sympathy.
But she didn't gasp. Or groan.
"He's famous!" She shrieked. "He plays a guitar!"
And, according to Wikipedia, his name is Harry Perry.