Running By

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As some of my friends from the broader online world know, I keep a photo journal of my runs which I post in Instagram stories. This wasn’t a conscious decision really, just something I started doing.

During the worst months of the pandemic we all seemed pretty desperate for images of the outside world (I was enjoying posts from folks in Britain and Australia in particular) even if it was just daily stuff and I loved my view along the East River so much I thought others might too. So somehow taking some pictures along the way and posting them afterward became part of my running habit. Today’s post is a bit of a tribute to some of the urban history I have plucked along the way.

My early jogging attempts here in Manhattan took me through Carl Schurz Park and down the Eastside Esplanade along the river. I run with the urban scene of the FDR Drive to one side of me and the East River to the other – there are days when you would never know that an endless line of commuter cars is honking and belching along next to me so silvan are the water views.

The pool at 72nd just prior to opening last spring.

At about 72nd Street there is a park with one of the free city pools in it, the John Jay pool and playground there. I watched last spring as it was prepped for summer and then ultimately filled with the first of the throngs of folks that would come and line up during the hot summer days. At the foot of this park is an interesting old stone building and over time I realized that it had Eastside Settlement House etched in stone. As it happened I was reading about the charitable establishment which was located there in one of my books about the Red Cross Girls and I wrote about those books in a post that can be found here. (An excellent article on the history of the Settlement House can be found here and it notes an article from the Times which was called, Girls of Gentle Breeding Enjoy Unaccustomed Dances With Partners Not in Their Set.)

East Side Settlement House, as seen from the river side. Built in 1901.

In those early months of running the Esplanade was open all the way down the Eastside and I thought about someday getting enough miles under my belt to make it down to the Roosevelt Island tram at about 57th. Before my running got me down below 70th Street, the path was closed for repairs (sink holes are a very real problem) and my runs to the south were curtailed.

I continued my route along that part of the river as far as I could (the Esplanade dips down there and you are closer to the water which is nice, river smell for better or worse tends to waft there) which would take me past a ramshackle Con Ed building that appears to be entirely taken over by rats and pigeons. (I tremble to think of what must go on in its interior.)

Rat and pigeon infested Con Ed enclave in the east 70’s.

Over time I worked up to running up a long incline at about 82nd. When I began using an app (Strava) to as a GPS recording of my miles it informed me that this land bridge has a name, Jamie’s Bridge. I am told there is a plaque which I have yet to locate. I will update if I discover more about that.

A post could be devoted to the park itself which I have become very fond of – weekdays are largely given over to my fellow runners, ferry commuters, dog walkers (I give dogs some distance but New York City dogs are generally more interested in each other than me – while suburban dogs seem to be more interested in taking a bite out of me) make up the lion’s share of the denizens and, especially over the past two years, there are a number of people just walking or sitting outside. Some smoke (cigarettes and pot in almost equal measure) and others study their phones, still others just stare off. Weekends, as the weather warms, means the park plays host to a long line of birthday parties for gangs of small children. Shiny balloons staking the spot and declaring the age of the child in question – which seems to be 3 more often than not.

Hard to see here but here is a stationary bike and work out equipment stored here, as well as this tent which seems to serve as occasional home.

More miles and being curtailed to the south mean pushing north and at first I just ran up to the ferry. The New York ferries were one of my great pandemic discoveries and I am sad that in no way can I utilize them on my daily commute to 57th Street because I would enjoy it. Miles underfoot quickly took me a bit further to the waste station up near Asphalt Green recreational center. I was against this garbage facility when it was proposed to be built, but have to admit that they have kept the impact on the neighborhood low. Under this land bridge is a resident tent dweller who keeps a pile of workout equipment there. I have seen him tend it but never work out there.

Asphalt Green Recreational Center in Yorkville, NY.

Asphalt Green declares its history as the site of an asphalt plant from 1944-1968 in its prior life. In the late 70’s an effort was made to rehabilitate this derelict site and in 1984, several years before I became a Yorkville resident, this impressive gym and recreational center and playing fields opened. I ponder its service in the production of asphalt for all those years and what that may have been like and why they stopped as asphalt is still presumably needed.

The 96th Street entrance to the FDR always reminds me of trips to the airport and now the path to and from Jersey when I ride with Cash and Jeff – the human and doggie duo who have transported me during odd hours in recent months. Jeff usually takes us up to the George Washington Bridge so this leg of the run always makes me think about leaving town.

This quote was part of a temporary installation but it stayed with me. It is gone, but I still think about it when I run past this spot.

Eventually I found my way up to the Randall’s Island Bridge. Unlike most of the other bridges (all land bridges) on this route, this pretty blue-green bridge is very neat and tidy, its underbelly in excellent repair which I note each time. For a long time this was the outer reaches of my run as it then climaxed around the four mile mark. I consider eventually adding a run over this bridge to my route. It would be a not insubstantial addition as it has several levels of incline and the span of the bridge is considerable, over the river. I also think about taking Kim there on a walk when it gets a bit warmer. Playing fields, bike and running trails and who knows what else await us there when the time comes. I see kids heading over for early morning practice on weekday mornings.

The underside of the Randall’s Island Bridge.

Running in New Jersey near my mom (some posts have been devoted to that and can be found here and here) expanded my miles to more than five as curiosity encouraged me to further explore her area. That combined with a new closure to the south at 74th Street, has recently pushed me up even further to the area around 107th now. I am fascinated by this pier, Pier 107 CVII according to the sign on its side, which is just beautiful despite its derelict condition. I cannot help but imagine walking out on it and admiring the water views from there, or stopping to sit on one of the benches.

The once again derelict pier.

Built originally back in 1931 it serviced a now long forgotten industrial complex and Harlem Market which defined the area before it became more solidly residential. The Pier was originally converted to pedestrian use in the late 1980’s with an award winning restoration that was completed in 1991. I cannot imagine why it was allowed to deteriorate again. Just beyond it is this odd little dock which seems to have been part of it historically. A place for boats to unload or tie up briefly I assume.

The nearby dock or pier which seems to go along with it.

To the west I note this beautiful Art Deco building which appears to be home to the Department of Sanitation of all things. I wonder if the building is still employed for this purpose or if it has another use now and if all the original beauty has been removed from its interior.

Building is labeled Department of Sanitation in Art Deco writing across the front.

My run tops out here to achieve a total of about 5.5 miles and I head back to the park where I will loop myself past the Mayor’s residence at Gracie Mansion. I have toured that (surprisingly intimate) historical wood frame home which has impressive river views from its perch at a high point in the park. Then it is a final check of the Peter Pan statue and surrounding area – one that Kim has been contemplating using in a story – some stretching and home again.

Peter Pan statue in Carl Schurz Park, the terminus point of my runs here in NYC.

Time

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I found myself thinking about time during a particularly hard won five mile run yesterday at lunchtime here in Manhattan. It seems my body is more willing to do my bidding in the early mornings and by late morning and early afternoon it balks some at the request. Luckily this is where habit kicks in though and after working the kinks out I’m good until some point at about mile four where I have to apply some discipline to make it through. The fifth mile was added recently and time doesn’t always allow for it, so I am still negotiating it each time.

Being a fairly compulsive gatherer of data I have recently started using an app (Strava) to record distance. My phone was somewhat mercurial in its recording of distance, same exact run different reads, but now I get not only distance, but speed and performance such as tracking time on inclines. It’s a bit dangerous to start feeding me this sort of information because I immediately become competitive with myself and have an urge to go faster and further.

Recent Strava read from a run.

I have written before about the fact that I run slowly (some of those running posts can be found here and here), but even in the realm of slow jogging I find myself increasing my speed incrementally now that I see it. So I am thinking about time in various ways while I run, either in small literal ways or in a larger sense. Seasonal change happens in almost daily increments as demanded by the weather, always reminding me that regardless of what I think time marches forward inexorably.

Winter ’20 view from Carl Schurz Park during my first winter running.

I maintain a photo journal of my runs on Instagram (mostly posted as stories and can be found on the four or so days a week I run @deitchstudio) and those snapshots remain on my phone to remind me of the seasons of my runs over the last eighteen months since I started in November of ’20. Running in the cold gives way to spring and then the heat of summer and back again to fleece leggings. I am excited to see the progress of the magnolia and cherry trees in New Jersey as spring burgeons and when I am back this week.

East River view spring of ’21.

Time and the perception of it passing is somewhat subjective in my opinion. Certain activities elongate time, not stopping but slowing. Meditation, printing photos, lifting weights and now running are among the activities that produce this effect for me. My work days, always crazy busy, tend to speed time up in a reversal. I have always needed to find activities to balance that frenetic work energy lest I just burn out completely.

Time with my mother in New Jersey passes at a different pace too. I find myself examining that time which also slows it down. Morning coffee with her is a good time and I savor it. Running in her suburban neighborhood takes on a somewhat magical quality and the same five miles seems more epic there than my trot up and down my also beloved East River at home.

Magnolia tree near mom’s which inspired the purchase of one for her yard.

Meanwhile, I have just passed the five year anniversary of my current job. Like everyone else, I have conducted the past two years during the pandemic and am now in a liminal phase of partial re-entry as we commence year three. I have frequently said that I learned more about my job (fundraising for a performing arts organization) during the past two years than I learned in the previous three decades. That is an exaggeration of course and it is the first thirty years that made success (defined in large part as survival) possible. I have drawn on experience, but also the leadership that I worked with and learned from in my nascent decades working at the Metropolitan Museum. (I wrote about my time there and my departure here.)

Me at Dizzy’s post Gala in ’18! Wearing the same dress this year!

As I prepare to usher my somewhat tattered troop into a new work world with weekly time back in an office, I am reminded that despite an illusion otherwise, time has not stood still. The roadmap of our work remains intact, another annual Gala (the first in-person in two years) is on the immediate horizon. However, the issues we face for interaction together, such as mask and vaccination protocol, possible infection and negotiating our in-person time and space together are entirely new and I don’t begin to know how to answer all their questions. We are all older and we have spent the past two years intensively together and yet very much apart. So I stand on the threshold of my fifth year entirely unclear about what it will bring, but time will tell.

Jersey Daughter, Part 2: Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I pick up from where I left yesterday, but use the opportunity to focus on running. Pictorama readers know that about 18 months ago I started running. I have slowly (very slowly!) built my distance up to 4.5-5 miles four or so times a week, as my work schedule allows. This morning, having a bit of leisure time at my disposal, I topped out over 5 miles.

Today was overcast but warm. Rain has moved in since so I am glad I got out early. (Although it means you all are getting this post later than usual as a result!)

This contemplative area with these plaques seems to be new to me. It ajoins the church property.
Close up of one of the plaques.

Running in NJ tends to encourage me to expand my footprint a bit as I investigate the neighborhood, poking down new blocks, cul de sacs and deadends. I am confident enough in my mental map that I don’t worry now about getting lost, although I tend to keep myself hemmed in to the east and the west by major roads it is easier not to cross.

As I have said in my previous posts about running, I run slowly. For a tall person I have short legs and therefore a less than impressive stride, but I cannot blame my overall slowness just on that. My feeling about running is pretty much that I find a pace I can generally just keep up, more or less indefinitely. As if I was an automaton toy, set into infinite forward motion. I will speed up around obstacles or otherwise as needed but there is a general lope that I keep myself to. Everyone passes me – people running with baby strollers pass me – the older and the younger alike. My only interest in increasing time is a sense of efficiency about the amount of time I have to devote to running and therefore the ratio of distance to time.

First flowers of the season I spotted in bloom today!

For me running is about being in the moment which releases me from all the nagging worries that I nurse throughout the day (and night) otherwise. I focus on my stride, where my feet are falling and the music (today was largely Bruce Springsteen in honor of New Jersey) which is familiar enough to be ritual as well.

Suburban life is stretched out before me as I run here. Today was no exception. The first part of my run takes me to the crossroads of several churches and a synagogue. This morning I was treated to the church bells ringing as I started out. This church is next to a playing field and a small wildlife preserve that I circle before heading back out into a neighborhood north of here.

I ran further north and then west than usual and encountered the elementary school for the town, tucked away behind a main street but somehow on a block I think I never encountered growing up here. The Viola Sickles School is a pretty Art Deco designed building. It has a large playground and playing field behind it which I toured. Just on the other side is a pretty little downtown street of restaurants and shops on a main road. My mom lived in one of the houses on that main street which was converted to a candy store which we used to visit occasionally when I was little. Somehow I couldn’t get rid of the idea that my mom grew up in the candy store but this was not the case. I think it was a small gas station that my grandfather had at that time and before they moved to a neighboring town.

This one needs a new roof, but what a sweet little house!

The houses near the school are old and lovely. These few blocks seem to have somehow escaped the general gentrification of the area. I hope someone buys them and restores them on their tiny lots instead of tearing them down.

I loop around and head south for the most familiar part of my run which I have been saving for last recently. It is overcast and the sun alternately fights to come out and gives up. Today is one of the warmest runs I have had this winter and the temperature is hovering around 50. Robins are everywhere, as well as sparrows, cardinals and bluejays. I see a bunny with a bushy white tail – too fast for me to get a picture. Back at mom’s the chipmunks are in evidence again as well. I spy the first snowdrops of the season in bloom and snap a photo of them.

Another cute little house on this school block.

Around mile four I start to feel it in my legs a bit. I use a GPS driven running tracker now called Strava as my phone seemed to be inconsistent about recording miles. I had some trouble with it at first – it would turn itself off which was frustrating – but I seem to have gotten past that.

Strava makes me more competitive with myself despite not really intending to – can I be faster on the big inclines? Go a bit further today? It sends me electronic encouragement for each of my runs. I am a sucker for its praise.

Knights of Columbus meeting establishment.

This week I see several book exchange boxes in the neighborhood, but don’t take the time out to examine them. I do note them however for future reference. Today I realize one is in front of the Knights of Columbus meeting place. I run through the parking lot and notice these rather special benches below.

Kind of love these benches with the American flags built into the design.

I realize that I am already over time and distance and still have to get home. I think of one of my favorite phrases – save something for the swim back. It is true of running – and many other things too.

January

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This past week I went on a particularly long run in New Jersey, more than four miles. The weather was an agreeable 35 degrees and my morning of meetings started late enough that despite being a bit cold I took the opportunity to explore a bit.

Discovered the local police station nearby recently.

When I first started running there I was afraid of getting lost as I didn’t know the area and there are a lot of dead end streets and cul de sacs to get lost in. It took awhile for me to get the lay of the land and understand where my mom’s house is in relation to a few large roads that will always put me back on course eventually, making it almost impossible to actually get lost I now know. (I have written about running in New Jersey before and one of those posts is here. One of my early posts about teaching myself to run can be found here.)

Wooded area where I run. Looks more wild than it is – there are the backs of houses within sight.

I have written a bit about this area which exists in my mind these days as a sort of ideal small town with more ball fields and playgrounds than I can count. Communal basketball hoops adorn many of the dead end streets and it is easy to imagine a spring and summer rife with kids playing there. It has become my other reality or parallel universe now that a spend more time with my mom at her house.

There is a charming middle school at the end of my mother’s block, Knollwood it is called, and each morning when I run there I see kids in various states of readiness migrating toward it to start their day. They come on bikes or walk, alone or a few together, sometimes running or pedaling hard as it gets later. Cars and buses are dropping them off on the other side, but that isn’t usually what I see from the side of the school I approach.

The houses here range from new build large and obviously affluent, to bungalow and Cape Cod small, like my mom’s. They indicate a fair amount of disparity in wealth I think as I run by them, but somehow they manage to knit together a community, homes almost universally cheerfully neat and tidy looking.

If I head further in one direction I know that beyond the woods where I start these runs that the homes will grow larger and further apart in the town where I grew up. As I go in the other direction the homes get smaller and closer together and older. This area forms a literal meeting point of three towns and each has a different flavor.

The suburban street near mom.

As I survey my surroundings (to an unlikely soundtrack of Billie Holiday which I am stuck on for no identifiable reason), I ponder how mindfulness can be uncomfortable and how sometimes forcing yourself to be in the moment is so much harder and more painful than escaping it. For me and with my personal history January is the most terrible of months, stinking with the memory of illness and death. Accepting that and not trying to escape it is hard. Despite a determined brand of personal optimism, I tend to skirt the beginning of each year warily, more just getting through it than embracing it as a new beginning.

This year has its own challenges and this week packed a wallop of January-ness my way along with some sodden snowy rain. The anniversary of my sister’s death, two more resignations at work, spending time (mostly reliving the past) with my mom who is not well – it has been a rocky road and I will be glad when the 31st passes, hopefully gently, into February. A tsunami of these issues clamor for attention in my brain and only the gentle repetitious pounding of my sneaker clad feet can help me unsnarl these thorny thoughts.

Flowers in memory of my sister Loren, brought by a friend earlier this week.

As I make my way over, up and through this neighborhood I think about it. The word liminal keeps looming in my mind so I examine it. Liminal, the space between things, the moment on a threshold. We all are existing in that liminal space right now as we try to figure out what the world is going to look like, needing to let go of what was and embrace this unknown next thing. That space is a bit of a respite from the drive forward, but you know you are going to have to take the plunge so there is little comfort in that perch, like standing above icy water before diving in. By its nature it is an uncomfortable place to be.

I think I understand the desire to leave for a new job and to assign all that was bad about the past two years to what employed your hours during that time. I can see that a new job might be a fresh new page to draw on and a way to reinvent yourself and push into the new world. So I try not to resent the further dwindling of my work team and the demands it will make on me and the remaining folks, but I admit it is hard.

One of the endless playing fields I run through on my NJ mornings.

My own style however is to dig my heels in and have a real look at myself, marshal my reserves, retrench. It is only by facing what is hard that we can actually resolve it. One of my expressions is the only way through is through – a self-evident but annoying truth. I see signs of reluctance in myself that I need to square off, face and resolve. I remind myself that there is a steeliness I can call on when needed and it is called for now. I use it and add on that extra mile.

Autumn in New York and Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Suddenly there is a nip in the air on my early morning runs and I find that I have added a cotton layer to my togs and my running shorts have been put away. Sunrise is later and later these mornings and up to this point I have resisted going out before the sun is poking up onto the scene – I remind myself that this is still New York City and running alone in the dark is perhaps not the best idea nor indeed safe.

I am hitting the one year mark since I started running and thus far I have persevered through summer heat and two broken fingers. (Earlier running posts, and the broken finger story, can be found here and here.) I try to run most mornings, short of having to be in midtown for an in-person meeting before 9:00 which I increasingly often do for work. On those days I walk the three miles to (and often also back from) Columbus Circle instead. Those mornings I cut the city catty corner and walk through Central Park which certainly has its own early morning charm. I cannot help but compare and contrast these mornings to mine spent in our little east side enclave.

At the one year mark I run about three miles. I run a slow, gentle jog. Despite being exclusively on concrete I try to land softly, mid-foot, and to keep my joints loose. My right hip and the muscles reaching down tend to complain a bit, less so if I am rigorous in my warm up, which I try to be. I have psoriatic arthritis and I know that eventually it will all catch up with me, but I have taken the use it or lose it approach to my joints as I will ultimately be a great candidate for a hip replacement regardless. I have chosen to take the using them up approach to my joints. (A post devoted specifically to my workout as someone with arthritis can be found here.)

Sunrise is a bit later and later each day now.

I began running because I was spending so much time in our tiny apartment sitting in a chair, no longer able to go to the gym, that I realized I needed to do something. Walking (which took too much time and didn’t seem to raise my heart rate at all) quickly gave way to running. Although I like working out, especially lifting weights, I have never aspired to run so this was a strange turn of events, however it solved the cardio problem and also helped address the pandemic pounds I needed to shed.

At first my body resisted this turn of events, but with the help of my trainer I stretched and cajoled it into compliance. I have, over the year, lost close to 40 pounds (most of those put on in the first six months of the pandemic – read some of my baking recipes here and here at your own peril), although I warn anyone entering into this endeavor that it is very easy to feed a workout and gain weight instead of losing it. Losing weight, for me anyway, is tied to a careful (merciless really) counting of calories and thoughtful food choices in conjunction with exercise. Running has also largely eliminated nagging lower back pain I had acquired even before the pandemic from too much sitting, long hours of airplane travel and concert hall seats.

I commented to Kim this morning that running has changed my body in an interesting and far more overall way than I expected. Of course you expect more muscle in your legs, but it has changed my upper body too. Something about my posture and even the way I move is different. Far more than lifting and my former (devoted and beloved) gym routine the total impact is more significant it seems to me.

Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion.

I run slower than most of my morning compatriots and speed just isn’t something I am competitive about, my competition is only with myself and is generally more about distance and consistency. I set myself at a comfortable pace and mostly only alter it to go around folks or if dogs get too inquisitive – in a nippy way. Some days are peppier than others, but regardless I take time to note the denizens of the Esplanade and those of you who follow my Instagram account know that I will take time to snap some photos. (My running adventures are documented more or less daily in my stories here.) I try to take a kindly attitude toward my middle aged body which is, after all, answering my call to this kind of exercise. I remember that it is serving me well and I should not be critical of its efforts on my behalf.

FDR on recent morning run – complete with fire trucks stuck trying to get somewhere.

I used to listen to books but while running I replaced those with music – at least to the degree I can cajole my iPhone to play it while running while still snapping the occasional photo. I tend to like to listen to the same thing over and over, and then switching to something else. Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony accompanied me on many a run, second maybe only to Beethoven’s Seventh. I have wandered through some classical – YoYo Ma playing solo concertos, Moonlight Sonata – popular music of my teen years (think Bruce Springsteen) and most recently Billie Holiday which is a bit of surprise. I usually like something more upbeat. However, I was taking a tour of Autumn in New York this week, hence the name of this post. (A few choice versions can be found on Youtube here, here and here, Sinatra, Holiday and Sarah Vaughn respectively – at least available at the time of writing this.)

Dogs romping and being walked probably deserve their own post. They sometimes take great interest in me – sometimes offense too!

I pass the qi gong and tai chi practitioners, some stationary, others in a sort of walking-moving meditation. Folks are taking boxing lessons (I would like to try this some day, broken fingers notwithstanding), others working out with someone instructing them via their phone, yoga gatherings and a series of trainers who are set up along the river just beyond the park’s environs – Juliet and Darryl are among the trainers who watch me run by everyday, their white boards with contact info and declaring their names. They have stopped offering their cards, but I watch their instruction with some interest daily. The gorgeous view of the river is great for this (and meditation and yoga which is also all around me) and I find the time near the water restorative. I am nicer and kinder in general on the days I run. I often think that if I worked for me I would make sure Pam was out there every day!

On my route there is one camp I always note, set up by a gentleman in a choice spot over the river in a little cul de sac above some sort of Con Ed semi-deserted building. Recently he has added house plants, an interesting framed print and most poignantly a Fischer Price type child’s toy of a house. I don’t see the resident often, although occasionally I see him communing with some sea gulls who seem to know him. He disappeared for awhile and it seemed that someone was packing up the area but he came back and it seems to have rolled back to where it was.

Pigeons congregate in this spot early every morning. They barely move for me and only dogs will make them rise en masse.

Among the permanent residents, Collage Woman is either sleeping or working on gluing things from catalogues into her books. Writing Guy, if he is there, has nodded out on his bench and over his notebook. Then there is a steady stream of people, virtually all men, who I suspect have only recently joined the ranks of the homeless. Often they are using a roller suitcase for their possessions, although sometimes a back pack with frame and a sleep mat. One day I ran behind one very large man using a table leg and a Fresh Direct bag as a bindle. This group fared poorly during the harsh storms and hurricanes that battered us a month or so back (our tales of flooding and leaking can be found here and here), but I worry about all of them as the colder weather approaches. This group seems especially and terrifyingly ill-prepared for it.

The East River Esplanade, running along the river and along with Carl Schurz Park, waking slowly into being our Yorkville town square these days as I wrap an early run at the north end. The morning traffic along the FDR drive runs less scenically along one side of me. As I head up back from 91st Street I look at it and always have a moment being grateful that I am not commuting in one of those cars today.

Beloved and dependable Bagel Bob’s.

I loop back through the park and stretch some more. At this hour we runners and early bird walkers are slowly outnumbered by commuters are lining up for an early ferry, the dog walkers who have multiplied, school kids making their way to their destinations, as well as people heading to work on bikes, motorized scooters and of course walking – this group replacing those of us in work out wear with office attire. In my mind I run through an unconscious rule of thumb which is: vehicles should give way to runners, runners give way to walkers and we all find our way around those who, for various reasons but usually involve dogs, are standing still in the path. Not everyone follows this rule and we try not to be run down by the various newly motorized bikes and scooters, not to mention regular bicycles, sometimes in the hands of a nascent rider. I worry about those because they usually do not sport a helmet either.

The Mansion Diner in full Halloween regalia recently.

I smell the coffee and breakfast sandwiches of those who are parked on the benches, just enjoying the sunrise or communing with their phone. It wakes my empty stomach up with an inquiring growl and I remind tummy that reward in the form of coffee and breakfast awaits us too, but after the run. These days I split my breakfast acquisition between Bagel Bob and The Mansion Diner. Bagel Bob became my pandemic go-to in the neighborhood and a couple of eggs on a whole wheat wrap is my order there. I stand in a line of bagel buyers and folks on their way to work or school. Although it has re-opened its few tables it isn’t really a sit down sort of place. People at Bagel Bob’s are on the go.

Interior of The Mansion Diner.

The Mansion Diner, another neighborhood stronghold, is more of a sit down affair and now offers a broad range of seating both in and out. It is frequented by our local policemen taking a break on the job, but also folks who have the time to savor a proper breakfast, or maybe having take-out like me, or supplying the ongoing delivery business which seems to employ a small army of men. (Who orders breakfast delivery in the morning? I have long wondered about this. Doormen? Is it a version of breakfast in bed for the UES clan?) I wait for my single egg on an English muffin here, listening to a rather consistently fine loop of Frank Sinatra blasting inside (this invariably makes me think of college Sunday brunch) and out while checking my email, or occasionally heading back outside to finish my stretching on neighboring stairs, while my breakfast is being prepared.

Unlike Bagel Bob’s, The Mansion stays open to cater to a dinner crowd, even in these nebulous post-pandemic (can we say we are post I can’t help but wonder?) times. At one time it would have been mostly elderly people and some with young children, but now that we all eat earlier (six o’clock is the new eight o’clock here) and as it is very local it is a broader sampling of the neighborhood.

Ferry recently on an early morning commuter run to Queens.

I am starting to eye warmer socks online, also running caps as my baseball cap will seem insufficient soon. (Yes, the dreaded moths have eaten all my wool hats I ran in last season.) I am giving reflective garb a sideways look too – if for no other reason than when I run at my mom’s house in New Jersey where cars are a bigger issue. (Running there has been documented in a recent post here.) I am somewhat confused by the idea of putting screws in the soles of old sneakers for snow and ice traction. But my cotton baseball shirt will give way to a proper sweatshirt and it will take more willpower to get out the door in the morning. I know autumn will quickly turn to winter here, but I do plan to be out there even on those frosty and snowy mornings.

All Wet: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.

Recent photo of the lighthouse at the north end of Roosevelt Island. While running I was contemplating how the light from this must have reached across the island and even into Gracie Mansion, the home of the Mayor.

I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)

Where I run in the morning along the East River, with the FDR Drive on the other side.

I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.

Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.

We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.

From a recent trip to Sea Bright, New Jersey.

While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)

Sun rising over the bay near Sandy Hook on a ferry trip back to Manhattan last year.

Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.

Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.

Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.

Mom’s current house back on Memorial Day weekend.

Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.

Recent sunrise photo from our apartment in Yorkville.

All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)

Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.

Blackie and Cookie on my home desk area.

Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.

As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.

Sears House advertisement for a cottage approximately like ours.

Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.

As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.

Jersey Jogging

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am pausing in the Pictorama photo post fiesta which will likely resume tomorrow, the reflect a bit on my return to running. I run slower than ever since my fall running on Memorial Day which resulted in two broken fingers. (Posts about my nascent running and the finger crushing fall can be found here and here.) In the heat of summer it is tough going to get back to my former distance. Still, every morning which does not require a breakfast meeting, or it isn’t pouring rain, out I go to give it my best.

I rarely show the westside view of the Esplanade where I run along the FDR, preferring to share the river views which I try to focus on, as below.
Winter view of the Esplanade at about 79th Street.

Running clears my brain better than most things. (Lifting weights can also have this effect, but the hand is definitely still too weak to be trusted much with the free weights in the apartment. I wrote about my studio apartment pandemic workout a few months back and can be read here.) While I used to listen to books while working out at the gym it has developed that it has to be music for running. I have become partial to Beethoven, in particular the 7th Symphony, but I have roamed around a bit too. I love Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello concertos and am very fond of the Moonlight Sonata, but neither runs quite as long as I need and I find myself mid-run looking for the next thing to listen to. As I Jersey girl I will admit that I also have Bruce Springsteen as a fallback – always good if I need a kick in the pants to get me going.

I am also a bit strangely partial to Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony. (As a staffer I would be remiss not to point out that the free download can be found here and a variety of other places on the web.) And in fact I was listening to it when I fell – apologies Wynton, but true. That did not dampen my affection for it however and I still like it very much and have it in rotation. My usual run down by the East River is along the FDR Drive and that means that half of it is quite noisy with commuter traffic. I had a day of trying to listen to Russ Columbo (long-standing Pictorama readers know that I am partial to popular music from the 1920’s and 30’s – this post found here is one of several which touches on that part of my life) while running and alas his voice is too soft to hear. You need a bit of boom to be heard over the morning traffic I am afraid.

Last weekend I made the trip to Jersey to visit my mom. I had last seen her earlier in the fateful Memorial Day weekend when I had been in for a wet, cold concert on that Friday evening – perhaps my exhaustion that morning contributing to my fall. (Arg! That tale can be found here.) The rigors of hand in cast, followed by ever so much ongoing physical therapy have occupied me greatly and made travel a tad harder so this was my first chance to get back there.

Ten second or so of ferry ride under the bridge!

Sunday morning had breakout sun and heat for my ferry trip after a night of heavy rain. Unfortunately a quick front moved in just as we pulled out of the Sandy Hook stop on the ferry, a summer stop only for beach goers. Pulling away from the piles of families we just left on the beach in a very sudden, pouring rain, which then lasted the rest of the day. I thought about those poor stranded folks for the rest of the day as there is virtually no shelter there and the next ferry would be a wait.

On Monday morning I woke early with good intentions and determination to head out for a run, despite the gray morning. I threw on my running togs, layered for some Jersey chill, and said a quick hello to mom and went out the door – and into a new torrent of rain. I regrouped and had a nice coffee with mom, ate a really memorable Jersey peach, and was ultimately rewarded for not eating a full breakfast when the rain cleared around 7:30. Out I went. I queued up Beethoven although it would have been a nice day to nod to Bruce as I was virtually down the street from his home.

Mom’s front yard, soaking wet somehow made the colors dramatic and saturated.

These days my mom lives in a town just a few miles from the one I grew up in. I am familiar with it in a general way, but realized early on that I could easily get lost in the roads walking or running around in the area surrounding her new house. I mapped a route earlier in the spring, but wanted more distance today and so I peeled off toward a grammar school with a playing field I figured I could check out. I always had my phone to get me back to her house after all.

Where the turkey vultures come from?

The morning was still heavy with rain water and the trees, flowers and grass were soaking. I resigned myself to sodden sneakers early on and instantly wished I had thought to pack extra socks. (I have a friend/antique jewelry dealer on IG, Mia aka @therubyfoxes who runs in the British countryside and always shows photos of her mud caked sneakers post-run. I was channeling you Mia!)

Observing the etiquette of the suburbs I greeted the few folks I met along the way with a cheery greeting of Morning! (In Manhattan the most you might have is a nod at someone you encounter frequently, but in all fairness, there are a lot more people here in New York.) I took my chances and followed a road beyond the school up, figuring I could make a big loop without getting hopelessly lost.

The roads around my mom’s house are named for schools. She lives on Oxford and I found myself running along and past Dartmouth, then Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers – a nod to the home team I guess. My sister had a high school boyfriend who lived on one of these streets – I think it was Dartmouth. I was trying to remember and see if any of the houses looked familiar, although many are newly built on the sites of older ones. I may have picked it out, but hard to say.

There are a number of cul de sac dead ends where basketball hoops proliferate and kids clearly command the streets. Several homes sported unmask our kids signs which reminded me that it had always been a community that wore its politics on its sleeve with yard signs favoring political candidates, making statements. Maybe all suburbs are – it is the only suburban community I have ever lived in so I am unsure.

Deer not dog!

I continued on, up toward some additional community playing fields boardering on a heavily wooded area which I believe is responsible in part for the diversity of birds my mom enjoys in her tiny yard – including hawks and, surprisingly, turkey vultures. As I approached the field I saw unleashed dogs playing and was hesitant to run through – however as I got closer I realized they were instead young deer romping. I jogged the perimeter of the field and noted a nice community garden with someone just beginning his work there, along one side.

A stray mailbox and flag on the edge of the woods – didn’t see a house though.

Running on turf as opposed to concrete, as I do here in Manhattan, was a bit heavenly and I couldn’t help thinking that a fall here would likely only result in getting muddy as opposed to broken bones. Meanwhile, don’t think heroic thoughts about how much I was running. It was my usual three miles and still required (several) periods of walking and as there were no inclines to challenge me I can only admit I really just don’t have my wind and stamina back yet.

Tree bursting with apples along the route.

There is something downright edenic about being out in the suburbs though, especially after our long months bound to our apartment and our corner of the city, although I always feel fortunate to have grown up in such a pretty place. These days though even being on the ferry and out on the water, some part of my brain releases and relaxes in a way it doesn’t quite ever do here these days – although my time along the esplanade in the mornings comes close.

My route ended with a loop around the original area I had mapped out. Street names that my friend Suzanne had helped me list during a walk one day as I found an initial route. I checked in on Forrest (my grammar school nearby was Forrestdale), Park and Beekman, easy for a Manhattanite to remember for obvious reasons – touched base near her house on Ridge, and turned tail home where mom and a (not New York) bagel with smoked salmon awaited me.

Busted

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is a Pam post today as I share news of my newly busted left paw. Monday, Memorial Day, I got out of an especially cozy snooze with Blackie curled up on me and a wool blanket to fight off the wet chill that was permeating the apartment. I coaxed myself into running garb after my usual half a nectarine, some green smoothie and some cold coffee.

I always run slowly (I have written about that here and here) and I was extra pokey on Monday, tired from the weekend of travel. I had taken a short break at the top of an incline ramp and started running again when my sneaker caught in a cobblestone-hexpaver and I went down, hard. I tried to regain my balance, staggered and fell on my left side with my hands breaking my fall.

A few feet from where I fell, taken earlier in May.

I sat there for a moment clearing my head and assessing the damage. Knee hurt but not too badly, left hand hurt more and fingers were swelling. A nice man (who ironically was wearing a Hospital for Special Surgery Orthopedic fleece) who had been walking with his wife (I as assume) and a child in a stroller approached me. He had put his N95 mask on. He asked if I was alright (was I?) and kindly offered to help me up.

I put my now damp mask on and gladly accepted a hand up. He made sure I could walk okay before continuing on. The knee seemed functional, but the hand throbbing and well, slightly crooked. I considered calling Kim to come help me home (I was just blocks away), but decided that since my legs were willing it was better to get home quickly and assess the situation from there. So I ran, very slowly, the remainder of the way home.

I knew that I had to head over to the Urgent Care walk-in medical facility on 86th Street as soon as possible so I wiggled out of my sweatshirt and leggings and had the foresight to pull on a tank top (easy on and off) and loose sweats – which have become my uniform now, one arm in a hoodie sleeve. I had no appetite, but ate a piece of toast because I figured it could be a long adventure. I did my best to gently wash my scraped up hands.

Our local urgent care – beloved despite being the MacDonalds of medical care.

This facility on 86th Street has knitted itself into the ongoing fabric of our lives. While I was skeptical of it at first I am something of a convert. As it happens, I was just there weeks ago for a Covid test before visiting my mom. While there on that occasion they introduced me to another Covid-testing patient, Patti Butler, who is the same age as me – a sister from another mister indeed. The fact that we where there at the same time caused the staff some confusion and after straightening it out they made introductions. Patti is a singer and has performed in our hall and we hit it off and have remained in touch.

This facility was where we started our journey when Kim had a problem with his gut which lead to the ER and surgery. (I was in a cast from foot surgery at the time – delightful.) It has seen us through food poisoning (Kim again) and post-op foot issues (me) and it is comforting to know it is there – an option before the ER and easier, with better hours than your doc. Having said that, it is a place utterly devoid of character or warmth. The fast food version of medical care. During the holidays testing lines went around the block.

Lucky for me they saw me quickly on Monday. A young man took my info at a computer in one of the rooms. I complimented on his natty rainbow clogs and black medical gloves (very super hero I told him) and we chatted until a doc came, told me the swelling was sort of crazy in my hand. After an x-ray she told me I had two broken and dislocated fingers and that with the swelling I could not wait, but had to get to the ER and see a surgeon immediately.

Cast one of three, the Urgent Care version.

By now I was cold and sore all over. I went home, brought Kim up to speed, packed a book and a charger for my phone and shuffled into a cab. A temporary splint held everything in place which helped the pain and also assured the cabby that I wasn’t bleeding in his backseat. Post pandemic the ranks of cabs have thinned significantly here. I have not yet returned to Uber however, in part in sympathy with the yellow cabs.

At Lenox Hill hospital they admitted and wrist banded me up quickly and then put me in the smallest imaginable space with a closed door (I assume this is a Covid thing), where I sat and read one of my beloved Camp Fire Girls books (a few of those entries are here and here) for about an hour, which was a good distraction.

A visit with a sporty young hand surgeon, Tansar Mir, lead to to more x-rays and the extremely and memorable relocation of the fingers. I will spare you. I was re-wrapped in this puffy dressing, forbidden to remove it or get it wet and bidden to see him in four days.

When I finally got home and started to clean up I realized I had smacked my chin too (no memory of that) and a large black and blue egg had risen on my chin. The hazards of wearing a mask in the ER – none of us saw it!

Park Avenue waiting room of Dr. Mir. Beats the ER.

Dr. Mir’s card announces that he is a doctor of plastic and reconstructive surgery. I showed up in his rather swell Park Avenue digs yesterday and the folks waiting were definitely more cosmetic than hand injury. (I later saw a fellow hand injured fellow on the way out.) When asked he told me that surgeons can either be cosmetic or orthopedic. Go figure. I will be seeing a fair amount of the good doc and his merry band of PT folks (they are in a storefront on 87th I have walked past hundreds of times) in the coming weeks and months. We never know where life is going to lead us.

Meanwhile, Kim has stepped up as always and is learning how to pull my hair back in a ponytail, tie my sneakers, cook fish fillets and generally open all containers – just for starters. It is not the first time I have had reason to reflect on the blessing of having him as my mate, but I do. I type this with one hand, hunting and pecking at a reasonable clip. (Siri or Alexa or whoever lives in my phone taunts me with offers of help, but can never seem to find what I am looking for or to actually be useful.) I am grateful for other things including, but not limited to, it being my non-dominant hand (I’m a righty), I didn’t break my wrists or my teeth.

The splint, version 3, affixed yesterday. Potential for the use of three more digits.

As for me, I am taking it as a (pointed) reminder from the universe to slow down and off-load some of what I am shouldering. Fifteen months of trying to keep things afloat at work while dealing, like all of us, with the events of the world, has taken a toll. While I thought running was my solution to this, it is clearly taking me down a whole different path now.

Treading Gently

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It seems safe to say spring is finally on the rise here in NYC and this month marks six months in my experiment with running so I thought I might give a bit of an update today. February threw down some serious snow which brought me to a complete halt for awhile, however after several weeks in captivity I forced myself to head back out (with some trepidation) to see how much ground I had lost. Much to my amazement I pretty much picked back up where I left off.

For those of you who missed my earlier post (it can be found here) I started jogging because otherwise during our long pandemic period, I found myself not moving from my home desk (Deitch Studio is also a studio apartment and our single room leaves little room even for pacing), and watching as many hours melted rapidly into days. I don’t have much time and I wasn’t able to get much walking done in the hour or so I can devote to it so in a bid for efficiency I began running.

I came to exercise late in life, but pre-pandemic was a happy gym rat, cramming it into early mornings, evenings and weekends. (I have written generally about my workout and that post can be found here.) However, I have always been a reluctant runner. I dislike treadmills (I don’t really imagine that will have changed when I get back to them) and running was sort of a final frontier of exercise I had not embraced.

Dramatic signs that spring is unfurling earlier this week.

My mother ran and was in fact a high school track and field star whose records there were only broken decades later. (I believe it was the long jump she excelled at.) She ran for a brief period when I was a kid, but she had largely given it up as an adult. My sister, Loren, ran. Loren was a bundle of hyper energy that needed to be released daily in large dollops or she was impossible to live with. Therefore it wasn’t unusual for her to run and bike, swim or play tennis together in combinations daily. She ran cross country, was on the track team in high school and generally distinguished herself as she did in most things. (Loren’s college rugby career in is mentioned in a post here.)

It can only be said that I did not inherit my mother’s genes in this area and it must be my more sedentary father I take after. I frankly cannot imagine my father running – it isn’t an image I can conjure if I did indeed ever witnessed it. He was a tall man, 6’5″ and skinny in his youth, but he filled out as an adult, muscled from his work carrying camera equipment for his job daily. Still, other than a daily work out of reluctant stretches for a bad back, executed on the floor of the bedroom, there are no memories of dad and exercise.

Frankly, I run badly and I am relieved that it is very unlikely I will actually ever see myself run. I run slowly – there may be people who walk faster than I jog. My strides are short and plodding. I seem to be a different animal than many of the folks around me, boasting their shirts from the marathons they have run, bouncing, gliding and zooming along. Young, old, women and men of all ages generally make a better job of it. It is only thanks to my long time trainer, Harris Cowan (@livestrongernyc) that I have managed to ease my unwilling body into running.

Area I start my warm up in each time. Often there are others working out, walking dogs or on their phones. These trees have been late breaking into bloom.

However, doing something with determination even if badly, is a good foil for the narrowness of our current cooped up state I think. I remind myself to be grateful to my body for what does achieve, not critical for its failure to do it better. It’s been good to put myself up against something hard that is concrete and which can be chipped away at. Running makes me use another part of my brain and gives a rest to the thorny problems of work and what needs to be done, or what has risen to the top of my agenda for fretting. Releasing the problems for a time allows me to better work through them later I think.

Strangely and unexpectedly I have started listening to classical music, largely orchestral, while running. I run along the east side esplanade, along the water (my brother Edward reminded me in my prior post that our East River is actually an estuary) which tends to be glorious with the sun rising over it in the early mornings. I will never tire of the various moods of the water – choppy with current one day and still the next. It reminds me of the river which was always in our backyard growing up.

View of Roosevelt Island with water sparkling during a run earlier this week.

However, not to be too romantic about it, on the other side of me each day is the FDR drive and a noisy endless bevy of cars, fighting their way to their early morning destinations. Therefore, it is not the glorious sounds of nature I would enjoy if I wasn’t plugged into my phone. Audio books were always my go to when exercising and I have listened to some wonderful things. Yet I was finding increasingly that they weren’t right for running, distracting but not in a good way.

The park during a more wintery run.

I switched to a music mix I had used occasionally for workouts which ran I admit with some embarrassment heavily to Bruce Springsteen (can’t take the Jersey out of the girl I guess) which did the job but was a bit repetitive. However, one day it started with a curiosity about Beethoven’s 7th symphony and the feeling I had never really listened to it. I downloaded it and decided I would listen to it while running – which I did many times over several weeks. After that I wandered over to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which has long been a favorite, but I hadn’t heard in a long time. I welcomed spring with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. (Admittedly, I have pretty routine taste and I suppose if I want another challenge I could actually start learning about classical music.)

A fairly calm morning on the FDR.

I listened to a Beethoven violin concerto and realized that after years of it making me sad after my sister died, more than a decade later now I love listening to the violin. Staying with Beethoven I was listening to a piano concerto yesterday and realized I have rarely listened to much piano at all and what an amazing instrument – one-stop shopping for a full orchestra in a single instrument. The education of my ear which I had been receiving with live music via jazz on the job in recent years, has taken a turn with classical music.

The long incline at about 80th Street on a cold morning.

My experiment with running began with a combination of walking and running. Running as long as I could, followed by periods of walking which became shorter over time. I achieved a milestone the other day and did virtually the full run without a break. (There is a steep incline at a land bridge which I have yet to tackle at even a slow run.) I had dragged myself out that day which it turned out was a gentle spring morning not to be missed and was rewarded. For those who have followed my running via my IG stories, I am taking fewer photos now that I am walking less!

Little guy found a cache of nuts and was happily porking down the other morning while I stretched at the end of my workout the other day.

Frankly most mornings it is still sheer will that gets me into my sweats and out the door. (I wrote last time that I was doing the post simply to keep me from quitting the whole venture.) It is hard and drinking coffee at my desk or even lifting weights in the comfort of the apartment is more appealing. However, once I am out it is good for me and I am seeing spring unfold in the park where I start and end my jaunts. Earlier this week a hawk swooped right past me at eye level while I warmed up with a few moving stretches pre-run. (He was a big fella and I was glad not to be a small mammal or bird. Yikes!) Plants are beginning their persistent and riotous emergence and squirrels and birds are suddenly everywhere, feasting and frolicking. When I look back on this time I think it will be these mornings I remember best.

Running Slowly

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am starting this post about six weeks into my jogging experiment. I have never run. Until my mid-forties I had never worked out in a gym either, but I became addicted to weight lifting and my time at the gym is one of the things I miss most in these pandemic times, although I lift at home now with an ever-growing pile of hand weights. (A previous post on my quarantine time work out, can be found here.) However, I have never enjoyed, only endured, cardio – stuffing a good audio book in my ears and taking my medicine, working my way up to 20-30 minutes of increasingly difficult cardio on an elliptical machine over time like medicine. It seems to me that although when left to its own devices, my breathing is just fine, but once I start to fuss with it – be it to meditate or exert – it becomes resentful and turns recalcitrant.

While I continued to lift weights and work out with my trainer (shout out to Harris Cowan @livestrongernyc) via Facetime and Zoom throughout the pandemic, the first quarantine foray of walking to my office in Columbus Circle from 86th Street and York Avenue made it very clear that I had lost both my wind and my strength – albeit a long walk, one I used to do it without thinking.

Walking has always been my strong suit and life in New York City usually provides for enough unscheduled walking in our daily lives that I have never had to think about it, but now long workdays in our studio apartment often resulted in my not leaving my desk (sometimes it has seemed my chair!) for 12 hour stints. No trips across Columbus Circle to the hall or even a few blocks down for a lunch hour errand or to pick up food. Evidently stretching and lifting (and the occasional trip up sixteen flights of stairs) quite simply were not cutting it. Regretfully and doubtfully, I began a program of walking, just as it started to turn cold of course.

An impressive congregation of pigeons seen on one of my first ventures. They are there each morning and own that portion of the esplanade.

I have nothing against walking, in fact I have always been fond of it and have also enjoyed hiking when it was available to me, but it wasn’t really raising my heart rate which was one of the primary goals and sufficient distance to make a difference was just taking too much time, my work out time being constricted by my work hours. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was no reasonable solution, but to pick up the pace and see if I could jog a bit.

However, another issue that has long prevented me from impact exercise is that I have a form of arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, that impacts both my large and my small joints. (Lady Gaga is the most famous person I know of who has this disease, diagnosed about the same age as I was, early 20’s. There was also The Singing Detective who was fictional and the doppelganger of his creator Dennis Potter who alarmingly actually died from it.)

Since my diagnosis, now decades ago, I have taken an increasingly large number of pills which generally keep things going mostly unimpeded, but I have always been a bit ginger and thoughtful about introducing new exercise. A Pilates class taken without supervision or hopping on a new machine at the gym without proper guidance has landed me in stew of inflamed and swollen joints for days. My hands will sometimes even rebel and swell against weights lifted improperly or gripped too enthusiastically. I sometimes wonder how it compares to the soreness of anyone trying something new, but of course as we are trapped in our own bodies it is hard to guess or know. I have been warned that running will speed the need for joints that want replacing or repair.

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not stubborn and one morning in late October I started the process of jogging. I had read up about it and done some HIIT (high intensity interval training) to know that I could start by alternating between running and walking. At first I ran about a block for another two or three walked. Surprisingly my wind picked up first, within the first weeks, and my body memory for that kicked in better than I would have expected. Unfortunately my legs, my hips, knees and feet (okay, everything below my waist) have balked mightily at the experiment.

Instagram followers already had a chuckle with me over my discovery of mismatched sneakers when I went to stretch the other day – early mornings! I have already been pestering those IG folks with my outdoor work out all along! A thank you to them for helping to keep me honest.

Simultaneously and for better or worse, I figured I might as well resume some of my former workout our one room is too intimate for and so I added into these sessions with bands around my legs, deep squats, and lunges – I hop up from park benches and step up onto deserted pallets along the river’s edge or stone steps at the entrance to the park, turning it into an hour or more for the full regime. Before you start to think this is really admirable let me assure you that getting myself away from my toasty warm morning desk routine dosed with copious coffee and instead out into the park in the cold has been a sheer test of will. I deeply suspect that I am writing this so I will be ashamed to stop once I have told you all about it.

I also have no doubt that (and assuming anyone cares, although I am pretty sure these days they don’t) I look like an absolute fool – an overweight middle aged woman, in brightly printed leggings (I’ve always had a weakness for bright workout clothes) showing every inch I need to lose before we resume our post-pandemic lives, and a top layer piled on for warm. However, that is of course the beauty of the now time rather than the before time – everyone in that park is there for their own kind of escape. People reading, smoking, on their phones, staring off into space – a few young couples canoodling, but not so often early in the morning. I often think there are probably all sorts of life’s dramas unfolding, secretly around me there each day.

Carl Schurz Park on New Year’s Day morning.

And of course, there are other people working out. There is a group that boxes and I must say that looks like great fun and is sort of tempting to try one day. (Yes, my aforementioned arthritic hands balk at the idea.) A variety of trainers have taken to the park, with its benches, fences and even some handy scaffolding along the waterfront to train individuals. Groups gather in the basketball court for a work out to blaring music. As I say, these days everyone is there to do their own thing and no one is giving me a second look – except dogs fascinated by my workout with the band (not sure why but they want to investigate) and the occasional trainer sizing me up to see if they can add me to their roster. Luckily for me I am not deeply troubled by embarrassing myself in public in this particular way anyway.

Like going to a gym, familiar faces and characters emerge to populate the ongoing drama of the park. In addition to the boxers and the trainers there is the elderly woman volunteer who picks up garbage each day and makes sure the storm drains are clear of garbage and leaves, the other nascent runners, an elderly woman in a down jacket who I always think is looking at me like I’m nuts. (Masks mean that normal cordial attempts to smile at someone is impossible so unless one wants to shout a hearty greeting – which I’ve started doing to the volunteer – we all largely pass without acknowledgment.)

As to the running, we should call it jogging really, it has been a slog. I reached a pinnacle of pain about two weeks ago and thought I would have to stop. However, I reduced the number of days I do the outdoor workout (now generally 3) rotating with the other days to do my indoor regime of lifting and apartment friendly exercise, or off to rest muscles. With the advice of my trainer (yay Harris!) I added more stretching on the front end (roller on the most offended leg muscles and joints before I leave the house), have pushed the non-running portion of my workout to the beginning to give myself a maximum warm up and have reduced some of that as well – step ups are on hold for awhile, and my post-workout stretching is more fulsome. It is not perfect, but it seems to be working well enough to keep me in the game.

I now jog with only short a few short periods of walking. I look on with frank envy at people of all ages and both sexes who appear to do this so much better than me, appearing effortless as they pass me by. However, I am determined to continue to just push that bit further each time – setting a new goal by at least mere yards beyond where I thought I could go. I tell myself that I should not criticize my body for what it is not doing well, but to be grateful for what it is able to accomplish. Patience and kindness works better and will be part of the ongoing lesson. No, I have not reached the fabled endorphin producing stage – I’ll let you know about that. Meanwhile, I have switched from listening to books to music that encourages swifter movement, as does the morning chill. I am always warm when I finish.

A jolly tug that could be out of a children’s book.

One unexpected pleasure has been seeing the East River in all its moods. As Pictorama readers know, I grew up on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey and while the East River is technically visible from our apartment, I have been largely removed from the nuanced shifts in it. Now I am always surprised by the strength of the current and some days small, curled waves are even lapping at the bulkhead along the path. On stormy or very windy days it threatens to overtake the esplanade, gurgling up from storm drains below, which I know from experience it does, ultimately flooding the adjoining FDR drive. It brings my childhood watching of the water and the way it was a part of daily life back to me though. The river is home to a surprising amount of boat traffic, largely tugs, freighters and ferries this time of the year – some creating a ferocious wake in their path.

I try to remember, as I grumble and leave the toasty warm apartment, that I am generally happy to be outside once I get there and always feel better for having done the workout than not; that and a daily dollop of determination get me out the door more often than not. Busy workdays might mean only a part of the workout gets accomplished, but better some than none I remind myself and I try not to engage in work email or texts while on my breaks between sets.

I have recently adopted an oversized sweatshirt from my alma mater (Connecticut College – go Camels) the first I have ever owned. Seemed to me though that the college might as well get my money as anyone else and if I am to have some logo emblazoned on me, further adding to the ridiculousness of my appearance, why not at least one legitimately own. I commend the sweatshirt for being roomy and warm and exactly what was wanted, logo not withstanding.

Outside the Big Dog Run in Carl Schurz Park.

The sun rising over the park and the water, the various guises of the clouds and water, have an allure – even when they turn dark and threatening. I would say I am at least well on my way to walking to Columbus Circle unimpeded when the time comes. I can honestly say I do not know how far my ambition and grit will take me. I guess it is a New Year’s resolution come early and we’ll see if I can stick with it through the coldest, and then ultimately the hottest, days of the New Year ahead.

Early morning walk to the park in November, sun rising over the East River.