Friday, October 23, 2009

Off Track

I first moved to Connecticut from North Carolina in the summer of 2000. Since I used to run for exercise (before my knees protested too loudly), I found a track to continue the practice. The track at Pequonnock Plains Park in Groton is a half-mile lap with a large open field in the middle, kept alive all year with organized soccer, lacrosse and football games and random Frisbee throwers, touch footballers, personal trainers, dog walkers and kite fliers in between the games. A restroom is open during the warmer months and a play scape was added this past year. The town does a wonderful job of maintaining the park.

I have used the track on a fairly regular basis during the warmer months to run and now walk. During these 9 years, I have observed the other "regulars" who frequent the track. Some no longer walk there, but have left their images in my memory.

I have a tendency to assign names to those whose names I don't know, particularly if they have a distinctive look. For instance, when I first started going to the track, there was a large man with his head shaved bald who lived near the park. He walked his Shitzu and talked to everyone. When his garden grew, he gave me tomatoes. I assigned him the name of Mr. Clean Shitzu. I actually asked him his name at one point, but only remember the moniker I gave him.

There were also couples who stood out. An older couple who dressed with frumpy hats and always walked around the track in the opposite direction of everyone else. The unwritten rule is to walk counter-clockwise, but the Wrong Way Wootens went their own way, forcing you to acknowledge them every time you passed on the track. Another couple was two very large and rotund men. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. They almost looked like brothers with very similar builds, easily over 300 pounds each. They were very friendly to any other walkers but after a while I started to wonder about them. You know what I mean. Were they friends or domestic partners? I was passing them one day while they were walking and talking to a woman and I realized I wasn't the only one with that question. I overheard them laughing and explaining to the woman that no, they were both married, one had 3 children, etc. Funny how we rarely question two women who walk together, but the men are regarded differently.

Most of the people are walkers, some are runners. Then there are the Stroller Derby Moms. Sometimes it's just a group of friends who chat happily while walking with their babies in strollers. Occasionally I see the paid personal trainer stroller derby leader with her jogging stroller and the determined mothers gamely trying to keep up with the super mom ideal of looking like they've never given birth. They nearly run me over with their over sized wheels and long strides, almost mocking me to try to keep up. Some of these new mothers with their flat stomachs and firm bodies just make me want to.....well, I'm jealous, what can I say? I'm still trying to get rid of my baby fat too, but my baby is 14-years-old so the excuse has faded.

Then there are the others, the stroke survivors who can take a full hour to make one lap and I feel guilty for passing them so many times while they face more struggles than I could imagine. I wonder if they watch the others pass by and resent us for having our health in the same way that I resent the fit new moms. Back to earth.

Like I mentioned before, the town does a wonderful job of keeping the park in good shape. There's a regular employee who makes the rounds of the bathrooms and the trash, a tall slender man I've named Jerry Captooth. He just looks like a Jerry to me and the fake teeth really stand out when he smiles. They resurface the track and treat the field in-between sports to get it ready for the sport of the season with lawn fertilizer, white lines and goal posts or nets.

One such time a large piece of machinery that looked like major farm equipment was slowly going back and forth across the field. It had arms extended on either side that appeared to be plugging the soil with holes or fertilizer or something beneficial. This machine was intimidating to me, but apparently not to everyone. As I walked the track, a stray yellow lab mix wandered across the field in front of me. This was the first (and last) time I've ever seen a loose dog at the park with no owner in sight. As I watched, the monstrous machine slowly made its way over. It was large and loud. At the same time time, the dog trotted up and squatted in the path of the machine to poop. About 6 feet away from the dog was a sign which read "Keep off the grass." The dog was totally oblivious to the sign and the oncoming machine, taking his time to make sure he was completely relieved. I looked at the driver of the machine who threw up his arms in frustration, yelling, "Come ON!" Just as the machine closed in on the pooping pooch, he finished his business and trotted off, never even looking at the monstrous machine headed toward his pile of fresh excrement. This would've been a perfect Kodak moment.

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