From House to Home (7/8)

Part Seven – White Girl Running. Mostly from Myself.

I loved running through my neighborhood. The trees provided a nice umbrella to shield me from the blazing sun, the vistas were pretty; and I felt safe without my mace.

Until that one fateful day…

I was forced to take my runs early because by eight am, the heat was already too oppressive to breathe. So I awoke at six am one muggy June morning, laced up my running shoes, hit play on my Jay-Z Pandora mix; and I was off.

I started down a peaceful, winding street that meandered past stately homes with beautiful gardens behind imposing gates. The sun was streaming through the trees and the birds were singing. I breathed in the morning air as I proceeded at a steady pace around the bend.

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I was half way through the run when I saw in the near distance, a man walking toward me. This alone was not alarming. Our neighborhood is full of runners, walkers, and cyclists. But this particular man immediately stood out to me.

First off, he was easily in his mid-twenties. No men between the ages of eighteen and thirty five live in the OP.

Secondly, he was dressed very oddly, like no one who resided in Olmos Park. Instead of the standard plaid button-up collared shirt, khaki shorts, flip flops, and visor hat with a pair of Oakleys on top, he was dressed in long khaki pants, bright white sneakers, a black t-shirt with some sort of graffiti logo on front,  and a black trucker hat placed on his head very low, where just the slits of his eyes showed. His shaggy bleached blond hair hung messily out of the bottom of his hat. His skin was very pale, like a vampire. He had a very sinister overall appearance.

I had recently completed a mass shooter safety course at the museum. The officer who presented the lecture outlined a long list of suspicious behaviors to look for. I had listened intently and took notes.

One warning sign included being dressed or behaving in a way that is “out of place or context“. For example, a man wearing a parka jacket in the summer is probably concealing weapons.

 As I got closer, the guy’s behavior became more concerning. He was making his way down the street, and as he did so, he sporatically shuffled his feet and did what I can only describe as a little break dancing.

Oddly dressed. Check.

Behaving in a way that was out of place. Check.

As I continued to run past him, the man in question turned his head and looked at me. He gave what I can only describe as a little snarl. His menacing eyes followed me until I was past his line of vision. I took off full-speed ahead.

I made a sharp left down the next street and calculated the distance up to the nearest front door in case I needed help. I looked back, convinced he was on my heels. I accelerated up the hill, then down the hill to the Dodgey End, finally arriving two minutes later safely at my front door.

As I fumbled for the keys, totally out of breath, I couldn’t help but think to myself how that was my fastest time yet; and I should probably push myself a little harder on my next runs.

As I burst through the front door, I told my husband to call the police. There was a suspicious man in the neighborhood who had threatened me.

My husband, always levelheaded and patient, did not seem too alarmed. His complacency only enraged me further. I repeated that I had been nearly assaulted on my run. I explained the strange man’s presence in our neighborhood and how I had felt threatened; and I didn’t need to be threatened on a run through my own neighborhood. I didn’t want to start any trouble, but the OPP (Olmos Park Police) needed to be made aware of this transient.

My husband calmly began to tell me the story of a mathematician who lived in his old neighborhood in Palo Alto. He was a genius who would walk the streets day and night working out mathematic formulas in his head. He didn’t talk to or look at anyone. Although a bit strange, he was harmless. He told me to give people space and let them be.

I was furious. I told him he didn’t stick up for me and never had my back. I could feel myself having a total Girl Moment but I didn’t care.

He laughed and said not to worry; he would get his Luger pistol and go confront the alleged assailant. Then he sat down with his cup of coffee. He could be so European sometimes.

That should have been the end of the entire situation; and if I had any dignity, I would just leave it at that. But since dignity is seldom the driving force in my decision making, here we go…

I later learned from Officer Salinas that the man in question was in fact, an exchange student from the Netherlands visiting for the summer. This explained his hipster appearance and pale skin. He had not yet adjusted to the time change, so he would wake up early and  go for walks, playing music and practicing his discotheque moves down the streets.

I couldn’t believe it. When did they start allowing people from the Netherlands in?

I kid. I kid.

I actually couldn’t believe that I had come to this! When did I become so damn paranoid? I used to run by myself through the streets of downtown Austin and Chicago in my twenties, completely calm and in control. I ran through the redwood forests in California alone, always aware, but self-assured.

I never thought twice about men staring at me or cat calling, it just came with the territory. I dodged homeless men on the sidewalks, brushing off their crude comments and going along my merry way.

I was so disappointed in myself. I felt ignorant and old.

This was it. I knew more than ever it was time to get the hell out of my glass bubble and back to the land of gritty living with all of its weirdos.

And if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would have jogged past the vampire, flashed him my flirtiest smile, and thanked the good Lord that a twenty-something year old still found that I was worth a second glance.

It also got me to thinking about place and context. I have found more often than not, that I place absorbs you, rather than the other way around.

It is most glaring when you visit smaller towns or communities. There, people seem to all dress the same, look the same, eat the same food, talk the same way, and even believe the same things.

As I found myself in different cities, I would often acclimate myself by adopting the local style of dress and behaviors.

I went from wearing bright, colorful clothes, with high heels, and flashy jewelry in Dallas, to a more subdued, practical, and understated attire In Chicago. When in Munich, I tried to blend in with a cool, edgy Euro vibe. Austin brought out the casual hipster in me, and San Francisco inspired a sleek, modern, all black uniform with a trench coat and knee high boots.

Things that seem out of place in one spot, are perfectly normal in another. It’s about perspective and context. 

Friends visiting San Francisco from Texas were shocked and dismayed by the huge homeless populations in the city that had become to me, just another part of the cityscape. You accepted their presence and maneuvered around them as best you could.

On the other hand, visitors in San Antonio from California were shocked and horrified by a gun demonstration that took place outside of the Alamo during my wedding party. They were in complete disbelief that adults would wave guns in the air with children on their shoulders.

We are all master chameleons, shifting our style, demeanor, and language to blend in with those around us. We absorb and mimic our environments, most of the time unconsciously.

This is not entirely a bad thing. It can fun and exciting to discover new styles of clothes, music and cultural idiosyncrasies to incorporate into our own unique persona.

It’s about adopting the things that appeal to you most about a place, and accepting the  things that may seem different from you.

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