I went to Texas to visit my friend Kim and take in South by Southwest in Austin. But I wasn’t staying in hip, trendy Austin. I was staying with Kim thirty minutes away in San Marcos, home to The Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum. I liked staying in San Marcos. It was easy to get around by foot or car, Texas State University is a pretty campus along the San Marcos River and there were delightful shops selling cheap Mexican pastries and burritos. Most of all, I was relieved to be away from the crowds of “south by.” My stay in San Marcos meant Kim and I indulged in surrounding barbecue country and visited south by in the day and came home to quiet at night. It also meant that I woke up in that quiet town each morning and went for a run.
Those morning runs weren’t particularly ambitious: I didn’t have any navigation devices so I took it slow to be sure I didn’t get lost. I also just couldn’t seem to get past the Texas heat. On each run I contemplated what the weather reminded me of. There was a bit of desert feel like in Arizona but also something different and dewy. I ran by a willow tree dipping into the dirt with exhaustion. I’d never been to the bayou, but I imagined it was something like that willow tree. Just beside that willow tree something happened to me that in my 20 years of running had never happened before: I got cat-called.
When I heard the yelps from the road I turned to see what they were about. In a big white truck were a couple of guys whooping and cheering. It took me a moment to process that these two individuals were, number one, yelling at me and, number two, somehow thought it was ok to yell at a runner. My reaction was less about being a female and feeling violated and more about being alarmed and frightened as a runner.
In some ways running is a very simple thing: you put on the right shoes, pick the right songs and just get into it. But there’s also something bold and declarative about the act. You’re saying: hey, world, I’m out here, on my own, moving quickly. Things maybe be juggling and jostling around and you might think my stride is strange but I’m still here. When I run I have the perspective of an omniscient narrator. I see the trees, hear the music, and feel the dirt as my senses bring stimuli into my world. I never felt, until that moment, that I was in someone else’s world.
When we run we have to slip into the world in a new way. We have to be aware and protective of ourselves. We have to understand that someone’s reaction to us may be more about them and less about us. Who knows why those guys shouted out at me. It was rude, jarring, and thought-provoking. It is also why I continue to seek out running and travelling: wondrous things happen all the time.