This is a quick story about election night but don’t worry, it’s about running not politics. At around eleven, after wrenching myself away from my phone, computer, and TV screens, I suited up and went for run. I needed to work off some stress.
As I ran, the first thing I noticed was the crowd of smokers outside the bar on the corner. I edged around them but half a block away, I came up on a couple of dudes passing a joint back and forth. I don’t know what grossed me out more, puffing through the cloud of tobacco smoke or the haze of pot.
Little did I know that on my 3-mile jog I would have many chances to decide, since it seemed like every other block in my Williamsburg neighborhood featured a cluster of cigarette smokers outside a bar or somebody sneaking a joint. And something about the weather conditions was keeping all the smoke at sidewalk level, drifting widely rather than clearing away. It was one of those nights you could whiff a smoker a block away.
The smoke reminded me of a recent Insta post by Samantha Gash, who’s just completed her charity run across India. She encountered terrible air-quality issues on some days, issues that Indians live with every day.
All that smoke . . . just like all the noxious election-related smoke that had been blown around for so many months by the media outlets to which I’d become so addicted. Like Big Tobacco, they knew just how to feed my need.
But of course the smoke was also the just plain smoke from burning leaves wrapped in paper and nothing metaphoric, puffy clouds of evidence of all my neighbors–whatever their politics–self-medicating with nicotine and THC. As I ran through their puffing parties, breathing in their airborne particulates, I saw the glazed eyes and slack faces of the comfortably numb.
Running usually helps me empty my mind and loosen my lungs. Tonight it only reminded me, over and over again, of all the smoke, real and symbolic, I let myself inhale in my own life, smoke that hurts me in ways I need to wrestle with. But in the end I was zipping through the nearby park, dashing along empty walkways, no smokers anywhere, running free and clear.