The Code

25870657461_8490430f96_zAs their AmTrak train arrived in New York City, the screeching sounds of brakes grinding to a stop gave way to a sense that something special was about to unfold.  Doris and Lois, dragged their carefully packed bags, backpacks actually, that were only easy to carry during the departure from Baltimore.  Somehow, during the train ride these bags transformed into cement blocks, becoming heavier and wider, and any plans to walk the distance from mid-town to Battery Park seemed less likely.  It was New York City at 9AM and the hum of the city, the tall buildings that on some blocks shut down the sky, had that unique smell of humanity that the shop owners did their best to hose back onto the streets, for a city that claimed to never sleep.

The three-hour train ride, one early Saturday to New York, and the final trip returning to Baltimore, the next day, Sunday night, would mark the beginning and the end of a girls’ weekend in New York City.  And then there was the projected snowfall, on Sunday morning, the first day of spring no less that would do it’s best to put a damper on what would be the first half marathon running event of the year.  Snowfall projected anywhere from 5 to 10 inches, would fall just as the run got underway, and there was no knowing, until the very last moment if the forecast would be correct.

25965680345_f7572a4d1c_z.jpgThe focal point of the trip, to run 13.1 miles in Manhattan couldn’t have better timing, save for the weather.  Lois was one week away from having her broken wrist repaired, or re-broken so that it would correctly heal after a mishap when she and another bicyclist collided nine months earlier.  It would be her last official run for at least three months as the doctors had recommended though it was likely Lois would heed little of their advice. Doris — in the midst of writing her first novel — saw an opportunity for new research, field work for her next book, a series of short stories about mannequins who come to life giving their own interpretations of tourists, fashions, of street people – mannequins who have a voice in New York.

Front Row at the Coffee Shop:  Research showed that the “best bagels” in Manhattan could be found less than one block from Penn Station, so with bags in tow, Doris and Lois made way to 35th street – for a place appropriately named “Best bagels”.  With two fresh toasted bagels, and no place to sit and eat, the next stop was to find a coffee shop and in NYC, and that is never a problem.  If you are a Starbucks fan, you are in luck with one or more Starbucks located on every corner.  Only a few steps away from the best bagels was a Starbucks, and with Lois’s broken wrist, Doris offered to place the order while Lois selected the seating.  And, Lois opted for much more than simply ‘seating’.

She selected front row entertainment, where an animated middle-aged man unleashed his diatribe about how his life has been wronged, along with a society that has failed him to an elderly woman who somehow managed to walk the fine line of staying engaged and disengaged.   She said not a word, looked the man in the eye as if she was tracking with him on his 30-minute stream of consciousness rant, until the man, not her, had enough and left the coffee shop.   Free of the man’s verbal spew, she returned her gaze to her friend, another elderly woman, picking up their own conversation where it had been cut short.  It was a fine show, and Lois had done well in finding them a learning experience on  coffee shop detente.

Packets… It was time to move on to picking up the runner bibs and packets, at an event called “The Experience”, and Doris wondered if this could top the experience inside of the Starbucks.   The next ‘experience’ was already unfolding during a 17 block walk with heavy cement bags, several stops to take pictures of mannequins, and other stops to assess if there was an easier way to move the heavy bags.  By the time they reached 18th Street, their arms and backs were so tired from the weight of the bags, that the ‘experience’ of the packet pickup, typically designed to encourage shopping for new running clothing, was nicely curtailed by the thought that anything purchased would need to be carried.  They exited the official ‘Experience’, purchasing only one winter item each that could be worn, and decided it was time to break down and hail a cab.

Hailing a NYC Cab… As Doris and Lois stood on 7th Avenue, dozens of yellow taxis raced past.  Most of them empty – no passengers.

“I wonder what the trick is to getting a cab?”  Doris said.

Lois timidly raised her hand, only to shoulder height, as two more cabs raced by, not even noticing.

“Maybe we should ask someone?” Lois said as she looked around.

18th street and 7th Avenue was far less crowded than Penn station, and the only human was an thin elderly lady, in her mid-80’s, white hair with neon red lipstick and red-rimmed glasses to match, taking her tiny poodle out for a city walk.

Doris watched curiously.  A new experience was about to unfold.

“Excuse me,” Lois said to the old lady with the bright red lipstick.  “How do you know if a cab is available?”

“Oh honey, if the number is lit… do you see the number? If it is lit, then the cab is available.”

“Oh,” Lois and Doris said in unison.

And with that, the old lady and the poodle jumped out into the second lane of the avenue, waived her hand frantically at the next approaching cabbie, who could likely not miss the glow of her bright red lips, and within seconds, Doris and Lois had shoved their bags into the back of the cab, and were seated, no longer having to wrestle with the heavy load.

“55 Church Street,” Doris said.  The cabbie took off, heading to lower Manhattan.

At the hotel, Lois, who is somewhat of a worldly traveler took charge and checked in, worked out a deal for a very late Sunday checkout, and another deal for the concierge to hold onto all of the heavy bags, freeing up Lois and Doris to wander the streets of NYC unencumbered.

25870671511_fefd385c3e_zSeaport no more…Doris, using her memory of days living in Brooklyn and commuting to the wall street district, made the suggestion that they would first do some recon of the finish line, how many steps would be needed once the run was finished before they reached the hotel room, and follow that with a walk-a-bout to the tourist South Street Seaport.  It all sounded delicious and knowledgeable, only to discover that her memory of the South Street Seaport wasn’t as accurate as she had imagined, and by the time they reached the Brooklyn Bridge it was decided that the Seaport no longer existed.

Staten Island Ferry…It all worked out, as they got in a lovely walk along the East River instead, that eventually led to the proximity of the Staten Island Ferry.    And from there, why not simply go for a free ride to Staten Island and back.   The ferry was crowded with others who had the same idea, and any view of New Jersey or the Hudson River was replaced with the many backsides of other tourists.  Once in Staten Island, Doris and Lois raced off the Ferry to take the return ride back to Manhattan and managed to get onto the ferry, just as the automatic doors were closing – cutting off final boarding.  Most surprisingly, the police guarding the ferry doors, all holding bomb-sniffing brown Labradors, encouraged them to run past, past the dogs with the extra duty leashes, and catch the Ferry just as the doors were closing.  Being runners, Doris and Lois made this moment of hustle beyond the ‘non-runners’ look easy, and once onboard found themselves hungry.

25336918163_2743ce0c17_zThe experience only got better meeting a fellow runner on the Ferry, i.e. both a fellow and a runner, who lived on Staten Island and informed the Doris and Lois show that the weather model – the one that had been insisting for days of 10” of snow – had changed and now there would be no snow, no rain, only sunshine for the running event.  There was no hiding the fact that this was some of the best news, and naturally they had to make sure that he had his weather facts straight, and the inquisition began.  Where do you live?  (Staten Island) Where do you work? (United Airlines)   What weather service do you use? (National Weather) Can you re-check the weather just in case it changed again?  (He did)  What subway would we take to get to the start of the race? (He knew)  And thus, he passed the test of someone who would be in the know, and the thought of not having to run wearing Yak-Trax and ski clothing, allowed Lois and Doris to re-focus on more pressing matters.  Food.

Getting off the ferry, they stood amongst a maze of cabs.  None of them moving.  Lois, with her newfound skills of cab hailing raised her hand like a pro, to no avail.  The cabbies were taking a lunch break and no amount of hand waving would change that.

Hailing a cab part II…So Lois and Doris, with bellies now screaming for food, began a walk along a one-way street, hoping to find a cabbie with its bright lights on, and sure enough, one appeared.  Though he seemed distracted.  More interested in talking with a woman in another car, than stopping for all of the hand waving.  Doris had even gotten into the act, waving her hands like Lois, but this Cabbie drove just beyond the pair before having to stop at a red light.  What happened next was not part of the training by the lady with the red lips, but Lois, waving her broken wrist timidly and saying ‘excuse me’ in the softest tones, got absolutely no one’s attention, but it was all part of the ‘experience’, and at some point the cabbie would have to notice two ladies, neither of them wearing lipstick running down the street, the middle of the street, at least through his rear view mirror.

Meet Chekov the cabbie from Poland…After a block of chasing this cabbie, he realized the two ladies were not giving up, or perhaps he was embarrassed for their novice attempt at acting ‘city-like’, and he cut over 3 lanes to the curb.   Mission accomplished as some might say, and Lois and Doris hopped into the back of Chekov’s cab, that is Chekov from Poland.

Longing for the days of Patsy’s Pizza, more memories that are likely just fantasizes, Doris promptly told the cabbie “13th and University”, and with that he already knew that they were in a hunt for pizza.  Before he turned on the meter, though he had some unfinished business with the lady driving the car with the Maine license plates, directly ahead.  At the red light, he bolted from the cab, and ran to her driver’s side window, explaining something, while Doris and Lois looked at each other, wondering if he would be coming back or they would need to drive themselves to Patsy’s Pizza.

Chekov from Poland, did come back, and as he explained how he liked to help people with directions, he then explained why.  Chekov had come to the US 10 years ago, and not only needed to learn English, but every street in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.  Sure there was GPS software, but he had to know the streets and the language, so he forced himself on his off time to draw maps by hand, naming each street name until he knew every road and every access point by memory.   This left very little time for other things, like cooking, and he ate out most days, mainly pizza.  And luck would have it, the man from Poland informed Lois and Doris that Patsy’s Pizza in Harlem was only Patsy’s pizza worth eating, and since a trip to Harlem would be too expensive of a cab ride, he offered several other pizza recommendations in the New York University locale.

After Lois shared with Chekov that they were runners – in case he hadn’t observed their fitness already – Chekov shared metabolism facts that could only be understood and believed by a NYC cabbie.  Apparently Doris and Lois could consume pizza every day and never gain weight.   That was quite a relief, and any guilt about consuming pizza was gone.  Doris and Lois took him at his word for pizza recommendations, and landed at Ribalta’s Pizza on 12th Street and Broadway.

25844878822_593229cd94_zRibalta….Inside Ribalta’s Pizza, the experience – Italian – continued to be outstanding, and Lois and Doris each ordered personal pizzas, which looked more like full sized pizzas, and they each consumed most of their pizzas because Chekov said that they could, and that was all they needed to know.  The few slices that didn’t get consumed, ended up in a carry-bag, and Lois reminded Doris of her obsession with carrying around old food, which had no impact on Doris, because Doris thought the leftovers would be perfect for Sunday AM breakfast.  She further reminded to Lois that Chekov said they could consume pizza every day, and that put an end to that discussion.

Speed-walking NY…With the roads bottlenecked in construction and mid-day tourist madness, it made sense that the preferred mode of transportation was walking.  Not just any walking, but strategic city-walking, and despite Doris’s memory-flops earlier in the day, she had not forgotten how to fast walk in the city.

“It’s all about agility, ‘strategery,’ when to hit the throttle and when to back off,” Doris explained, as Lois followed in Doris’s techniques, and struggled to keep pace in the early blocks.

By the tenth block, Lois had picked up the city race walking nuances, and she was shuffling left, right, dodging and carefully avoiding the sheer force of humans like a pro.  When the sidewalks became too congested, Doris and Lois brought their drafting skills from speed skating days, and soon the pair was south of Houston Street, south of Canal Street and making their way to Fulton Street, eventually Church Street, and all the while Doris clung to that leftover pizza like gold.

Downtime….It was now 4 PM, and their room, on the 29th floor was ready, and having been up since 3 AM, it seemed like the perfect time to take an afternoon nap.   At least for one of them.  Doris napped, and Lois got herself familiar with the TV dials, and landed on the weather channel, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with weather forecasts, and is all about the high drama of extreme weather.  After Doris’ 30-minute nap, they both noshed on leftover pizza, and decided there was no need to seek out further food for the day, another added benefit of leftovers, and they settled into a chick flick movie, watching it twice actually since Lois was unsure about changing the channels, and it worked out perfectly putting them to sleep before 10 PM.

The 5:15 AM wakeup call from the hotel never occurred, but the alarm on the Doris’s smartphone worked fine, and Doris and Lois were up in plenty of time to chew on remnants of the prior day’s leftover foods – bagels and pizza, and Doris was fairly certain that Lois had no problem consuming old food, since it was the only food.   Lois had all of her running clothing, neatly packed in piles on a chair on her side of the room, along with everything in her backpack perfectly folded and neatly stacked.   Doris, had a jambalaya of clothing strewn about on top of her bed, along with a computer that couldn’t get any internet connection and a Kindle that was red hot with some Nora Robert’s romance novel.  It was hard to tell the ‘clean’ from the ‘dirty’ clothing from a visual on Doris’ side of the room, and no problem telling what was what on Lois’ side.

Race day prep…Doris packed four goo’s into her vest pocket; she would only need two, but Lois would always forget her goo.  Doris brought an old parka, that would be left as a donation to the homeless once the running got started, and Lois was testing out her heat foil wraps in the room.  What to wear while running was not the issue.  How many layers that could be applied to the hour of standing in the cold 33 degree temperatures before the run started was the question.  Regardless of how the piles of clothing were packed or piled, most of it disappeared, applied as layers, before they left the room.

25844902872_1f9b4d93e8_zDoris and Lois grabbed the number four uptown train from Fulton Street to 59th Street, along with thousands of other runners – none of them wearing heat foils or parkas.   Many of them in shorts and a t-shirt, a stark contrast to the 4-8 layers of clothing Doris and Lois had compiled.  While the temperatures were getting on the warm, inside of the subway, by the time they exited at 59th street, those in shorts and t-shirts had to run several miles just waiting for the start to stay warm.   Lois and Doris grinned at each other.  At least, they wouldn’t have to do any of the excessive pre-run stuff to stay warm.

The running backstory…Lois and Doris’s training had been somewhat lax over the winter, enjoying the opportunity to be less excessive, not more, or just waiting for spring before the workout schedule gets into full gear.  The longest training run had been 11 miles, rounding up, and the weekly daily runs avoided hills and speed training, making the training program more leisurely than focused.   There was an unspoken running code between Doris and Lois.  Lois, would tire first on the uphill’s, and Doris wouldn’t mind one bit, and they would walk the hills up, calling these intervals, and then when there was a downhill, they would resume running.  Usually after 8 miles, Lois would bring up the word ‘interval’ more regularly, and Doris, all too glad to take a walk break would join in on the interval plan.  It was only expected, that the NYC Half Experience would follow the same code, the unspoken code of running guidelines.

The Code Meltdown…But there was something in that pizza, specifically Lois’s pizza and the unspoken code was shot to hell.  Lois began the event with a sprint, and Doris had forgotten to press the start button on her GPS, and by the time she remembered, now too winded by the sprint to be able to push any buttons – they had already covered the first mile.  Surely Lois will slow down, Doris thought as they approached the first of the central park hills – which they had no clue even existed.   By mile 4, only mile 3 on Doris’s GPS watch, a particularly long hill emerged, and many of the runners had shifted from running to walking.  Not Lois.  She used the skills from strategic walking the day before, to strategic running, and at that point Doris knew that Lois was breaking records and breaking code.   The best Doris could hope for, was for Lois to tire, around mile 8 as she always did.

But no.  At mile 7, during a run-down 7th Avenue through Times Square, Lois is busy looking at the large buildings with screens projecting the runners, picking up the pace, and waving frantically to see herself on the big screen.  Doris, too tired to think, and too busy wondering when ‘the code’ would resume, barely had the energy to lift a hand above the elbow.  That was the best she could do to muster a wave.

At mile 8 surely, Lois would tire, but there were bands lining the course at this point, and she seemed to get more energized from the music, not less.  The run through Manhattan is mostly downhill, and with the winds at their backs, Doris figured she, at least, had a chance to make it to mile 10 where surely Lois would remember ‘the code’.

By mile 10, Lois had clearly forgotten the code, too interested in finishing the event with the knowledge that there was only 3.1 miles to go, and reinforced by the fact that they were still passing runners at this stage of the event, Doris had to scramble for ‘code plan b’.   Doris would stop at every Gatorade stop, now located along the course at each mile, and take extra-long sips of Gatorade, and wait until the very last sign of the garbage can to drop the discarded cup, forcing Lois to re-think her memory of ‘the code’.   This strategy did not help Lois remember one i-o-da, but it did give Doris a chance to recover, if only for a few seconds, and they were off running again now reaching mile 11.   Doris knew that at mile 11, there was no more hope of ‘code’ kicking in, and that they would be running the entire event without one hope of an ‘interval’.  Then, at mile 11.5, Lois began sprinting, at which point Doris had no choice but to ask, infuriated, ‘What happened to the code?’ and Lois had no good answer, something about she didn’t want to hear the voices in the tunnel, and Doris had nothing more to say other than to try and keep pace.

25333010344_71d720656d_zThe code was now just a memory, and the only chance of preserving it, returning it to its rightful owner, was for Doris to sprint up the final hill exiting the tunnel.  Surely Lois would succumb to intervals, when she saw Doris sprint up that final hill.  As Doris reached the summit, she looked back, knowing that she had dusted Lois and only for the sake of helping her remember ‘the code’, only to see that Lois was right on her heels.   They were at mile 12.5 at this point, and no point in even thinking about the code anymore, it was time to finish this event.   As Doris and Lois crossed the finish line, usually hands up together, this time it was Lois whose arms were high, and Doris had all she could do to stumble over the finish line.   And while the code had been broken, and there was no lally-gagging in the streets of Manhattan, Lois and Doris had managed to make the NYC Half their longest run of the year – completely void of intervals.

A weekend like no other…They meandered along the Battery, after a stop at a Starbucks for an extra-large coffee, back to their hotel room where Lois talked the concierge into an even later stay, so that they had time to shower, re-hydrate, and pack their bags for a return trip via train later in the day.  Doris mixed her clothing into one big blob, the clean and the dirty became one, while Lois’s bag was tidy and perfect.

There was no longer a need to fast walk, city walk, or strategize.   It was all about taking a cab, to the next food joint, the Tick Tock less than a block from Penn Station, as a way to minimize walking, followed by two hours of people watching, guessing their lives and surely guessing wrong, they landed back on that Amtrak train, heading for Baltimore, and laughing for hours at ‘the code’, which now, no longer existed, and wondering if they really could, like Chekov said, eat pizza every day.









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