Sidewalk (Lack of) Wisdom

I was out for a run yesterday when I did something I haven’t done in a long time.

I fell.

Not like a stumble where you catch yourself and you recover, a little embarrassed but otherwise unharmed,  or a slip on the ice that drops you to your backside, sore but at least safe in the knowledge that it could happen to anybody when it’s snowy and icy out and this is Atlanta, after all, who even knows how to deal with ice in the first place?

No, this was a full-on, sprawled on the ground, call-the-paramedics-because-that-old-guy-probably-busted-his-hip fall. A marionette with its strings cut. An AT-AT Walker foot-roped by plucky Hothian rebels.

Bad times. Seriously. Since you’ve been grown, when’s the last time you fell? Like really fell?

I’ve stumbled here and there on trail runs: a gnarled and angry tree root sticks up out of the trail like an angry old man’s cane and it snags your toe as you shuffle past. Luckily, on the trail, you’re either all alone for miles in every direction or accompanied by some like-minded lunatics who have taken their fair share of trail tumbles themselves, and who are therefore likely to be sympathetic if you go down.

And I’ve clipped my fair share of curbs on suburban jaunts, but somehow the physics of shorting a jump don’t seem to send you sprawling the way I went sprawling yesterday.

I was cruising down a very familiar route when I noticed a trio of benches in front of a restaurant I’ve run past close to a hundred times. “Huh,” I thought to myself in that weird self-reflective echoey whisper, “Have those benches always been there, or have I just never noticed them?” Next thing I know, my foot is arrested violently mid-stride and the concrete is rushing at me like that guy I owe money to for things we won’t be discussing here.

No escape. I’m going down. I try to tuck and roll, but the momentum is all wrong, and my toes feel like an elephant has stepped on them, so there’s no pushing off or changing direction. *Wham-scrape* goes the knee, *Bang-skid* goes the elbow, and I sort of weakly flop over onto my back.

Before I notice anything else, I notice the truck stopped at the traffic light not fifty feet away from me. I wonder if he saw me go down (virtually impossible that he wouldn’t), then ponder what would be worse: if he pulls over to offer me assistance, opens his window and laughs at me as he drives by, or simply drives off and leaves me wondering. Thankfully, he rolls off.

I lay there for a few minutes on my back, staring up at the really remarkably clear blue sky. Gorgeous day, actually. I curse at myself audibly, because fargo the delicate sensibilities of anybody who might be passing by. I mentally assess the damage. My left knee and toes hurt like the dickens, but I can move them, so that’s good. I feel like a right stupid idiot, but there’s no lasting damage in that. I sit up, dab at the blood pooling on my knee, prod at my toes. Hurt, but probably not broken. I rise and hobble to the bench — the one that distracted me just a moment ago, how convenient! — and sit there to ponder my life for a moment.

From here I can see clearly the tiny — and I do mean tiny — jag in the sidewalk. A tree overhangs the sidewalk, its roots scrambling out like the capillary roads in an atlas. The roots have obviously pushed the sidewalk up over time, about an inch and a half. My toes (and I was wearing my Vibrams at the time, which means for this particular purpose I might as well have been barefoot) smacked into that tiny outcropping, and that was that.

It occurs to me, too, while I’m sitting here, staring down the sidewalk like it stole my date for the prom, that this is something that should never have happened. I’ve run this route 50 or 60 times over the past few years — maybe closer to 100. Usually in the lazy half-light of sickly streetlights at 5 AM. What business do I have tripping on a plainly obvious imperfection in the sidewalk — one I regularly traverse without even thinking about it in the darkness — in the blazing light of day?

And there it is.

(Things always mean things, right?)

(Of course not, the universe is a whole sort of general mish-mash of unconnected events and meaningless coincidences. But it’s fun to pretend.)

(Where was I? Right. The blazing light of day.)

The lights were on.

I run this route about once per week, but always in the dark. It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you run at night (or in the stupidly early morning), watching only the ground in front of my feet — there’s nothing else to see. But Sunday, the lights were on, and here I was able to notice all sorts of things I never give second thought to: look at the ivy spilling over that fence like a bunch of intestines from an open gut! Check out that crack that runs right down the center of the street, like a subterranean city is pushing up from underneath! Look at that bench over there, I bet I could jump over it in one go if I — SMACK.

There’s a moral here about sidewalks, and that moral is: never look around. Always keep your eyes straight in front of you and never deviate from the sidewalk.

No, wait, that’s not right.

Watch out for sidewalks. They are tricksy and not to be trusted.

Er, that’s not it either.

Don’t take sidewalks for granted. They mark a path that’s cleared and generally trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean you can turn your back on them.

Yeah, that’s better.

Except change “sidewalks” for “life” and I think we’re closing in on something useful that can be taken away from all this.

I took a sidewalk for granted, and ended up with a shredded leg and horrifically stubbed toe. And it’s making me wonder: what else am I taking for granted every day? What else is lurking there, just under my foot, waiting to put me on my ass if I lose focus for just a fraction of a second?

Never mind the farmer’s tan and ridiculous amounts of body hair. Focus on the coagulated gore.

Oh, and in case you were curious: I finished the run.

5 thoughts on “Sidewalk (Lack of) Wisdom

  1. The first time I fell running (yes, there were more) I was running through town on a summer night. I had passed all these restaurants with outdoor seating and an ice cream shop with a walk up window. Shortly after turning around to head back, I snagged my toe on uneven sidewalk which, of course, I had just crossed moments earlier going the opposite direction. I think I had turned my head to look at something. I went down hard!
    This happened right by a five way intersection so I had an audience too. I jumped back up pretty quickly but I had scraped both my knees, my elbow, my hand,my face (I’m especially talented), & thought my right pinky finger might be broken. Blood was literally dripping from my knees and elbow and I still had to run back past all those people enjoying their dinners, drinks, and ice cream. I tried wiping the blood off on my t-shirt but it didn’t help much. I still have scars on my knees from that fall too.
    Stupid bastard sidewalks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sidewalks. Can’t trust ’em, can’t tear ’em all up with backhoes.

      For that matter, I’ve heard that sidewalks are some of the worst surfaces to run on because concrete doesn’t compress. Even asphalt is supposed to be easier on the feet, knees, back…


  2. Of course you finished the run lol! That’s what we runners do! I once fell and twisted my ankle figured it was fine ran 5km more. It swelled up huge I still figured it was only a sprain… A week later I go for an X-ray and it’s broken… Dr made some comment about how I must be a runner because we just won’t take injuries seriously and stay off our feet! Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Now, look. I understand. I’ve read the scientific-sounding articles about how running on asphalt is better for your feet than running on concrete. (Apparently, asphalt will compress underfoot, while concrete won’t. Though how much it actually compacts under the paltry weight of a human is probably less than negligible.) And yeah, okay, he’s doing what you should do when you run on a road, which is to say, he runs against traffic, so that you can see him coming and he can see you coming. And yes, I will admit and can even attest that running on a sidewalk can be more hazardous than you might expect. […]


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