Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Westside Wayside

Please wack me with a stick if you ever see me wearing one of those silly belts.
One of the great things about living in the City is that long runs don’t require loads of crap: just a few bucks in that little shorts pocket. In fact, I always laugh at people wearing hydration belts—they look like they’re trying to be Batman or something with his "utility belt." The inherent geekiness of running is made a thousand times worse by adding a teched-out version of a fanny pack. In the City, you can always find a bodega to buy gatorade. Better still, there are plentiful water fountains (in season).

That’s how I approached my latest long run: carry nothing. But there was a little flaw in my plan. My route took me over the Williamsburg Bridge, around the tip of Manhattan and up the West Side to 59th Street. That’s basically ten miles along greenways, which is beautiful, but completely devoid of bodegas (I guess that’s kind of the idea of a park, right?) and the winter weather meant that fountains were all turned off.

I was chugging up the West Side approaching Chelsea Piers and wondering if they might have a snack bar or something inside. Just before I got there, I noticed a little kiosk called "The Runner’s Station." I vaguely remembered that a certain shoe company had established the place for the New York City Half-Marathon but I had no idea that it was still in operation. It was perfect: they had everything I needed (and more) and at really reasonable prices. In fact, they gave me a free gel. Then I was on my way.

I hate to sing the praises of said shoe company but it’s a fabulous idea and an example of something that’s very important about New York City. The company obviously established the station as a marketing ploy to get into the consciousness of runners just out doing their thing. You could even rightly call it an inappropriate commercialization of the park. At the same time, it’s a great service, totally low-key and completely devoid of any sales pitch. It’s like a hotdog stand for runners, really. I’m a fan of the place (if not the company) and I applaud them for setting this thing up and running it at a perpetual loss. I’m savvy enough to accept the free gift without being suckered into buying something I don’t want or need.

The experience reminded me of something similar that happened at Burning Man a few years ago. We were walking blindly through a dust storm after the Man had burned and we had a serious case of the munchies. As if our thoughts had taken physical form, the fog suddenly parted to reveal a man grilling pop tarts on a hibachi out in the middle of the playa. (Only at Burning Man!) He asked if we would like one. Most certainly. Then we grooved our way to the next amusement, much satisfied.

I love when what we need is presented when we need it as if by gift from Heaven. That happens quite often in the City. Although the City certainly taketh her share and then some, she does present gifts, often when least expected.

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