Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Running with jerks and the entitlement mentality

I try to be good about keeping up with my running, but it's been difficult as of late. Neither the weather nor the kids have been particularly cooperative since the start of the new school year. But I got out there today, getting a rousing cheer from my Nike Running app (which is just tremendous), even though I only did a little over three miles.

While running, I enjoy listening to music but that doesn't stop me from thinking, from delving even deeper into the many mysteries of life to wondering if the Dolphins will ever again play in a SuperBowl. Today, my zombie-like running trance--wherein I stare at the ground about six feet in front of me--was interrupted, not once, not twice, but three times by two different people. But first, a little background on where I run.

Almost always, about 95% of the time, I run the exact same route through a neighborhood park. It's a big park with a nice walking/jogging path looping through it, past playing fields and canals, partly shaded and partly in the open. It's about .8 miles long, so five circuits gives one a nice four mile run. The path itself is paved and--this being South Florida--completely flat. It's a little over six feet wide, thus making it fairly easy to avoid others, whether they are going in the same direction at a slower pace, or coming from the opposite direction.

So there I am, running along at a nice--for me--pace. I run on the right side of the path, of course, and actually make it a point to run close to the edge, thus not even using a third of the path's width. There are lots of others using the path, particularly in the early morning--when I run--and late afternoon. I see familiar faces everyday--when I actually look up--and offer a quick nod, usually receiving the same or a smile in reply. Oftentimes people run or walk in pairs or threesomes. When I come up behind such a group moving slower than me, a simple "excuse me" is enough to clear a path on the outside. And rightfully so. It's just common courtesy, after all. People who are moving faster then me offer similar alerts when they pass me.

But today was different. As I was on a straightaway on my first circuit, I espied a group of three women in the distance and I knew we would cross paths after the next turn. No cause for concern, since there was plenty of room on the path, right? As I continued running, I looked up to be sure there was room and, surprise, surprise, there wasn't! This group of three, busily gabbing while they walked, were taking up the entire width of the pathway. The one on the outside--whom I would pass closest to--saw me, our eyes met, but she averted her gaze and returned to her conversation, pointedly moving out farther on the path, even more in my way.

Her intent was easy enough to divine: force me to leave the path and run around her. Perhaps that is what I should have done, but I was annoyed by the rudeness and held my course. As we came to the same point, we both twisted away in the final split second to avoid a collision. I was truly flabbergasted; I looked over my shoulder and she was still gabbing. Maybe I was misreading all of this. Maybe she just wasn't paying attention.

On my second circuit through the park, I found myself heading towards this same trio, once again. And it all went down in exactly the same way: she saw me coming and moved farther out to deny me a path by. This time, we came so close that her jacket--tied around her waist--whacked me in the knee. I felt it because there was a cellphone or wallet in the pocket. As I looked back, so did she, with a sour look on her face. I shook my head and turned back to my run.

Apparently, they finished their conversation, because I didn't come upon them again. And that was enough drama for one run, right? If only. Because on my third circuit, I came upon two women going in my direction, but walking. They were using the whole path, both being a little large and walking with space between each other, which if fine. When I got close, I offered the usual "excuse me," thinking the one on the outside would take the step to the right that would allow me to pass. She looked over her shoulder, sneered, and kept her positioning. Given that I was coming from behind and she was no longer looking, my only choice was to leave the path to go around her.

Some may wonder about my need to stay on the path. I could run next to the path; it's mostly grass, after all. But there are roots, sticks, rocks, depressions, holes, and even ducks (I kid you not) just off of the path. I have little interest in twisting an ankle or the like, as could easily result from stepping on one of the above obstacles. That's why I use the path, just like pretty much everyone else jogging or walking at this park.

So what we have here are a couple of jerks, right? Not much more to it than that. Or is there?

Being the observant type, I noticed a few things. The initial trio I encountered were thirty-somethings, all wearing top-notch workout clothes (yoga pants all around) with shoes to match. They were thin, pretty, bejeweled, and well-groomed. Upper middle-class at least, no doubt about it. The pair I encountered later was very different: as I said, both were heavy, both were wearing well-worn clothes and shoes, sweats and faded tee-shirts. And I heard a bit of their conversation, because they were quite loud. Lotta four letter words going on there, and some pretty poor grammar. I have little problem labeling both as lower middle-class at best.

Yet, women from both groups displayed what seemed to be a very similar attitude: a sense of entitlement, when it came to their use of a path in a public park. But the sense I got from each suggests this attitude, while similar, was also quite dissimilar.

The first woman--the higher class (economically speaking) one--expected me to move, to make way for her. Why? Because she was--of the two of us--the better one. In her mind, I was not her equal in the least. The second woman--the lower class one--made a point of not giving in to what she no doubt perceived was some sort of demand. She refused to move in order to demonstrate that she was my equal, which of course indicates an assumption on her part about how I perceived her: as a lesser sort.

"I'm better than you!" versus "You're not better than me!" Too very different mindsets, yet both lead to the same path: a sense of entitlement followed by rude, boorish behavior in defense of what one is supposedly entitled to.

It's a shame I don't know the politics of each...

Cheers, all.

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