Take a walk around here in the mornings and, as early a bird as you think you’ve been and as purposeful and vigorous as you feel striding forth, you’ll find the streets busy with people showing signs that they’ve been up for hours longer, and the odds are they’re all moving faster than you.
They’re running. They’re biking. They’re power-walking. If they’re young parents out with strollers, they’re pushing those strollers with the determination of rookie lineman on the first day of training camp slamming into blocking sleds. Middle-aged men and women who’ve volunteered for the coffee run carry their cardboard trays loaded with cups steaming from the spouted lids as if coffee-cup carrying was an Olympic event and they’re in training with a good shot at making the US team if only they can shave another .05 seconds off their best time.
Many of these people look as though they’re just continuing exercise routines and regular habits of physical activity, especially the runners. But a good proportion of them are obviously out of shape and long out of practice doing whatever it is they’ve chosen to do to get back into shape. They’re using their vacations to start a program of diet and exercise that you can help thinking won’t last longer than a week or two after they’ve left the Cape. Then there are the ones who’ve just seemed to take it for granted that being on vacation down here means having to get up early, get out the door fast, and get the heart pumping and the blood flowing, and if that means having to actually exercise then what the heck, we can take it. These folks are easy to distinguish from the dammit we’re going to get back into shape crowd by the embarrassed grins on their reddened faces when you meet their eyes as they’re huffing and puffing along or stopping in front of you to lean against a tree or sit down on a curb to rest and secretly pray for some friend to come along in a car and offer them a ride home.
At any rate, you meet with all sorts of conditions on a morning walk, of all ages and all shapes and sizes. Grandmotherly and grandfatherly types toddling briskly along in bright white sneakers without a scuff on them. Fiftysomething men on bikes who look as though the last time they were on one was the day they gave up their paper route. Sweat-soaked jogging thirtysomething fathers with narrow waists and tanned legs smooth and strong as a dancer’s. Whippet-thin teenage girls whose strides seem thrown off by the lack of hurdles on the sidewalks.
Sometimes you meet both types together, the fit and the fat, such as the couple I saw out jogging yesterday morning. She was nut-brown and perfect, a work of the personal trainer’s art, with a bared belly flat and hard enough to bounce pennies off of. He was pale and round and frightening to look at because he looked so clearly frightened for himself, as if he’d just taken his own pulse and was now trying to resign himself to certainly coming heart attack. She was pointedly ignoring his distress. She was already moving at about half the speed she normally ran at and she was wearing an expression that combined irritation and impatience in a way the Disney artists could only dream of when they were drawing Susan Sarandan’s character for the animated sections of Enchanted. They were coming towards me and I was tempted to block their way just to force them to stop so he could rest or attract passing medical attention. But I stepped aside and as they went by I heard him puffing out an embarrassed apology for not being able to keep up.
My hope for their future happiness is based on my convincing myself that they aren’t a couple. I see them as friends or friends of friends, part of a group of couples sharing a vacation house together. For one reason or another her own spouse or partner couldn’t go with her on her usual run this morning, none of the other women in the house wanted to either, and he, seeing his chance to spend some time alone with their little group’s body most beautiful, volunteered to join her, a mistake he’ll never make again.
All sorts and conditions, as I’ve said, running, biking, walking, I see them every morning, but I saw something the other day I’d never seen before. A rollerblader.
Well,of course I’ve seen rollerbladers before. Haven’t seen any down here in a while, not that I can remember, at least, but still. It was this sort and condition of roller blader that was a surprise. A thirtyish woman zipping along down the middle of the street on rollerblades. She moved along confidently, an old pro. I’ll bet she used to do tricks, she was that good. She was tanned evenly and darkly all over and utterly gorgeous and I couldn’t help it, I had to stare. Perfect beauty commands respectful attention. She was enjoying herself immensely and she laughed with me when I laughed at her in joyful surprise. But I wonder if she also spotted the look of concern and horror in my eye along with the stunned admiration.
She was in terrific shape, of course. A near-goddess. So that made the baby bump all the more obvious.