Tag Archives: Sacramento

Breaking the Nocturnal Running Cycle

MapMyRun 3-28-15, 8.1 Miles
My apologies, I say in advance to some of you. To those of you who thought that, after a burst of three or four running themed blog posts in short succession, you had finally escaped the sometimes excessively descriptive glimpses into this aspect of my life—my addiction to this particular fitness regimen… your assumed reprieve at best.
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I typically run this loop at night. During the week I make an effort to run three days (nights) per week with the goal of simply maintaining a relatively consistent distance level and pace. This practice is the most feasible way for me to put in mileage with my work schedule, and it has been working for me quite well for the past three years. The cover of darkness has its advantages. There is less auto traffic to deal with when crossing heavily traveled downtown intersections. Fewer gawking onlookers staring, mouths agape with bright-eyed wonderment at this gray-haired old man—pores wide open like the air intake valves protruding from the hood of a top fuel dragster as it leaves the starting line—sweating out the four cups of coffee that he consumed during the work day, and his less than sufficient H2O intake glaring from his white, but mostly red face.
001 003  005While maintaining this regimental nocturnal running cycle for all those nights—for weeks, months, years, under the intermittent glow of the moon and the dim radiance of the sparsely lit Sacramento skyline, does have its rewards, look what I’ve been missing!

On this particular occasion, mysteriously, I woke up early. Seeking to not let this beautiful new spring morning go to waste, I threw on my running gear and bolted out the door and into the Downtown Sacramento radiance. No breakfast. No shower. No running music pumping through my Bose ear-buds. Just a double shot of C4 and out the door. My pace suffered (evident in the reported pace) as I had to slow down to take each of these photos, but I think it was well worth it.
004 012 You can take the runner out of the photographer, but, taking the photographer out of the runner… well, that’s a little more challenging. Perhaps this is why—subconsciously—I run at night. At least at night, I do less sightseeing and actually put in work.

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May your momentum be perpetual, and your integrity held high, my friends!

J. L. Johnston

A Prayer for Jessica

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I saw her on my way to work this morning. Jessica was her name… Jessica is her name. Walking past the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, as I have each morning for nearly eight years, I saw her. A petite young woman—tomboyish presence and a somewhat gruff demeanor—she was likely in her late teens or early twenties. She was crying. I walked a few more steps past as I processed the scene, and then I turned back. She was standing before one of the three heavy doors that front the Cathedral, her upturned face gazing skyward with tears running freely down her soiled face, creating narrow rivulets of lighter colored flesh as her tears progressed down her cheeks.

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I ascended the Cathedral steps and cautiously approached. She wore dirty tennis shoes, thin cotton pants and a grimy sweatshirt. A large duffel bag and a paper coffee cup lay at her feet. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked, knowing that I would probably not get an honest answer. It was apparent that something was going terribly wrong in her young life at that moment, but I had to ask.

“I’m OK… really.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Jessica,” she said, wiping away tears with the heel of her hand, and offering me the other.

“Jeff,” I replied, gently shaking her hand.   “I’ve been where you are, Jessica. It’s scary, I know.

“You have?  Really? I’m OK. I just need to quit drinking, that’s all.” She said.

It was rather presumptuous of me to assume that I had in fact been where she was at that moment, in her moment of utter despair. I couldn’t possibly have known what was going on in this girl’s life, what had brought her to tears on the steps of the church with a duffel bag and soiled clothing—not really anyway. But this sad, troubled scene somehow looked very familiar. Felt familiar.  I saw myself in this distraught soul.

I offered to buy her breakfast, but she emphatically declined.

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“I have money. I’ll be going home soon. Thank you, though,” she said, wiping away a fresh flow of tears from her cheek with the sleeve of her soiled sweatshirt. “It’s just so fucked up, ya know?” she said, and started to cry again.

“Please believe me when I tell you, Jessica that it will get better.   You’re in the right place.” I told her. “This door will be opening soon. Never lose faith that things will get better for you.” She thanked me and I went on to work.  I had to.  I was already late.

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While hanging up my coat at work, I glanced across the entryway to my cubicle where, several months earlier I had pinned up a business card given to me by a man who runs a residential recovery center in the area. Koinonia Homes for Teens, it’s called. They did a presentation at our office for the United Way charitable campaign last year, and for some reason, Instead of shoving it into a drawer, or tossing it, I pinned it up, along with their facilities brochure at eye level on my cubicle wall. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to do that at the time, but that’s what I did.

I took the business card down and went back to the Cathedral in hope that Jessica would still be there… She was.

I ascended the steps again. She greeted me with a smile and took a few steps toward me. I handed her the card.

“When this door opens later this morning, ask someone inside if you can use the phone in the rectory. Call these people. They do wonderful work with kids and young adults in your same situation. I’ve met and heard the testimony from of a pair of young people who were once where you are now, whose lives were spared. Through this organization they were led from the pathway of despair that they were on. They can help you. Keep the faith, Jessica. Keep praying,” I told her, and went back to my office.

Koinonia

Once back in the office and in the privacy of the gray fabric walls that make up my 8-5 existence, I took a moment and said a prayer for this young woman… a prayer for Jessica.

I know now why I didn’t stuff the United Way and Koinonia Homes information into a drawer several months earlier, to be forgotten… Jessica needed it today.

8x10 Mary's Hands

Polyester: its not for running anymore

Being that I try to get out and put in work three days per week (or nights, as it were) I tend to get bored with a route after navigating the monotony for three or four consecutive runs, so I have several that I use, each out-and-back or loop with a varying mileage associated to it.

Tonight, I headed out in a direction that I had before, but instead of heading left across the bridge into Discovery Park and doing an out-and-back course, I stayed on the south side of the American River and headed east. I knew that the new development near North 7th Street was in the works—some of it actually completed, and by the looks of things, parts of the new residential projects were already occupied. I had been down this way before, on my bike, and I knew that North 7th street culminated at a turn-about a few yards away from the bike trail. With that in mind, I decided to see how long of a loop it would be if I ran along the river to there, and back home by way of 7th Street. It turned out to be exactly 5 miles. Nice, huh? Another viable loop of relative effort to add to my arsenal of distances, and just what I needed on this particular day to break the monotony.

The decision to run this particular route was made because I was embarking on my evening run a little early, leaving at a time that would ensure plenty of daylight for the duration of the run, well into the time that I arrived back home. The stretch of North 7th between the river and, say… Capitol Mall is, well… not the safest environment, and I surely would not want to be out there after dark. That stretch can be a bit spooky at night. With that said, I will make a point of only running this new loop while there is plenty of light to guide me.

This route has a little bit of everything: The river Promenade near Tower Bridge, the history of historic Old Town Sacramento, the majestic confluence of the Sacramento and American river at Discovery Park, the new development near the Rail Yards, providing both a glimpse into Sacramento’s history with the historic old brick buildings that are still standing in the rail yards, as well as the new residential developments that have been constructed there. A little bit of everything to stimulate the mind with a plethora of visual stimuli.

5 mile loop though old sac

One thing that did bother me while during this run, though, and it became noticeable quite early. I was hot. The weather on this day was a rather mild 80 degrees, and it wasn’t the regular hot that plagues me early, when I just get started. What was the cause of my discomfort, you ask. Polyester. Yes, you heard me. Polyester. I own several sets of running clothes—shorts with matching shirts, made from differing breathable materials, and apparently, unbeknownst to me when I bought them a couple of years ago, some of them ( many of the shirts anyway) are made of 100% polyester. What! What genius decided that polyester would be a good fabric to make running gear out of? What was at the nucleus  bright idea was that? Ok, perhaps it is more breathable, and less likely to become completely saturated within a mile into a run than say, cotton, but really? I either did not know any better, or was so focused on color coordinating my shorts to my shirt, that I didn’t notice what some of these shirts were constructed of, or, which is more like it, I just didn’t care. Whatever the root of my lapse in judgment, I now resolutely will not wear polyester when I run. Never again. I have broken up three color coordinated sets of running outfits and have thrown the piece constructed of the offending material in the trash.  I must not suffer the agony of not being color coordinated while putting my mind and body through the agony of running for an hour or so three times a week.

I volunteered at the mile 25 water and snack station for the California International Marathon one year, passing out water, Gatorade, and Twizzler red licorice. This particular year there was a torrential rain storm in Folsom, CA where the race began. Most of these poor souls, wrapped up in plastic trash bags, with plastic sheets duct taped to them here and there, were a wreck by the time they reached us. Some were limping, others were hunched over to one side, a grimace of sheer agony frozen on their face as they enthusiastically (I am theorizing at the enthusiasm as, evidence of this was absent from the faces of most) grabbed a water and a Twizzer as they crept by. We cheered them on with our constant mantra of “keep going. Just one more mile to go, you can do it!”

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Ok, back on the subject of polyester, I noticed that one man on the approach to our last mile water station, had red streaks running down his shirt, emanating from where his nipples should be and running down to his waist. Then I saw another, and another. The friction of their polyester or polyester blend running shirts had worn the top layer of skin off of each nipple, and they were freekin bleeding! Yes, bleeding!

I had never seen anything like it. I turned to my friend and said “Hey, is that guy bleeding?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Probably wearing polyester.  He should have worn nipple guards.” Nipple guards? Is there such a thing? Wow… who knew. Well, a lot of people, apparently, because a product with this unambiguous name is hanging on a retail hook at the cash register at fleet feet. I own some myself now, too. I learned of their value when, while training for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon a couple of years ago, I was wearing one of my now disposed of polyester running shirts during an 11 mile training run, and, although they did not bleed, they sure were sore by the end of the day.

I guess in all fairness, the moisture wicking material that the remaining of my running shirts are made of would probably have a similar effect on that particular part of the male anatomy, but it has been my experience, that the polyester, is like a 40 grit sandpaper, and the newer, lighter and more breathable tech fabric is like a fine 120 grit. Without protection, the tech fabric will likely do the same thing on a long run like a full marathon such as the CIM, but I have never experienced discomfort with them, only with the polyester. Yes, this is a male dominated phenomenon, for obvious reasons… women are, or at least should be, protected by a sports bra, leaving the need for this type of protective product strictly marketed to men.

Runners, do what you want. I encourage anyone reading my words whether in this blog post or anywhere else, to assess their own situation carefully, and make their own decisions based on what is best for them.  For this runner, polyester is out. I have alleviated my closet of any running clothes—shorts or shirts—made of polyester. For me, this particular fabric is hot, its rough and it just has no place in my closet.

Until next time, keep the forward momentum, people.

J. Johnston

“The Hall” an excerpt

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The Hall

It was clogged with bodies.  The hall.  None of them were hers but who could be sure.  This has been her life, her way for so many generations that sometimes she loses track of her kills, her conquests, her food.  She needs them.  Each and every one of them to survive, in order to exist at all.  There are times when everything is just a blur, one scream, one frantic imploration for salvation after another, for life, for saving.  The pleas meld into one another.  Over time, the years, the centuries the screams, the pleas all begin to sound the same.  The imploring voices all possess the same acoustic tonalities, the same pitch, the same sound carrying with them the same urgency… all saying the same things over and over and over again:  “please, go away.  You scare me.  They tell me that you are not real—that you don’t really exist, yet I see you day in and day out.  I have for years.  Please, just leave me alone!”

But these pleas, these solicitations for mercy always fall upon deaf ears, for you see… it is not up to her to select who is saved and who is not.  It is not her decision who is spared her madness, who lives and who dies in this dark, dark world from whence she dwells.  The role of God is not hers to play.  But, is that not the role she adopts when she does not answer the multitudes of requests to spare life, and instead, takes it?

The hall could, however, be filled with the carrion of another.  There are others like her you know; the ones that dwell in the dark.  The ones that thrive in the void of night conducting their business as if it were the appropriate thing to do.  Annoying—disturbing–Killing.  It is however, unlikely that the rotting flesh piling up in the hall belongs to anyone but she, for this is her house.  This is her realm.  Here, she makes the rules and in this house is where those who know her or are at least acquainted with her ways and give respect to her techniques because she is not only the ruler of the night but the day.  She is the ruler of lives, when those lives are unwilling or unable to contain her.

Beneath Evenly spaced cones of soft amber light she hunts.  That is the stage from whence the curtain of tonight’s performance will be raised.  Shadows dissolve and then solidify again as if in not doing so would negate their very existence as she traverses the intersecting alleys of the urban jungle that is her downtown Sacramento home on this night.  Perpetually, she makes her rounds.  Her nocturnal activities have gone undetected in so far as she could tell.  Except for that one incident on the east end of Capitol Park; the forty acres of lush flora that surround the California State Capitol building.  It was there, crumpled beneath the bronze statue of a soldier at the military memorial next to the rose garden he was found, as if freshly slain by the lifeless metal figure itself, its gaze fixed upon the bloody and equally lifeless man at its feet.  A blood splattered bronze bayonet clutched tightly in his right hand told the tale.  For all intents and purposes, this was an exceptionally brutal form of suicide, but she knew better and so did he… wherever he now was.  The events of that warm summer night in August of 2013 were unfortunate, but the night could not have concluded in any other way.  The deed had to be done.

Whatever the origin of their encounter with one another, he too was on a quest –trolling—when he happened upon her on that dark downtown street in the appropriately christened neighborhood of Alkali Flat.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, they strolled.  Hand and hand as if they were familiar, and they were—intimately in fact, but not in the physical sense, although the heat of their pressed palms with fingers interlaced like high school sweethearts would suggest this.  To the outside world they were strangers in the night.  They strolled several blocks southwest until they came upon the old historic Biltmore Hotel.  Long ago abandoned she will never again know the folly of her heyday, the late nineteenth century… the Biltmore and her alike.  Hesitating momentarily before the ancient entrance, once grand and ornate but now a crumbling shell of her former self, she cast a glance over a shoulder as if in anticipation of receiving a sight… perchance a sound with which to reminisce.  Alas there was none.  Only fond memories of an era long ago lost to the industrial revolution and the never-ending march of progress.  The unfamiliar strangers, in expectation of becoming familiar if only for a few moments—hours perhaps, resumed their promenade.

What happened that night was wholly unintended, but compulsory…  unavoidable.  It had to be done.  The gavel fell.  The law of nature called her infinite courtroom to order setting in motion the events of a dark and metaphysical encounter, the likes of which would prove unprecedented for these streets.  For this city.  For the unsuspecting of these two formerly unfamiliar strangers.   For one, the evening’s journey had reached its destination.  The other, well… his journey’s end was reached as well… or perhaps, for him it had only just begun.

What is appropriate in the eyes of God?

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OK, far be it for me to judge, and especially about such topics as church or that which is deemed appropriate as it relates to the faithful, but I could not let this go without posing the question: what is appropriate attire for church? I’m sitting in a cafe’ on the corner of 11th & K Streets in Downtown Sacramento on a Sunday morning working on a paper for school.  I’m in full view of the magnificent Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament when the clock in the tower strikes noon and out come the masses form the earlier Sunday Mass.  Now, again, being one who first of all, does not attend church regularly, and secondly one who will wear jeans to work on occasion when the capacity of my laundry hamper has reached its limit and has gone unnoticed, or more likely ignored, I am hardly the one to set a precedence for attire appropriate etiquette.  However, as the grand doors to the Cathedral opened, out stepped the faithful, smiling with rejuvenated newfound faith that the world in which they live is still a good and God-fearing place to raise their families.  Among the flock are several young women, mid to late teens, or perhaps twenties (hard to tell by the way they were dressed) carefully descending the nine granite steps to the courtyard below, balanced precariously high upon six-inch stiletto’s and struggling to bend joints confined within excruciatingly tight-fitting jeans.  Another young woman, similar in assumption of age group as the previously observed, traversed the Cathedral steps effortlessly in her, what appeared to be seven-inch platform shoes, straps crisscrossing up her calves, that effectively accented her wonderfully voluminous dress that barely came to the top of her knee.

The jeans wearing youngsters found their prospective familial units and made their way to whatever the next stop on their fashion tour was under the guise of dressing up for church, disappearing into the warm noontime sun of this early fall day.  The billowing dress adorned young woman, crossed the light rail tracks and walked in my direction.  Holding my gaze as she approached, she cast a warm smile as she passed the window behind which I was perched whaling away on my laptop.  I returned the gesture, of course.  It was only appropriate…

I broke a Cardinal rule today

 I broke a cardinal rule today.  I gave a homeless man a dollar.  OK, I know, that sounds a bit insensitive, but there is a good reason why I don’t give homeless people money.  Well, actually, there are several reasons, good ones as far as I am concerned, not by some people’s standards perhaps, but my reasons none-the-less.  I work in the heart of downtown Sacramento.  One doesn’t have to dig too far back in news story archives to discover that Sacramento has a homeless problem and its a biggie.  The population of homeless nearly doubled with the mortgage meltdown started a chain reaction that sent property values plummeting close to 33% forcing countless families out on the street.  The point that I am trying to make is that I have seen the same homeless people every day for the past four years when I go to lunch, take a break and walk to the State Capitol to stroll in the park.  If I were to succumb to each and every request for money I would be right there next to them in just a few months time.  So, my cardinal rule is to not honor 3 to 5 requests for cash that I get five days a week.

I would just as soon take them into a deli and buy them a meal, and I have done just that on occasion.

Today, while leaving my office to catch my bus, I spied a guy whom I have never seen before sitting on a large duffel bag with various personal belongings scattered around his immediate vicinity.  As I passed he said “excuse me, but could you possibly spare some change?”  I went into automatic mode and gave my customary response: “Sorry, I have no cash” and continued walking.  I got a few feet away and, as I have been known to do on very few occasions if I feel that the person has a genuine need and won’t make a bee-line for the liquor store before the coinage has settled into his palm, I turned around, pulled out my wallet and handed him a dollar.  I thought, hey, I have never seen this guy before and he looks to be really down on his luck.  Just as he closed his fingers around the bill, he said in a sarcastic tone: “wow, a dollar.  Thanks man.” and turned his head away from me as I stood before him.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  That ungrateful bastard  I thought to myself as I walked away, feeling like my compassion had just been stomped on.  “That settles it, that’s the last time I do that.” I said out-loud as I continued my journey to my bus stop, hoping that my audible proclamations were not misinterpreted as the mindless ranting babble of the street population that had just lowered my compassion level.
Don’t get me wrong.  I am very compassionate for the homeless population in Sacramento and everywhere in this country.  No one, I mean NO ONE should be without a safe place to sleep and have enough food to eat.  But if you’re putting yourself in the position to ask people to help you out with a donation of cash, food, clothing, or whatever, be genuinely grateful, because when you’re not, you’re taking food out of the mouths of those who are truly appreciative of any help that they can get.   
 
Which reminds me of another similar instance in which a few people in my office commented one day about a homeless man who they have seen rummaging in trash cans near the office looking for recyclable.  He asked the same thing as he passed: “can you spare a quarter?”  I don’t know what he thought he could get for a quarter, but he was probably trying to sound as though he wasn’t asking for much, prompting compassionate folks on the street to give him more.  After all, all he’s asking for is a quarter, right.  why not give him a  buck, or even five?  
So, these few employees also commented that this guy was walking around in a pair of corduroy pants that were torn from his feet all the way up the back of each thigh, the rip disappearing underneath the back of a ragged flannel shirt that he always wore.  Taking note of this, the three of us gathered up some clothing to give to him the next time that we saw him so that he could at least have some real pants to wear and some shoes on his feet as it was winter time when the topic of him came up.  When all was said and done we had gathered up socks, pants, shoes, and a nice warm jacket.  We stored some of this stuff under a chair in my cubicle and the larger items in my car with the plan to pull him aside and give him this gift of compassion the next time we saw him  
A few weeks went by and while on a break I finally saw him again.  He was going through a trash can in front of the Cathedral, pants ripped even ruther up his legs, bare feet black from walking for months without shoes.  I approached him and he gave his customary spiel:  “Can you help me out with a quarter?” he said.  I returned with my automatic response: “sorry, I have no cash, but some co-workers put in a collection of some clothes for you.  we have pants, shoes, socks and a nice warm coat.” I said.  His response was brief, and to the point.  “No, that’s OK. I’m alright.”  He then turned and walked to K street to the next trash can, raising his head briefly to mouth his perpetual query to the next person who would listen: “can you help me out with a quarter?” 
On my way home from work that day I stopped at the local Goodwill store and donated all of the clothing that I had gathered up specifically for this man.  A donation of shoes and socks still sit in a bag under a side chair in my cubicle.

The Birds of Cosumnes River Preserve

I tend to find my photography subjects everywhere.  I am never without my camera and I will photograph whatever i find interesting from the dilapidated abandoned buildings of downtown Sacramento with their resident bats, rodents and homeless to the ornate architectural elements of the turn of the century buildings that pepper the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley.

Lately, though, I have had really good luck finding cooperative subjects among the wildlife at Cosumnes River Preserve.  Located just off of I-5 and Twin Cities Road in the town of Galt, Cosumnes Preserve encompasses several hundred acres of wetlands with walking trails that meander through wooded areas and meadows where one may encounter a beaver busy putting together its hut, muskrats scurrying along the banks of the river on a quest for food or even the occasional mountain lion coming down to the water’s edge to check meal prospects that may include the aforementioned river inhabitants.  

The variety of water birds and raptors is also pretty phenomenal.  Here is a slide-show that I put together of some of the wildlife that I have encountered within two days of shooting last month.

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If you’re ever traveling in the area on I-5 on your way north or south between Lodi and Sacramento, Cosumnes Preserve is a worthwhile side trip.