My ears perk up slightly. I attempt, as best I can, to block out the sound of the running faucet and swirling mix of water and toothpaste that empties down my bathroom sink's drain. The familiar cascading guitar strings of my cell phone ringtone combined with the low hum of vibration make their way through the wall separating my bedroom and my current location. I hastily exit the bathroom, entering back into the early morning darkness of my upstairs hallway, noting that the empty bedroom to my right, and that thankfully, this phone call wouldn't be waking anyone.
I lift the phone off the side of my bed, unplugging it from the charger in one motion. I scan the name on the front of the screen, though I needed no hint as to whom it would be.
"How's it going?"
The first words of the day scratch, slightly as they exit my throat.
"Good, good. Tell Ben I'm going to be late this morning. The bus came too early, I missed it."
"No problem, see you then."
"Yep. See you then."
We've got it down to a four sentence exchange. I fire off a quick text message, check my watch, and decide it's probably time to put some shorts on.
Five minutes later, my hand pushes through my front door and out into the final gasps of a nighttime sky that is 5:15am. My feet make their way down the sidewalk, towing keys in one hand, a stiffness from last nights run in my legs, and an empty grumble in my stomach. A Monday morning routine that I've done countless times, an ordinary walk out my front door do something one more time, or in this case, for the 500th time.
But first, a little bit about rivers..
The Ohio River is approximately 981 miles long, and winds across the eastern United States. At it's widest point, it is actually larger than the Mississippi. It serves as the northern and southern boundaries for Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, respectively. It has given birth to such cities as Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
But for as great as the mighty Ohio River is, for all the history, and industry it has spawned, it's beginning is where we find relevance to this story.
Because, you see, the Ohio River does not begin as one river, but rather two rivers, two different rivers, the Allegheny, and Monongahela River. Two rivers that despite the similarity of their end point, bear stark differences between them.
The Allegheny flows on a southern trajectory, sliding it's way down from northern Pennsylvania, while the Monongahela winds north from West Virginia. At a length of 325 miles, the Allegheny more than doubles the 130 miles of it's partner. And the contrasts from there continue, ranging from the free-flow of the Allegheny and the high number of dams and locks of the Monongahela, to the Native American tribes who named them.
Now back to our story...
It just so happens that I remember the first time I met him. He was wearing what we came to collectively call his "cat burglar" suit, a pair of black sweatpants, a black hooded sweatshirt, and a black knit cap atop his head. He stood there bouncing slightly in the cold March air, white pockets of exhaled breath pluming in contrast against his dark complexion.
He was quiet at first which, as I think about it now, makes these past 17 months feel much longer ago than they actually were. We didn't run together that first morning. It's possible someone else had asked me to run with them, or that I felt like doing the longer route. But, looking back on it, I think I just didn't know what to make of him at first.
He certainly wasn't exactly a picture of a budding distance runner. He stood flat footed upon his 60 year old legs. An impressive white puffy beard, voice and body type that fell somewhere between Santa Clause and James Earl Jones.
In contrast, I stood there, a nike half-zip pulled down to meet a long, sleek pair of black running plants. I bounced slightly in a new pair of sneakers, on an air of having completed another two marathons that fall, and the misguided notion that, at 26, I knew something about something.
And that's how we met.
Then two days later, we ran together for the first time.
Ron and I.
Some 498 miles ago.
Now I can't claim to have run each of those miles with him, but I can say with a good amount of certainty that I was there for most of them. There in some form or another. Through cold winter mornings, and hot humid afternoons. As just another voice in a larger group amidst big city races, and at others, the lone one on short, quiet walks through a city who's alarm clock has yet to go off.
And like that the miles ticked by, as sweaty summer high fives gave way to two pairs of pants, and then back again.
And somewhere along the way, I got to know my friend, my unlikely friend Ron.
I got to know him. I got to know him in the obvious forms, and also in the ones that you might have to look a little closer to find. I learned that he loves basketball, the Civil War, and the history of Philadelphia, but found that what he really loves, is to teach you about them. I learned that he has a daughter, but I found that on any given day, she can drive him nuts. I learned that he helped build the USS New Jersey with his bare hands many years ago, but learned the pride in doing so that never left. I found a homeless man, and learned what that means.
I found a friend, and learned that I wasn't only one.
Cause somewhere along the way, it seemed, he learned a thing or two about me as well. And in that touching, and irritating way that only a true friend can, he seems to take it as his personal mission to remind me each morning. Heckling me on my feelings about a bagel store sign that reads "Freshly Poured Orange Juice", or the way he never misses an opportunity to mock my questionable sense of direction.
At Back on My Feet we celebrate a member reaching 500 miles with a plaque. It's a plaque that is given with a great deal amount of weight attached to it. A weight that accompanies such an accomplishment of the physical, and spiritual nature of it.
But selfishly, this blog isn't about any of that.
It's not a blog about the 500 miles Ron has run, and the progress that I've witnessed as a result. It's not a blog about Ron getting back on his feet in literal or metaphoric way. And it's not a blog about a homeless man.
It's a blog about change, though not in Ron, but in me.
They call it a confluence.
The point at which two rivers meet, that is.
And while our journeys began in different places, and while I can't say where they will end, for this part, for these 500 miles, I do know this...
That, above all else, I was lucky to have found my friend there.