(Updated from Snitches and Bitches and Ditches)
Most of us less than committed to physical fitness can always come up with an excuse to skip the gym, but when it comes to jogging, I have a real and irrational fear. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people you see jogging outside. One of those fresh air fanatics with clear skin and bouncy hair you pass on your drive home while elbow deep in a family size bucket of chicken. Walking and jogging is one of the best forms of exercise. You can do it in your own neighborhood or on trails, you can push a stroller or drag your dog, you can even walk with a friend and catch up on the parts of their life they omit from social media. Not to mention walking is free, no gym membership required. Despite all the pros, I can’t get past the one thing that keeps my running shoes collecting dust under my bed. I went through a big CSI phase in college, and now I’m paranoid I’m going to find a dead body wrapped in a tarp in a ditch. According to all those sexy crime drama shows, it’s always the jogger who finds the body.
While I can’t find any statistics to support the theory, any primetime drama with a colon and initials in the title will back me up. If you jog or walk outdoors, you will come across at least one decaying corpse, most definitely the result of a violent murder by which the culprit is still on the loose. He’s probably standing right behind you, or is your neighbor or boyfriend. Does the government ever follow-up with these joggers or offer them counseling? That’s got to be a traumatic experience. There you are, high-stepping in your Lululemon spandex, when a shiny blue object catches your eye. You look over into the ditch next to the new condos being built and see a crumpled tarp with what looks like an Ugg boot sticking out the bottom. You lift your sunglasses, remove your earbuds blaring Cardio Playlist #9, and slowly creep off the sidewalk over to the trench. You lean down and squint your eyes, and that’s when you spot a limp dirt covered hand with chipped fingernail polish. Congratulations, you just found a dead body. The first of many if you’re training for a marathon. The rest of your day is filled with police reports and interrogations. Forget the late lunch you had planned, let alone a shower. What comes next in that person’s life? I doubt they’ll ever be able to enjoy outdoor recreational activities again, let alone a wool-lined pair of Uggs, which is every American’s right.
With these images in my head, it was impossible to enjoy walking around my neighborhood, no matter how well-lit and safe it felt. One place I found in the city where you don’t have to worry about tarps in ditches are the Greenways. They don’t allow motor vehicles so there’s no way to back up a truck and dump a body in a shallow grave under the cover of night. These are handicap accessible city owned paved trails where you can walk, bike, take your dogs, whatever your heart desires. It’s a great place to get some fresh air and exercise. I would always see the cutest ladies promenading with their girlfriends, pushing their babies in strollers, rollerblading with their labradoodles, and decked out in workout gear. I felt safe there for a while, until I started noticing the men who frequent greenways.
The men are the kind of creepers Lifetime movie executives’ dream of casting. I kid you not, one day I saw a man in a Circuit City uniform with a bum leg. I know all the Circuit City’s shut down years ago. If you’re trying to look like you’re out on a lunch hour stroll, you’re not fooling anyone. He was slowly dragging his leg behind him like a zombie, and when I got closer, it looked like he was reaching for a knife. Whenever I pass these creepers, my senses are on high alert. I make sure I can see their hands at all times, and then scan their body for possible hidden weapons. Once I saw a guy wearing black leather gloves in the middle of summer. He wasn’t going to get his fingerprint-free hands around my neck, so I kept an eye on him, and a distance of 20 feet at all times. It doesn’t feel like enough just to be visually aware of my surroundings. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t even enjoy music. I need to be able to listen carefully for footsteps that might be sneaking up from behind. I’m also afraid to exert too much energy in case a rapist is watching from the bushes, waiting for me to get too tired to defend myself. I have to make sure I’m well rested and ready to bust out the self-defense moves I learned with my sorority sisters 10 years ago.
In my humble opinion, ninety percent of all males walking on the greenways look like they could be picked up for a police lineup at any time. Maybe that’s why they are using trails and staying off the main roads. They should know they would look a lot less conspicuous if they would just throw on a T-shirt and some cross trainers. It would also reduce my blood pressure.
Maybe I am a little paranoid. George Gerbner tells us this irrational fear is a result of the long term effects of the violence on American television. Because we spend so much time in front of the tube, we “develop an exaggerated belief in a mean and scary world.” A believe that goes against real crime statistics, especially if we live in a middle class suburb and not Time Square in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, this dose of logic and reason does not make me feel any better about the suspicious men on the greenways with guilt-ridden faces and what could possibly be dried blood on their pant legs. It doesn’t help me overcome the fear of happening upon a recently deceased member of my community while checking the mail. If anything, it gives me the relief that there are people out there like me who’d prefer a couch to a 5K any day.