In January, I began to train for the Buffalo Marathon by running every street in the entire city. The idea was to finish everything on race day at the marathon. The question that was mentioned often was “Aren’t you afraid to run in the bad neighborhoods?” Admittedly, there was anxiety being in unknown neighborhoods and around people that “appeared” different than me. The added questions didn’t help.
Each run occurred when people were asleep or inside due to being the dead of winter. Sunday mornings worked best because the only people up were going to church. They were extremely friendly, happy to see you and often initiated greetings first. Quickly, I learned initiating the first greeting was the best way to ease any nervous feelings for myself and people in the neighborhood. By being friendly only friendly reactions are what I received back. The more I did this, the less anxiety I would have…until May 3rd on Election Day.
My guidelines stated that early morning and cold days were the “safest” times, but that day I had to run the neighborhood south of ECMC in the late afternoon. Admittedly, I was nervous to run the neighborhood during the most active time of day. The marathon was only 4 weeks off and I still had many miles to run, so I headed off. My first interaction was a mechanic walking out of his business looking for his son. I asked him “Was he on a mountain bike?” The father said “Yeah” and I replied with “He just passed me, he’s just around the corner”. My next encounter was a veteran talking to a new military recruit. We spoke about their neighborhood, military service and the former Curtis-Wright plant a few streets over. Over the next few miles, I encountered people of all ages enjoying the early May weather. During my last mile, a woman in a wheelchair was crossing East Ferry, so I helped make sure traffic saw her so she could cross safely. Returning to my car, I was surrounded by nothing, but the sounds of children playing. This encounter made me question whether my anxiety and fears were warranted.
After the run, I thought back to how friendly people were to me in the “bad” neighborhoods. There was the guy who sang the Wildroot Hair Tonic jingle to me on Bailey Avenue. I received some unexpected encouragement from an SUV driver on Mendola Avenue. There was the unsafe 10 minute conversation with a driver who stopped his car in the middle of Memorial Drive to tell me about the neighborhood. A group of entrepreneurs extolled their excitement for the blossoming Buffalo from the roof of the building they were buying on Broadway Avenue. Everyone was completely comfortable asking questions about why I was running in their neighborhood. There was the young guys driving on Goodyear Avenue who turned around to drive the wrong way on a one way street to see if I needed help. They were the guys that made me the most nervous, but instead they came to see if I needed help.
No matter the race, religion or economic class, we all want the same thing: have a good job, raise our kids, have fun and be able to live without any problems. Seems obvious, right? Living in fear causes you to think the worst about people that “appear different”. For me, I just wish it didn’t take running every street of Buffalo to figure this out.