I relate to Kinsey Millhone. I power walk to burn off the Cheez-Its I eat late at night while watching Charlie Rose interview people I would love to know… she jogs to burn off her Big Macs.
It doesn’t matter that Kinsey’s a fictional detective who solves mysteries and I’m a real person who reads them, we both love junk food and we both get “high” from our morning jaunts. Of course, her jaunt is a three-mile run around the streets of her picturesque California town that’s exhilarating and meditative. My jaunt is a three-mile “power” walk around a California dirt track that’s neither exhilarating nor meditative.
Kinsey also notices people and so do I. Lately I’ve been noticing the lady in the park.
While in “the zone” I’ve become familiar with many of the faces who have become part of my walking “crowd”… a swarthy (I love that word), compact middle-aged man, who listens to his walkman and nods when he passes me on the track; a rugged looking guy about forty in jeans and cowboy boots who walks and talks with a coiffed blonde dressed more for shopping than working up a sweat; plus assorted elderly people who walk in pairs and new moms who run as they push their infants in carriages trying to lose those last five pounds of “baby” fat.
The first time I saw the “lady in the park” she was climbing out of an old Chevy van parked in the track’s adjoining parking lot. She slid open its side door, pulled out a folding “beach” chair and sat herself down… right on the track. As I breezed by her, I saw she had also taken out a cooler. It was a lovely day, so I figured she had come to the park to have a picnic. I didn’t question why she hadn’t carried her chair the short distance to the grassy knoll that actually offered picnic tables… I just figured she liked to be surrounded by the “action.”
The next morning the lady showed up again, this time wearing powder blue sweats. The day before, her ensemble had been tan. As I completed my first half-mile, she placed her chair under a tree on the edge of the track and was sitting contentedly doing nothing. She smiled at no one as I whisked by and wondered if her long, straight platinum hair was her own. By the time I finished my second lap, she had moved her chair into the sun. Seven minutes and thirty seconds later as I approached her again, she was standing by her van, the doors wide open, and I could see that it was filled to the brim with “stuff.” It looked like the vans open for business at flea markets.
She’s been coming to the track every morning now for months, each day with a different color sweat suit. My personal favorite, which made its debut around Easter, was pink. Not light pink or dark rose, but bubblegum pink. While I marveled at the color and wondered why anyone her age would wear so much of it, I began to really wonder who the lady in the park was. Like Kinsey, I ran through my mind what I knew. She appeared to be around forty, she had an array of colorful sweats, she was probably blonde, drove a van that was about ten years old and she was clean.
Unlike everyone else at the park moving in circles to keep fit, the lady in the park just sits. During my thirty-minute walk, she often moves her beach chair from under the trees to along side her van, then back again. She does nothing else of note, except fill her water bottle from a nearby fountain from time to time.
At first I thought she might live in her van… a suburban bag lady... but I couldn’t figure out how she kept so immaculate. Where does she wash her hair (or wig)? Where does she do her laundry? How does she pay for gas?
Nope, she isn’t a bag lady. I decided she was an undercover cop surveying the park for gang bangers, terrorists or possibly just litter-ers. Or maybe she was a P. I., keeping a clandestine eye on Mr. Cowboy Boots. I mean really, who walks laps around a track in cowboy boots? Would Kinsey sit day after day in plain sight watching her prey? Would she disguise herself in pastel sweats and a blonde wig? Wouldn’t she at least read a book as she sat vigil?
I often think of talking to the lady in the park, but as I watch her watching me and my track crowd, I decide I really don’t want to know. I don’t want to know if she’s homeless or if she comes to the track to escape her life. I want to believe she’s a lady of mystery whose life is filled with many friends and loved ones… and that’s when I understand that I’m really not like Kinsey. Fictional Kinsey lives in the real world, I’m happiest in my fictional one.