I have been walking at 5:30 in the morning with a friend for 15 years. Weekends, according to our policy book, have been off days. This Saturday morning I woke up about 6:30 wondering what I am going to do with myself all day. My wife is in Japan; Son #1 is in Korea; Son #2 is in Switzerland; my walking buddy is on Nantucket Island. It seemed a good day to get in a little extra walking. I decided this would be a good morning to do four miles at Meadowbrook Park, which has a broad concrete path through restored prairie, along a brook, past a restored farmstead, past community organic garden plots. Best of all, it has a variety of sculptures along the path, placed there by artists wanting exposure.
I soon got to Meadowbrook, did some stretching exercises and was off down the path, at a brisk pace, enjoying the cool breeze and the bright sunshine. There were a lot more people out this time of the morning, or perhaps it was because it was a weekend. I met some kids on in-line skates, a couple of bicylists; some runners passed me, and then I heard footsteps approaching from the rear and moved to the right to let the person pass. But the footsteps slowed down as the person came abreast and then as I looked to the left I saw they belonged to a man in his early 30s who appeared to be developmentally challenged.
"Good morning," I said with a friendly smile, feeling cozy inside at my good deed in reaching out.
"Good morning," he replied warmly, probably also feeling cozy inside at his good deed in reaching out.
I expected the stranger to go on past, but instead he slowed down to match my steps and started a monologue.
"This is a beautiful park," he said, as I mumbled my agreement. "They work hard to keep it looking nice," he continued, as I mumbled "yeah," picking up my pace, but he kept up easily and kept talking.
"They're going to have a strawberry festival tonight," he said. I didn't say anything, trying to conserve my breath so I could walk a little faster. "I came last year," he said. "They had strawberries and cake."
Then he started telling me about a strawberry festival he had attended at some other town, and it was better than Meadowbrook's because they had not only strawberries and cake, but also ice cream and pizza. I thought maybe in his strawberry enthusiasm he would forget about me so I tried to unobstrusively slow down, but his peripheral vision was excellent and he accommodatingly slowed down and kept talking. I thought maybe I could at least get him to shut up, so I asked him whether that was a pheasant that had just squawked, but he replied that he hadn't heard anything and continued his monologue. He told me about the kids who come out to the park at night and he has to chase them out (not a difficult task, I wouldn't think) and how last night they were shooting off fireworks, so he called the police.
By this time, I was getting desperate as I noticed that the kindly smiles of the people we met were directed at both of us, and I envisioned that people were thinking, "Oh, look at those two retarded boys, out enjoying a Saturday stroll." So, I told him that at this point, I usually ran. "See you later," I shouted as I took off down the path.
In this case, "later" was about five seconds as he quickly caught up with me and jogged easily beside me, talking nonstop all the time about the time he went to a church potluck and what delicious food they had. I was also fast running out of breath, so I decided more drastic measures were called for.
"Look at that plane," I gasped, pointing east of the path while diving into a clump of tall prairie grasses on the right side of the path. I lay there for a minute trying to catch my breath when I felt a hand grasp my shoulder and the solicitous stranger helping me to my feet.
"Did you fall down?" he asked. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," I muttered, resigned to the fact that I was going to have a friend for the morning, if not for life. I wondered whether, at the end of the path, I would be able to unlock my car door, get in and get it locked before he jumped in with me.
About then, an attractive 30ish woman coming from the other direction gave us a big smile and said, "Good morning, Stanley." "Hi, Shirley," he said and turned around to walk with her. As they walked away, the wind carried the sound of his voice. "That man is a lunatic," he said.