There is a whole tribe of people I know through running. On weekday, at 6 a.m., there is a 20ish Hispanic guy I meet at the top of a steep hill. At first, his face was wary, closed. Mine was too, probably. There aren't any houses there. No witnesses. Then we started nodded, then smiling, and now we say hello.
A few blocks later there is often a man in his early 60s, leaning against his closed garage door, a smoker who obviously can't smoke in the house. I wave at him now, too. [Full disclosure: only a part of this is motivated by the fact that no matter what the rest of the world thinks of me, gallumping along at probably an 11-minute-mile pace, to him I will always be young and athletic. I always run faster when I go past.]
Other people I might speak to only once, or once a year. I know their cars, and which cars have expired registrations. On Vermont, I see the exuberant sidewalk, filled with native wildflowers and no grass at all, next to the plain, green, staid grass of the nextdoor neighbor, mowed as short as a military haircut. I know the dogs, the kid's toys, the bumper stickers. I see people in their bathrobes or boxers, some embarrassed, some nonchalant.
On Pendleton there's a white and green house on the corner. For a long time the two doors of the garage bore the giant letters E & C. When I shared a house with three friends down the street, right after college, we called it the Eric Clapton house. Probably 10 years ago, the lady of the house gave me a drink of water on a hot day when I shouldn't have been running. One day the letters were painted over. Later I learned her husband had died. I've talked to her two or three times in the last year. She's a little lonely, cheerful, a keen observer of her neighborhood, where large yards are now being turned into houses, and small houses are being replaced by ones that fill the lot.
This morning there was a big dumpster out front. Inside, a flowered mattress, a striped rug, a gold chair with worn arms, a big wooden console TV. I stopped. I didn't realize I was speaking out loud until I heard my own voice over the sound of the Fratellis. "She must be dead."
One of my people is gone.