Friday, January 27, 2006

A Guardian Angel in a Yellow Cab?

January 27, 2006
Miami, Florida

I arrived in Miami two days ago. I'm here to run the ING Half Marathon ( there is a full marathon as well; and a 5K ).

Why? I decided in October that doing an endurance run would be a good way to test my body's endurance and progress--and get into the sun in January. The ultimate goal? To run the New York Marathon on November 5.

A little backstory. I qualified for the 2005 New York Marathon which was no small feat, but then my body began to cave as I attempted longer runs and more intense workouts. So, I hired a trainer in New York, Paul Friediani, who got me through the winter and started me strengthening my spine. In the summer I went back to Philadelphia for three months and worked with a wonderful trainer, Bill Sayer, who turned up the heat so to speak, adding more complex strengthening exercises to try to address very old muscle group weaknesses. And I participated in my first triathlon and finished fourth in my age group.

Paul has left the club in New York where I belong. So Bill and I work together as much as possible, and the rest of the time I'm following his detailed routines--and seeing progress little by little.

So, here I am acclimating to the warm, humid south Florida climate and doing some easy runs and crosstraining. The hotel I chose is in downtown Miami near the start of the race, so I’m not on the beach but in the center of the banking district. It reminds me a little of the area on the Chicago River right near East Wacker Drive. I can see Biscayne Bay to the east and north and west is all highrises and towns north of Miami.

The pool at the Mandarin Oriental is beautiful as you can see from the picture above but not more than 25 feet long, not a lap pool by any means. So, I went to the concierge and asked what arrangements the hotel had with other hotels or facilities to lap swim.

The concierge said there were no arrangements, but that there was a public pool not far. “It’s before you get to the 95 Freeway”, he offered. He gave me a map and I set out across Brickell Key toward the federal building and west Miami.I walked for five or ten minutes and wasn’t seeing any of the streets that he had indicated ( Miami has lots of designations –southwest, southeast, etc.—and if there is order to it, I haven’t discovered it. )

I asked directions twice. The first man said he’d never heard of the pool. The second, two women, looked me in the eye and said:”Don’t cross 95, it’s not safe. In fact, I wouldn’t walk more than two more blocks in that direction.”

So, I took stock.

I found a cab parked near the federal building. The driver, a middle-aged man with tortoise shell sunglasses, shortsleeved polo shirt and short, stubby, salt and pepper hair, put down his hoagie and opened the window.

“Can you take me to the public pool near 95 on 4th?”, I asked as I got in the back seat.

“Ma’am, I’m a swimmer, and I used to swim there, but no more. It’s not very safe. There are some other great places for laps, though. The Biltmore, the Venetian both have beautiful pools.”
I didn’t even hesitate. “Fine. I’ve always wanted to see the Biltmore. But will they let me in even if I’m not a guest?”

“Oh, sure. I don’t see why not. Just tell them you’re at the Mandarin Oriental.”

In the meantime, I told him to take me back to my hotel and wait for me while I got my book and sunscreen. I intended to stay for awhile, since these pools were in Coral Gables, a 20 minute cab ride away.

I was dubious and decided to confirm with the Biltmore that I could swim there. The desk receptionist said “no, only guests”. But I decided to try the Venetian. The driver pulled into the portechere and waited.

I got back into his cab a few minutes later. “I got you in”, he said triumphantly.

“Excuse me?”

“I got you in. I called the fitness manager at the Biltmore. Told her you were running the marathon, that they might get some promo out of it since you were in marketing. And she said you could have a day pass.”

I thanked him, asked him his name (Richard), and off we went to Coral Gables in the noonday traffic. I found out a lot about this man. He was a recovering alcoholic who had recently been in rehab. He was driving a cab to pay the bills and considering going into nursing. But, he told me as he drove through the palm lined streets: “My goal this year is to finish all the twelve steps. No negativity. Keep doing transcendental meditation. Lose some weight so I can surf again.” Sounds ambitious in a positive way, and I sincerely believe hope he succeeds.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a cross between Going My Way and Its A Wonderful Life( released in the year of my birth, 1946 ). Yesterday, I was Jimmy Stewart. Stewart’s guardian angel, Clarence, didn’t look anything like the Archangel Michael, remember? He was rumpled, old, not “cool”. With apologies to Richard, he was my Clarence in Miami--and it wasn't even Christmas.

Richard dropped me off, gave me his cell number and said he could return when I was ready to go back to the hotel. The rest of the visit was equally unexpected. The pool at the Biltmore, a Leading Hotel of the World, is enormous. It must be 100 meters total and was almost completely empty. I did my laps, then chose a lounge chair and asked the waiter for a menu. The man next to me, also middle aged, struck up a conversation with me. We had a great chat. He was from Chicago, where I had lived, worked and played hard.

All I wanted for lunch was grilled grouper which wasn’t on the menu. Tom, my new friend, encouraged the waiter to get the chef to make me grouper. “She’s running a half marathon on Sunday. She needs her protein.” Now twice in one day, a little help from my “friends”.
I don’t expect every day to end like yesterday. But this I do know. I have a guardian angel, ( as I believe we all do) and he manifests every once and awhile when I’m least expecting.

Sound silly? Maybe. You explain it.

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