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“The Magical 1st. Street Bridge”

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By Matthew Giron

During a morning run with the Skid Row Running Club in early October 2017, I decided to take a shortcut by skipping the portion of the run that ‘loops’ the lake at Hollenbeck Park, our resting midpoint.  As I was approaching the 1st street bridge near the final stretch of our run I could hear Sara, a long time skid row runner, coming up from behind me bubbling over with enthusiasm.  Sara’s positive spirit radiates and is felt by anyone she comes in contact with.  She was laughing alongside her friend Megan, who was running with the Skid Row Running Club for the first time.  Megan was trying something new and different.  Sara and I began to encourage Megan, commending her for breaking out of her comfort zone.  Sara noticed that I had took the shortcut and began to ‘call me out’, teasing me for trying to be so slick and sneaky.  She was right, I had waited for the group to start rounding the lake with their backs turned before I started to run, hoping I wouldn't be seen taking the shortcut.  

As we stepped onto the 1st Street bridge I began to tell Sara and Megan how this portion of the run is very special because cookie fortunes “magically” appear on the ground.  Fortunes have appeared on the bridge going back nearly an entire year.  More appear after all of them are picked up so it can’t be some isolated event.  Some days there are one or two, while other days there may be handfuls!  I told them that for some time I have been trying to figure out the reason they appear.  I’ve been hunting for clues but can’t seem to “crack” the fortune cookie case (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

Continuing on the bridge we weren’t surprised when, naturally, we all saw a fortune on the floor.  I jumped first and picked it up and in near disbelief read aloud: “Don’t be tempted by shortcuts - They are never worth it in the end”.  We were shocked!  A few steps later Sara saw one on the ground and picked it up.  She read, “Your positive attitude is contagious”.  Unbelievable!  The relevance of the fortunes appeared to be more than just coincidence.  We started to walk to allow Megan, who was struggling a bit, to catch her breath.  One more fortune was seen and it naturally belonged to Megan, as she had not picked one up yet.  Megan picked up her fortune and she read it out loud to us: “Modify your thinking to adapt to new situations”.  Amazing!  The magical 1st Street bridge gave all three of us a personalized fortune that day.  Sara snapped a photo of us holding our fortunes at the end of the run.    

Even before the fortunes began to appear, running westward along the 1st Street bridge had always been special to me.  When I first started running with the group about one year ago my spirit was broken and I felt hopeless most of the time, as I had just ended many months of consecutive hard drug use.  It was as if I had lost the ability to see any color or beauty in the world.  In those days I remember running along the bridge at dawn, watching the sun rise over downtown, feeling inspired that the future held great hope.  The sunlight breaking against the skyline and the ‘dawn of a new day’ seemed to be symbolic of my new drug free life I was determined to create.  Watching the pastel blues and oranges of the sky frame the glass skyscrapers made me feel like anything was possible and that there was still so much beauty in my life and in the world to enjoy.  Those moments of inspiration running on the bridge meant so much to me and kept me moving in the right direction despite the struggles that accompanied early recovery.  All week I would look forward to those moments running along the magical bridge.

The Skid Row Running Club runs along the magical 1st Street bridge in all types of weather.  Light drizzle.  Scorching heat.  Pastel colored skies.  Cloudy with a chance of cookie fortunes.

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"Morning Becomes Eclectic"

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"Morning Becomes Eclectic"

By Matthew Giron

“We are people who normally would not mix.  But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.”

-Page 17, Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

So a singer, a superior court Judge, and an ex-heroin addict walk into a room....

Sounds like a joke, but…..this is actually an accurate description of the colorful, eclectic personalities that make up the Skid Row Running Club.

Judge Mitchell hosted a celebratory potluck dinner in his courtroom after the Los Angeles Marathon.  At this dinner I looked around and saw all of the runners with varying backgrounds, talents, and professions.  I was overwhelmed by the diversity: an architect, a steady cam operator, and a writer all conversing in one small corner of the courtroom.  In wonderment and in near disbelief I blurted out, "You can't make this up!" This beautiful mix of people make for the best conversations on our morning runs.  I can go from talking to a lawyer about guided meditation to laughing at a makeshift 'mansion tent' with a LAPD police officer.  We talk about books we’re reading, changes we’re making, and goals we’re working towards.  The friendships I've developed have changed my life.  

The club itself is practically an oxymoron.  Running clubs are never associated with skid row.  It’s almost like a homeless shelter existing in the City of Malibu!  The eccentric nature of the Skid Row Running Club makes it the perfect meeting ground for such a wide-range of interesting, beautiful personalities.

What is it that brings us all together?  Addiction and homelessness affects everyone - especially those who work and live near skid row. The Skid Row Running Club is indescribably wonderful.

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"Dateless Greeting Card"

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"Dateless Greeting Card"

                                    by Matthew Giron

                                    by Matthew Giron

On Friday, September 1st, 2017, Marion and I were waiting for a phone call from the ambulance driver who would notify Marion of when they were ready to pick him up.  He was wincing in pain as he paced back and forth in front of me.  I sat in the same chairs that I sit in when the Skid Row Running Club congregates for our morning runs, on the second floor of the Midnight Mission.  His phone rang and after he hung up he said, "Okay, they're here."  I grabbed two of his small bags and we headed downstairs together, following the same path the runners use to exit the mission for our morning runs.  The ambulance was parked directly in front of the mission's courtyard along 6th Street, the same location where we begin our morning runs.  Two uniformed ambulance drivers lowered the gurney for Marion to lay on.  I gave Marion a hug and told him that I would see him soon.  Marion was getting a ride to St. Francis hospital in Lynwood to die.  The doctors have given him no more than a few months to live.  No more treatments.  No more hope.

I met Marion in September of 2016 when I first arrived at the Midnight Mission.  I was immediately attracted to Marion's generous spirit and lighthearted humor.  Though he was a few years older than me, the more we spoke, the more I realized we had much in common.  We shared stories from our past, our current struggles, and our hopes for the future.  After recovering from a relapse around Christmas of 2016, Marion discovered he had difficulty swallowing.  Tests revealed a malignant tumor in his throat.  He would have to begin intensive radiation treatments and chemotherapy.  Despite the painful cancer treatments, Marion always maintained a positive outlook.  In August of 2017, he went for a series of scans and tests to determine if the cancer had subsided.  The results were devastating - the cancer had nearly spread to his entire body.

On Monday, October 2nd, 2017, I went to visit Marion in the hospital to deliver a greeting card I wrote to him.  Watching him in the hospital, I realized Marion is deteriorating faster than anyone expected.  He had lost a tremendous amount of weight, required a breathing machine, and was heavily medicated.  The medical staff expect him to pass in less than a couple weeks.  As I walked home from the hospital I reflected on the words I wrote to him in the greeting card.  I let him know he was missed and a great example of how one can show strength and courage through such a difficult process.  I also reminded him of God's love for him and that He will soon do away with all suffering and pain.  As I reflected a little more, I realized I had not dated the card.  I believe we attach dates to greeting cards/personal letters because a small part of us realizes that the closeness shared may not always last.  The date provides a marker in time, an opportunity to reflect back on that person/time with nostalgia.  Think of the countless birthday cards and love letters we've received from those who are no longer in our lives.  When we know we will be close the person forever, attaching a date seems meaningless, even inappropriate.  These relationships are 'timeless', or in this case, 'dateless'.  For example, it would seem peculiar to attach a date to a letter of affection to my mother.  We will always share unconditional love which would make such a 'time marker' unnecessary. 

I'm grateful to have met Marion and to have been able to share a dateless greeting card with him.  Sadly, Marion left us Thursday, October 5th, 2017.  I will remember him forever.  Life is precious.

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"Muffled Memories"

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"Muffled Memories"

                                                                               By Matthew Giron

                                                                               By Matthew Giron

For many months, in the midst of my heroin addiction, I lived on the embankment of the 405 freeway off-ramp in Van Nuys.  Every morning I was woken by the sounds of cars exiting the freeway, specifically their blaring car radios.  On cold days, with the car windows rolled up tightly, the sound of the radio was muffled.  I would hear the voice of a morning DJ or a familiar song coming closer to me and then faintly fading away in the distance amidst the roar of the car engines.  This would go on and on all morning.  Listening, lying in an opiate stupor, I was reminded of the life that I left behind - when I would listen to the morning radio on the way to work myself.  The sounds emanating from those cars felt like voices calling me to get clean and join the ‘land of the living’.  In a literal sense life was passing me by.  Dirty, lonely, and heart broken I so longingly wished for the things I always took for granted - morning commutes to work in bad traffic while listening to the radio.  Who would ever imagine pining for morning traffic?  It's amazing what you miss when circumstances and life situations change.

Now, clean and sober in early recovery, I'm in a much improved condition compared to those mornings waking up on the side of the freeway.  Presently, I’m blessed to be able to go to sleep well fed in a safe, clean bed.  What is far more surpassing than these material improvements, however, is the intimacy I’m developing with others.  There are people in my life today who genuinely care about my well being.  Many members of the Skid Row Running Club have become like family to me.  Perhaps most important of all is that my parents and brothers don’t have to live in daily dread from getting a phone call informing them that I’ve been hurt, or worse.  Granted, I still don't have a job (or the morning commute that goes with it), but I’m certainly ‘running’ in the right direction.

At the end of our morning runs most of the runners meet in the parking garage of the Midnight Mission to say our goodbyes and congratulate each other on a good run.  I hear some of the runners discussing their commutes to work.  I hear in the distance a runner get into their car and turn on the radio with the voice of a morning DJ blaring.  As they drive away I wave good-bye listening to the muffled sound through their closed car windows and doors.  I smile knowing that I’ve joined the ‘land of the living’ and remember back to when those muffled ‘voices’ called out to me.  The quiet things that no one ever knows.

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"Peter Pants"

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"Peter Pants"

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By Matthew Giron

I first met Peter some months ago at a recovery support group in downtown LA’s Skid Row.  When I heard Peter share I was taken aback by his genuine joy and cheerfulness for living.  At the time I secretly held on to the belief that one could never be truly happy in a sober state.  As I learned more about Peter’s story I become even more amazed.  Peter currently has over three years free from drugs and alcohol, leaving behind decades of crime and a daily intravenous methamphetamine habit.  He’s spent years trying to get clean, in and out of jail, along with 27 visits to various rehabs!  

Sobriety has not been a ‘bowl of cherries’ for Peter.  This food idiom was chosen purposely, as Peter gained nearly 200 pounds in his first year of sobriety, substituting his drug addiction with a food addiction.  It’s taken 3 years for Peter to finally reach a point where he can say he’s thinking clearly and in good physical shape.  Peter has done some amazing things sober.  He’s started many 12-step recovery meetings Downtown.  There had been a need for anonymous support group meetings for kleptomaniacs and shoplifters in the Downtown area so Peter pioneered one of only four such groups in California.  Living in an apartment on Skid Row, Peter is proud to call Skid Row “home”, and is fond of the recovery community that exists there.  

I knew Peter would love the Skid Row Running Club given his dedication to changing the face and perception of Skid Row.  I wasn’t surprised by his acceptance to my invitation to run with us.  As I was waiting to welcome Peter to The Midnight Mission for one of our Thursday morning runs he walked in wearing running shoes and blue jeans!  At the end of the run we teased Peter for his strange choice in running attire.  We all laughed as we gave him the nickname “Peter Pants”.

Later that Thursday night I saw Peter at a recovery meeting and he was beaming with joy as he was sharing how much he loved being a part of the morning run with the Skid Row Running Club.  He practically shouted “I feel so alive!  I haven’t felt this alive since my first year sober".  He then added, "I wish I would’ve begun running a long time ago”.  He also related how he was so excited to bump into one of the club’s female runners while she was in full police uniform outside of his apartment building that afternoon.  

Peter said he bought some running shorts and will be wearing them on the next run.  He’ll always be “Peter Pants” to all of us!

 

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"Bloody Nipples"

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"Bloody Nipples"

bloody nipples while running

By Matthew Giron

Earlier this year Judge Mitchell led the Skid Row Running Club on long runs (15-20 milers) through the hills of Pasadena in preparation for the Los Angeles Marathon.  On one of these runs I arrived at Descanso Gardens, our 15 mile checkpoint, to meet the other runners for a quick water break.  While taking a sip of water another runner said to me "Hey you're bleeding", pointing to my chest.  I looked down and was surprised to see blood all over my shirt.  I was puzzled since I had not felt any discomfort from my chest area up to that point.  Nor had I remembered wrestling any bears along the way.  I was experiencing a common phenomenon that affects long distance runners for the first time - bloody nipples.

While nursing my nipples (sorry, had to do it!) back to health I couldn't figure out how I couldn't have noticed the crime scene on my shirt.  I realized that I had been so focused on making it to that checkpoint that I probably wouldn't have been distracted by much of anything, even if dancing hippos in pink tutus crossed my path.   

My bloody nipples taught me quite a bit that day.  I realized that discomforts and obstacles ("bloody nipples") will present themselves, even unexpectedly, whenever a worthwhile goal is pursued.  I think back to when I was pursuing my college degree.  I endured many sleepless nights studying for exams, late buses, professors whose passion was watching students fail...on and on.  When the goal of graduating was real it seemed as if I never really noticed the obstacles/discomforts.  When those obstacles seemed to feel too overwhelming, I knew that my goal wasn't real enough.  It was time to refocus and make that goal real again.  

Presently, in early recovery from addiction, I've set goals for myself - primarily to remain clean and sober.  My "nipples bleed" these days in the form of discouragement, loneliness, and guilt.  I'm reminded though, that when these discomforts get to be too noticeable it's time to refocus and make my goal of remaining clean and sober real again.  

 

You can learn a lot from a bloody nipple.

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"The Lone Runner"

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"The Lone Runner"

Lone runner

By- Matthew Giron

"Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind.  The race is long.  And in the end, it's only with yourself"

-Popular Song from the 90's, 'Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen'

Upon leaving the midpoint on our morning run we pass by what appears to be a random runner on the opposite side of the street, traveling in the opposite direction.  After looking a little closer I see that it is in fact a familiar face - friend and fellow skid row runner Louis.  Louis begins with us when we start at the Midnight Mission but quickly falls behind the group as the morning run progresses.  Last year, after suffering an injury and unable to run, Louis gained some unwanted weight.  Now, the excessive weight makes it very difficult to keep up with the group.  

Running alone can be discouraging as Louis related to me one day after a run.  He knows, however, that he won't be able to join us one day unless he suffers through these runs alone.  Louis keeps showing up and running at his own pace, getting a little quicker with each run.  "I wasn't even able to see you guys pass me when I first began months ago!", he proclaimed proudly.  "I've already lost 17 pounds since I started running again", he adds.  

Louis demonstrates that we can be part of a good cause - even if we can't participate in what would be considered a "normal" capacity.  Louis is a full-fledged member of the Skid Row Running Club in the eyes of all the runners!  Oddly enough, I'm more inspired watching Louis run alone than by the fastest runners in our club who always finish first.

Watching Louis run alone reminds me that it is OK to go at our own pace in life, even if it means 'falling behind' at times.  Whether through unforeseen events out of our control or bad choices for which we are responsible, we all fall behind at times from where we wish to be in life.  Will we give up and drop out of the "race" because we aren't "fit"?  Will we rise up and keep moving forward, even at a slower pace?  Louis provides the answers to these questions using only a pair of running shoes.

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"Picking Up The Pieces"

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"Picking Up The Pieces"

craig_mitchell_pennies.jpg

by: Matthew Giron

It is well known that the streets of skid row are often littered with trash and debris.  This unfortunate reality results from the droves of tents and homeless people who inhabit the area.  Occasionally, while running, we have to step over a used syringe - constant reminders of the life of addiction left behind by many of the club members.  Not all of the trash we run by is valueless, however.  Judge Mitchell is well known to stop and pick up any change he sees on the ground, most of which are pennies.  He will even stop to pick up a single penny!  The club members who look on are amused and chuckle given the contrast with his well paid position.  Rumor has it that there is a deeper, more symbolic meaning for him doing this.  I'd rather not know and take it at face value - a lesson in frugality and not being wasteful with resources.  One particular day the streets were particularly generous because the Judge seemed to have stopped every few minutes and wound up with a huge handful of pennies.  There were so many pennies collected that it prompted a runner to snap a photo of his bounty with their cell phone at the end of the run.  It was amazing how he managed to keep running with all that weight in his pockets!

There is a portion of the run along 1st Street bridge that is often "littered" with Chinese food take-out fortunes.  It is a mystery as to why they always appear.  There are always 1 or 2 but one particular day the heavens must have rained down fortune because there were more than could be gathered it seemed.  A fellow club member likes to call them "little love notes from God".  A part of me thinks she's out of her mind.  I'd hope God would have a more sophisticated means of communication.  It's fun, however, to play along and believe magic is real.  As a club that's what we do - share ideas, inspiration, and magic with each other.

Come run with us and you will undoubtedly be encouraged to pick up the pace, we are a running club afterall.  You'll also pick up a few useful tools to help you stay clean and sober for the day.  And if you're fortunate enough, you may even be able to pick up a penny or a "little love note from God".

 

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