The Distance Running Hobby. It’s a little weird. But not nearly as weird as it could be.
Earlier today I had an uneventful ninety minute run of perhaps 10 or 11 miles. Nothing of any real interest occurred. In fact, to prove this point, I am mortified to report that I spent a good mile or two of the excursion thinking exclusively about pandas.
Yes. Those pandas.
Last year I volunteered one day per week at a zoo doing programs for the education department. I wrangled demonic chinchillas, endured purple arms and fingers at the mercy of boa constrictors, turned my hands into treadmills for huge African cockroaches, and commandeered a real live ZooMobile to lucky classrooms all over the state where I delivered these educational presentations and animal encounters. Obviously it was a blast.
But back to the pandas.
My wandering mind alit most unfortunately upon pandas after I ran by a dead skunk in the road (thank goodness it was dead; I’ve had enough live animal encounters on runs already this week). I started thinking about evolution and ecology and, heck, let’s not get too thoughtful here, I got to wondering about animals that have black and white coloring. Skunks. Killer whales. Dalmatians. Zebras. Michael Jackson. PANDAS.
Once my mind strayed to pandas, all hell broke loose. The entire thought process dissolved into remembering why I hate pandas.
I’ll let you in on a secret: Pandas deserve, with very little debate, to be extinct. In the wild, their food source is dwindling, their habitats are severely compromised, and without delving into the details it’s fair to say that the mechanics and physiology of panda reproduction makes procreation such a long shot that it’s shocking they’ve managed to exist in the first place. I won’t qualify this paragraph with any actual sources, because no one reads this anyway.
In fact, the only reason they still pollute this earth with their needy bamboo-scarfing ways is because for some half-baked reason (I’m looking at you, World Wildlife Fund), people adore them and spend billions of dollars to make them reproduce. Fine. Do whatever you want with your money, panda worshippers. I mean, I have ridiculous hobbies too. And one of them is nurturing a fierce resentment for pandas.
So, getting on with my petty story. All pandas belong to China. Any panda that is not currently in China is on loan at its new location for like a gazillion dollars per year, and eventually may have to return to China to go to some kind of genetic diversity panda reproduction bootcamp, basically to procreate and spawn more crazypants little pandas who will ultimately wind up on loan to a zoo somewhere getting spoiled rotten with all the bamboo they could ever want.
Anyway, this was the case with one of the zoo’s pandas where I worked. It was skipping town. It was leaving America. It was heading back to China to get frisky with some other predetermined panda, sort of an arranged panda marriage.
Stop me if I’ve told you this story before. Actually, don’t bother.
This entire “panda leaving and going back to China” deal spurred a gargantuan fiasco, necessitating that the zoo have a ritzy goodbye celebration for the furry thing.
In the week leading up to the panda’s moving date, the zoo was in RED ALERT panda priority mode. Crowds swelled at the panda exhibit. People booked expensive tickets and FLEW there to see said panda and bid it farewell. Many were crying tears of unabashed sorrow and devastation. Usually I was pretty chatty with zoo guests, but that day I stood awkwardly at my station at the panda exhibit avoiding eye contact, yearning to keep my interactions with these pandamaniacs to a minimum.
The panda, naturally, was wholly unaware of the crushing anguish its impending departure was causing, and spent the entire time sleeping on the job, like usual.
When informed that the panda would probably be asleep for awhile, precluding it from performing any endearing panda acts, one of the myriad psychofanatics in attendance replied in a gravely serious tone, “Oh, I’ll wait.”
She sounded like a mixture of Gollum, a hyperpossessive Edward Cullen, and the freaking Heir of Slytherin. In fact, I was so curious/terrified about the owner of this voice that I made a horrific mistake. I looked at the Psychofanatic and accidentally made eye contact, an invitation to interact. Crud. Bad move. Baaaaaad move.
She saw my zoo shirt and glommed onto me like a barnacle. Psychofanatic then proceeded to stand there in front of the glass next to the sleeping China-bound panda for an eternity, subjecting me to a continuous assault of asininities about this panda’s inane life. (She’d gleaned these unsavory details from religiously watching the 24-hour videocamera on the zoo’s website).
I was dying to reply — at any point in her indefatigable stream of verbal panda-related vomit — with, “Let’s get real, lady. You need therapy, and pandas should be extinct by now anyway. Screw ‘em!”
Instead, I stood there stoically and humored her with a pained, vaguely smile-like grimace, morbidly fascinated by the panda-saturated cesspool that is her mind, and consumed with the unsettling thought that there are apparently hundreds of other individuals who drink the same brand of weirdo-water as this woman.
Distance running is a nutty hobby. Accordingly, most distance runners are pretty nutty in a lot of ways. I can own that. Sometimes I step away from myself and realize how strange it is to invest so much thought, effort and time into putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as I can over some predetermined distance.
But I get a sick satisfaction out of the thought that there are weirder people than me out there. And some of those people are unequivocally obsessed with pandas.
Anyway, back to running. I may run in a “Four on the Fourth” road race tomorrow. If people in my family wake up in time and we all decide to be unlazy enough to get out to the course. I imagine that I will be slow, but this might be a decent opportunity to prime my scared-of-short-distances-self up for an eventual 5K.
Any other potential 4th of July racers? Or offended panda fanatics?