All right, joggers. On with the gloves and off with the robes. The main event is about to begin.
In this corner, that army of red-faced huffapuffers who think that trottingness is next to godliness. In the other corner, your friendly neighborhood skeptic, me.
The matter before us: a letter I published a couple of weeks ago from Norman F. Koch of Kensington. Norman castigated joggers for never picking up trash as they pitter-pat along their appointed rounds. "I guess that isn't chic or fashionable," my correspondent observed. I published his letter with warm gurgles of approval.
Soon thereafter came the deluge -- letters from joggers whose hackles were raised as high as jogging raises their blood pressure. A selection:
"Have you ever seen a jogger drop a piece of trash? Why single out joggers? Why not the walkers and bench setters too?" -- Amy Loar of Falls Church.
" While jogging , the heart rate must be raised to a certain level and kept there for a certain amount of time . . . . Obviously it would be detrimental to stop and pick things up." -- Christi Klein of Winchester, Va.
"It would be about as reasonable to expect joggers to pick up trash routinely as it would be to expect a football player running for a touchdown or a ball player chasing a fly ball to stop in their path and pick up a piece of litter." -- Roger L. Burkhart of Gaithersburg.
"As I was running along the canal last weekend, I thought of your correspondent's comment that you never see a jogger pick up a piece of litter. I tried it, and found out why. It's almost impossible to do when you're running without falling down. Besides, what would we do with it during the rest of the run?" -- Julie B. Milstien of Glen Echo.
And finally . . . . "Maybe you should explain what you and Mr. Koch really have against joggers!" -- Louise Wynn of Sterling.
Let's take 'em in order. First, Amy.
She seems to be saying that just because a jogger didn't chuck a piece of trash in the first place, he or she is under no obligation to pick it up. Why not? If I pass that piece of trash while on a walk, or while aboard a bicycle, or while standing on my head, I'd feel an obligation to bend over and make the world a little neater. Is there something holy about jogging that exempts its practitioners from the responsibilities of citizenship?
You're dishing up biomedical nonsense, my friend. And that's from doctors, not from a certain typist. If you've been jogging for, say, five minutes, it will take a lot more than a one-second pause to drop your heart rate significantly. Picture what happens when you've finished your jog and you're standing there, gasping for breath. Do you think your heart rate goes straight down to zero the instant you stand still? It takes between two and five minutes to reach a "no exertion" heart rate. Think of all the trash you could pick up in that time.
Yours is a tempting argument, kind sir. But I think it fails for this reason: A football player scoring a touchdown is taking part in a group activity. But when you jog, no one else is depending on you. You're just Roger Burkhart, out for a little trot. A football player would undermine an elaborate script -- and, if he's a pro, possibly lose his job -- if he stopped to pick up trash in mid-touchdown. No similar evil could befall you.
No one's asking you to fall on your face for the sake of a Cleaner Washington. Just stop for a couple of ticks, bend over and r-r-r-reach. Good for the back, as well as the environment. As for what to do with the trash, are you really saying you can't carry it in your paw until you reach a trash can?
And finally, Louise.
I can't speak for Mr. Koch's motives. But mine are no mystery. I have no hidden hatred for joggers. I have nothing "really" against them, or against fitness. What I dislike -- greatly -- is the litter they won't help pick up.
It bothers me to walk through Rock Creek Park and see ice cream wrappers tangled up in the flowers. It bugs me to amble across the grounds of the Capitol and see a Coke bottle lying on the lawn. It drives me nuts to see beer cans heaved into hedges, and newspapers sitting in the gutter.
I don't expect joggers to do more than their share to correct this. But I don't expect them to do less, either. Jogging may be an excellent way to "get into yourself." It may be good exercise. It may even be fun (although I've nearly died of boredom every time I've done it).
But don't tell me that a jogger can't perform a simple clean-up task. We all can. We all should.
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