Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making a Subway Map II

[ I wrote a few thoughts on subway map design back here in February, and I started writing about my new version in progress here in Making a Subway Map I in May. ]

As I was posting last week I realized I had not drawn the new link under construction from the Long Island Rail Road to a new terminal at Grand Central. So here is that area with some changes. You see the LIRR link, and look, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway is there too.

I have doubled the Metro North line too. I am warming to my idea of showing mainline railways with a narrow grey line, and I think where they have at least four tracks I will use a double line.

If you click that, you can also see how clean the new drawing looks at 200% size, and in the background how jagged the old one was.

I've crossed just into the south Bronx. What you see below is a rejected idea for the routing around the 149th St Grand Concourse junction and crossing. Those narrow black lines show the approximate location of the Harlem River, to be added properly later on.

Even though I've rejected this version, I like a few things about it. Firstly, on the green lines, the path of the rush hour trains that skip 138th St is very clean here. Where it rejoins north of 149th St is exactly where the whole route curves northwest. Secondly I made a beautiful reverse curve using the standard curve pieces. It's so nice that I have put a copy of it above and to the right for you to see by itself.

The little diagonal on the local green line going off to the right is annoying to me. I'd rather have had one smooth right angle curve there, but I needed to fit the Metro North line in. I tried to establish a set of diagonals: that green line, Metro North above it, and the jog to the 138th St bypass above that. It's functional but just a little less good than I want. Yes, these are things I worry over.

There were some other variations I didn't keep around to show you. One had the horizontal line at 149th St even farther up, slightly above where it is on the old map, and at that location the diagonal red from Manhattan curved to horizontal exactly where it met the beautiful reverse curve, so that they both curved into the horizontal together. 

But I think you can see the trouble I was running into. How do I get the green line back over to the left where it needs to be? I had variations where it takes a right angle to the left and runs horizontally for a bit. I do like having it cross the orange at right angles, and having them curve to vertical lines symmetrically, as they do on the old map. The variation you can see above is the point at which I gave up. I didn't like the horizontal run to the left, and a diagonal would cross the orange much too far up, as you can see.

Above, this is what I have right now. I have the green-orange crossing at a good location. But between 138th St and 149th St, I think the green looks a little more complicated than it needs to be.

The problem could be that I want the 138th St bypass route to stay a separate line through 149th St station. The only real virtue of that is to suggest that the trains doing the bypass are on a different track at 149th St (the center track instead of the wall track). Will I let go of that? I don't know yet. If I do, I can avoid that place there with three parallel green lines. I haven't decided what to do.

I wish the version with a vertical green at 149th St worked out, but I don't see a way to use it.

On a related note, I did make myself clean up the 145th St double station on the orange and blue lines. This is a two-level station, blue over orange, and they don't veer off in different directions until just north of the station. The old map has the orange swing out to the right, but run parallel to the blue at the station, and then curve again north of it. I have re-drawn this with just one curve. I think it looks a lot better this way.

The only detail I don't like is that I try not have a large station symbol obscure a curved line, and that happens a little with the right-hand orange line at 145th St. So I might move the station symbols a little bit there.

Meanwhile: I heard this week that the MTA map has been revised for the June service changes!

But it's not a new concept. It's basically the same map. Here's a comparison, from the New York Times web site:

A few points:

Staten Island is more distorted than before, but it is still drawn in more accurate detail than the rest of the city. It doesn't match the rest of the map. It looks like someone who didn't understand the design concept added something, and no one in charge reviewed it.

The limited express service on green routes in the Bronx, the purple route in Queens, and the brown route in Brooklyn are still depicted using an extra line. Visually, this emphasizes a part time service more strongly than the full-time express services on other routes. That makes no sense to me.

The balloons for connecting bus and rail routes have been reduced— good!— but not eliminated. Reports are that the balloons are completely gone in an alternate version of the map for subway car display.

In general the revisions are a move in the right direction, but just baby steps.

Continued: Making a Subway Map III.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Making a Subway Map I

I made a New York subway map in 1995 just for fun, and I first put it on my web page at Columbia that June. This was part of my explanation page back in November 1995:

Since I first made this map, the M T A have opened an official web site [. . .] The official map is very good, but I wanted to try out a style closer to the London Underground map and see where that led me. [. . .]

My design goals were to present a simple, clear diagram of passenger railroads in the city, including the subway ; all of PATH, the Newark subway, Staten Island Railway ; and connecting portions of the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak ; all in a single map.

I used a very limited set of symbols and portrayed a very limited set of data, comprising just the railroads and stations, station names, waterways. Colors distinguish the different subway lines, and two widths of line distinguish main services from services run only in peak hours or by some other limited schedule.

Use of a diagram allowed enlarging of tangled areas to show the routings operated, making this more clear than a scale map. Transfer across platform is distinguished from other transfers requiring stairs or passageway. Express and local subway service is shown by separate lines for the track pairs for a graphic representation that makes special station symbols unnecessary.
The oldest version I could find right now is 2.2 from 1996. If you want to see it go here.

My current diagram is here. Although I felt I had made great advances when I changed the version numbers to 2 and 3 and 4, there isn't really a lot of difference. Much of the fault is with the software I used to create it. I chose it solely because it came with the computer and it was able to do the modest job I asked of it. I have been apologizing for it for years now.
Versions 1 to 3 were created on a Macintosh Performa 575 using the drawing module of Claris Works 2, a pretty basic drawing program. It was converted to GIF with Graphic Converter. [. . .] Version 4.9 is still Claris Works, now on a Flower Power iMac.
The last few updates were done by firing up the Flower Power iMac. I am sure it will last a long time if I use it only once or twice a year, but still, it's getting crazy. Claris Works from 1994 will not run on the Intel iMac I use now. I think this is fair. It's been sixteen years.

Once in a while I am asked for a better quality version for reproduction, and am not sure that 21st century people can believe me when I tell them that the source really is, no kidding, 72 dpi. The diagram just looks terrible when it's printed out, and there is nothing to be done about it. You can see the ragged pixellated edges and many small misalignments. The kindest thing you can do is reduce it to 50% size, since that hides the worst of the problems. The portion that was reproduced in Mark Ovenden's book Transit Maps of the World is even smaller than 50%, for which I am quite grateful.

The time has come— and you might say it came a decade ago— for me to re-draw the thing with decent software. I have put it off long enough. I don't like to be hasty. But comes a time.

Two weeks ago I set out to make a new diagram and learn Adobe Illustrator. Both things at once.

My goal is to have a new map by the time the Transit Authority makes significant service changes in late June. It is good to have goals. They make you realize how little you can accomplish in a given period of time and what pathetic creatures we humans are.

I don't remember exactly where I started drawing fifteen years ago, but there's a chance it's the same place I started this time, which was the Lexington Avenue line north from Brooklyn Bridge. I am sure that I started with Manhattan below 60th St and then worked out from there.

I am not just copying over the existing diagram. As I go along I want to fix some things in it that have bothered me for a long time, but were too difficult to change without a lot of re-drawing.

Here is what I have so far. This is very much a work in progress, and even this apparently finished part will change before the whole thing is finished.

I'm letting you see two things that will be gone later. The black lines in the upper right are the standard curves that are used throughout the diagram. And there are two experimental line patterns in the lower right that I might use for part time service and routes under construction.

The current map is there as background. The new Lexington (green) line is directly over the old, but some other parts are shifted somewhat from where they were.

The lettering is taller than before. It's Arial Condensed. I have a lot of fonts to choose from, including even a copy of P22 Johnston Underground that I purchased a few years ago, but after I spent some time trying out quite a few of them, I decided the common boring Arial Condensed just looked better than anything else. So pending any second thoughts, I think it's what we're going with.

I need to do the lettering as I go. Remember, it's a diagram, not a map. The spacing of the line segments is affected by how long the station names are. Important examples are Broadway - Nassau Street and Broadway - Lafayette Street, both of which appear in crowded areas. I left out the hyphens. If I do want to change the font it could force me to move some lines around.

Up to now I have used thinner lines to show part time service and no regular service. That was done partly because I had no alternative. Claris Works only drew solid lines of different widths. What I am planning to do now is have the same width lines throughout, with patterns to show less than fulltime service. I think this will be more clear, and it will also facilitate changing between full time and part time services as services change over time. Changing line widths sometimes required redrawing and shifting parts of the map. Changing between solid line and pattern lines is simple. The sample you see here has just plain lines.

Two old problems that I have fixed are the Broadway Line (yellow) from 14th St to 42nd St and the Seventh Avenue Line (red) from 42nd St to 66th St. Both used to twist in an awkward way that I always thought was not totally necessary. It was just that fixing them would require making large changes in the diagram. The shift of the Sixth Avenue Line (orange) to the left was done partly to straighten out the Broadway Line but also to open up more space for station names south of 34th St. I think it looks better now.

Another little twist I removed was in the Flushing Line (purple). It now forms a clean horizontal line across Manhattan all the way over to the section under construction west of Times Square. Since the portion from Grand Central to Fifth Avenue actually runs directly under the 42nd Street Shuttle (black) line, I used to try to keep them close together there. However the stations at both ends of the shuttle are far from the Flushing Line stations, vertically and horizontally, so I think it makes just as much sense to show the two routes as being somewhat separate as I have now done.

Mainline railways are sketched in here as narrow grey lines, with grey blocks for terminals (including Hoboken, left). I haven't decided exactly what to do with mainline railways. I've become unhappy with the black lines I used before that made them look like just additional transit lines. Mainline service is so much less frequent that I now think it should be shown in a significantly different style. My idea now, in progress, is to use thin lines, and maybe distinguish regular and part-time services by station symbols. So far, like the terminal blocks and the capital letter names.

I just realized I forgot a couple of mainline things. One is the route under construction from Long Island to Grand Central. I'll need to shift the subway at 63rd Street a little bit to get that in. I should also allow space to show the proposed new tunnel from New Jersey to the terminal under 34th Street, which may or may not be considered part of Penn Station. So changes will be made to what you see here.

Next week, I hope I can show you more.

Continued: Making a Subway Map II.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Black Whale

Night. Our ship was idling right over the spot where Titanic had sunk. We were sending machines down to search the wreckage. We had the old lady on board who thought she was in the drawing we found. The whole deal, OK?

I leaned on the rail looking out at the sea. It was quiet, just the lapping of the waves. A dark shadow passed silently in the waters. It was the Black Whale! The one I'd been searching for! It was far larger than I'd even imagined. A wave of fear swept through my body.

I woke up.

In my fever, I'd fallen asleep on the couch while Helen and Megan were watching an episode of The Deadliest Catch. That might explain the ship, but where did that whale come from?

I think the old lady should have taken the explorer aside on deck one day. She could have quietly told him she needed to share a secret. Then she'd pull the Heart of the Sea from her pocket and let him look at it. She'd keep it in her hand, but let him look into it, and see the depths of the sea in the blue stone. He'd be mesmerized at its beauty. And then before he could realize what she was doing, she'd toss it into the water. He'd be speechless. The prize he had sought, so close, and then gone! But she'd tell him, "No one possesses the Heart of the Sea. You have seen it. That is enough."

Wouldn't that have been good? It seemed pretty good when I was sick, so I'm hitting you with it.

I don't get where this Titanic stuff came from. I saw the movie way back when it came out and that's about it. Maybe any show about ships brings it to mind. Maybe it's that thing about returning things to their rightful place that I was rambling about the other week. That's a good story element.

Since Plaid Dress I've been trying to remember dreams. Getting sick helped. I kept waking up to cough or something.

An old man and a young man told me they wanted to clear the snow off my driveway. I thought I should do it myself. But they said if they did it, they'd be showing somebody something, so they really wanted to do it, if it was all right with me. So I let them do it. I watched one go down the driveway and pick up my snow shovel, and while my head was turned the other one somehow cleared most of the snow. The driveway felt a little warm. It was if there was a heating system under the blacktop that I never knew about. The one with the shovel was just clearing off lumps of snow that did not melt.

That was part of something longer. It involved me walking down the street and finding something. It was like my street but different. Not the same houses that are really there, and different trees. The side streets led to different neighborhoods. I can't really explain it. It felt strange. There were some kind of colored lights. I don't remember what the thing was that I found, if I ever knew.

If you don't like that try this next one.

They've just told me the apartment is available now. As if the housing office have been working on an application for at least fourteen years, before we left the city. There's a long waiting list, but come on. I go anyway. I have to see what they've got for me. At the front door of the building I realized I can't get in without a key. But wait, I have a key. I used to live in this building.

I woke up during this one.

I've had many versions of the apartment dream. In some of them I discover that I had not actually given up an old apartment, even though I stopped paying rent, and I still have the keys. This is convenient because all my old apartments are near where I work, and it would be nice to go hide in them at lunch like I used to do sometimes. And I could have Helen come in to town after work, and we'd stay there sometimes.

One time while I was writing College Stories a year ago, I even discovered that I had not given up my dorm room in John Jay. It's like an apartment but much smaller. I think it was about 8 by 15.

I don't think the dreams ever cover how I learn about the old place. I just suddenly know about it.

Way back in elementary school, the nuns would tell us about heaven. If we were good we'd go there and be blissfully happy forever. But only our souls, not our material bodies.

I imagine this has always raised questions. Adults will immediately wonder how we can get blissful without having bodies if you know what I mean. Children want to know, if I don't have my pet there, or if I can't eat ice cream, how could I be happy?

One nun gave a great answer to this. It's a simple thing maybe, but it has affected my way of thinking to this day. You can have all the happiness of those things without having the things. What?

Get it?

But it's not just happiness. Any feeling. I said I dreamt that I went down the street and found something good, but I don't remember what. Maybe all there ever was in the dream was the feeling that I found something good. It didn't need to be specific. Have the feeling without the thing. I bet dreams are full of this. Any detail becomes specific only if it matters to the storyline the brain is building. The rest seems so fluid because it hasn't been specified yet. The rest is just feelings about things.

When I started this blog over a year ago, I thought that maybe if I just wrote, no matter how scattershot the subject matter would get, eventually it would all start to come together. Look what happens. I came up with that Heart of the Sea conclusion a couple of days ago while half awake, without trying to be deep or anything. And there it is. You don't need to have the thing. I think I've been telling you that one for a while.

I own a lot of things. I'm not sure why. Too many things. But some important things in my life, I don't own and cannot own.

Maybe that's the Black Whale. Or maybe not. Maybe it's still coming for me.

Next time: Making a Subway Map.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I was getting a couple of rolls in Kings supermarket. They keep loose rolls in a bin, and you probably know the rules. You're not supposed to touch the rolls. You can protect your hand with a piece of tissue paper they provide, or you can use the metal tongs.

I went for the tongs. They're a little tricky, because if you pinch the tongs too much the roll can shoot out the end. I dropped a roll, inside the bin, and started over.

A helpful young clerk, seeing this, suggested I could use the tissue paper.

"No, you're not seeing the sport in it," I told him. He looked puzzled. "That would be like telling a golfer that it would be easier to walk to the cup and drop the ball in. Of course it would."

"I am using the tongs because it is more difficult."

He was smiling a little. He started to turn away.

"Look," I said. I raised my left hand to shake the tongs a little bit. "I am right handed."

Life can be boring. Obviously that has some value. One time years ago Merrill Markoe reviewed the new season's television series and tried to give some reason to watch each one. For one show, the best she could do was to say: "Life is short. Watching this show makes it seem much longer."

But let's not get too bored. You need to find the sport in things. Make things more difficult than necessary. Make the ordinary into a game.

Going to work in the morning, I like to ride the last car of the train, because it's the least crowded car. Somewhere I saw an old photograph of commuters waiting at a station. The caption pointed out that the people were forming clusters evenly spaced along the platform, and commented that any commuter can tell you why. Yes. I need to know where the door is going to be when the train stops.

There's an obstacle on the course. At the country end of the platform is what they call a "mini high", a section less than one car long where the platform is at car floor height. The rest of the platform is only slightly above rail level and you have to climb up stairs to get into the train.

It makes a big difference whether the last door is on the mini high. If you wait there, and the train stops forward of the mini high, you can't just walk along the platform. You have to move back from the edge and use a stairway, losing precious time and putting yourself at the back of the crowd at the last door.

I'll tell you the secret. Only three of us seem to know this. The train has two engineers during the week, and they stop the train at different points. The Monday to Wednesday engineer spots the last door on the mini high, but the Thursday and Friday engineer doesn't. It's consistent. The three of us are always at the right place.

Sooner or later the engineers will change assignments, and we'll be in chaos until we figure out the new pattern. But it's been a pretty good few months.

Should we tell the other commuters? I'm not sure it's sporting.

There's another train game on my journey home too: how to find the track at Penn Station as early as possible.

Amtrak makes it a game already. Some railway properties lack imagination and put each train on the same track every day, unless something prevents it. I occasionally pass through the Long Island Rail Road area in Penn Station, and once in a while I've heard an announcement telling commuters that a train is not on its usual track. And I think Metro North makes Grand Central Terminal just as predictable. Their commuters can practically sleepwalk. Not us Jerseyites.

Amtrak's Penn Station operations team seem eternally surprised as trains arrive. Each day is a new beginning. They arrange the Amtrak and N J Transit trains differently every time. It's a time-honored practice carried over from the earlier management of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It's nice to see traditions honored.

I wonder if this goes back to when the station opened in 1911. Maybe somebody forgot to provide timetables to the staff on the first day, and they had to assign tracks on the fly as trains came in, and they said to each other, "Isn't this fun? We should do it like this every day." It could have happened.

By now, they could have software generating a neatly printed list of track assignments based on the timetable, train lengths, and equipment moves. But isn't that like dropping the golf ball in the cup?

How much better it is to clear one's mind each day and just see what trains show up.

Now I understand that a train like the Lake Shore could only be handled in this way. That's the train from Chicago that has been known to run more than 24 hours late. When it comes, it comes. But N J Transit?

Some mornings, when our train is standing still at the station approach waiting to move in, I think of the scene that must be playing out. "What? Train 6614? Again? It was just here yesterday! Oh, all right all right, let's see. First of all, do we have a track open anywhere where there's an outbound train boarding on the other side of the same platform?" And if one can be found, they find it, and we move in.

But let's not overanalyze. The ways of Amtrak are like the ways of heaven, not for us ordinary souls to know.

Let's focus on train departures at Penn Station.

The standard is that the public will be told the track ten minutes before departure time. We are rarely told earlier. Can we beat that?

The purpose of the game is to get a good seat, or, sometimes, to get a seat at all. To do this, you want to learn the track before it is announced, and go down to the platform. Almost as good is to guess the track and be close to the stairway when it is announced. But we will concentrate on knowing the track ahead of time.

I like to ride the first car, going home. One reason is that there's an exit stairway at the front end of the platform at South Orange, and it's the shortest path home.

But there's another advantage. The lower station mezzanine on the Eighth Avenue end of the station is where the crew rooms are. If you ignore the nice place N J Transit has created on the Seventh Avenue end, and wait in the godforsaken depths of the former arrivals concourse I'm referring to, you have a shot at finding your train early.

For one thing, you'll get to recognize the engineer and conductor. When either of them show up and go down a stairway, HA! that's where the train is. You just need to stand near where they come out, and follow them. By the way they don't know where the train's going to be, either, until a few minutes before the public announcement. It is a closely guarded piece of information.

We've got a whole team working the plays for my usual train. There are at least a dozen of us regular riders. We have a spot where we meet. I won't say the exact location.

We know the engineer and conductor by name. They'll quietly say the track to us as they walk past, or, wave to us when it's on a high-numbered track and they won't be walking past. The conductor whistles quietly sometimes to catch our attention.

One of the group has an unnamed contact person he can reach by cell phone. Sometimes we get the track that way. No one asks the source.

Once the secret has been passed, if it's a little early, one or two of the group stay at our meeting place a few minutes longer to let others know. I have been a beneficiary of this kindness. They don't speak the track, but hold one hand close in front of their body and indicate by fingers. It's like the catcher calling the pitch.

One day not long ago we were still waiting, less than ten minutes before departure, still with no word. The conductor came by.

"It's going to be a short turn, that's all I know." He said it quietly and walked away.

Finally the engineer came out of the crew room and walked toward us. Now we'd know. He stopped and said hello and commented on how the weather had been.

"What's the track?", one of us asked.

"Oh. I was hoping you guys knew," he replied.

That day the track was announced three minutes before departure time, and all of us, including the engineer and conductor, had to take off for the stairs. I think it is a credit to the N J Transit breed of commuter that we collectively boarded an all-seats-full rush hour train fast enough to permit departure on time.

That's how we play the game.

Next time: The Black Whale.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


On weekend mornings I like to drive to Maplewood and get bagels and coffee for Helen and me. It's a special thing that makes the weekend different.

Spring finally arrived a few weeks ago.  The trees were flowering and dumping pollen all over, and the bulb plants were in bloom, and more people were doing things outside. It feels so good after the cold wet winter we've had.

Picture this. I was driving to get bagels on a Sunday morning. I had the window open. A few runners in the road were coming toward me, one on my right and two on the left, and another car was coming toward me too. The road is just wide enough to pull this off. Both of us drivers needed to drift the cars near the center line to leave safe room for the runners, but still leave room to pass each other. I was paying attention to steering. It went nice and easy. Then something flashed in my brain.

One of the runners I just passed on the left was Runner Girl!

Or was I imagining it? Maybe it was just someone else with the same color jacket. I hadn't seen Runner Girl in three months. She left town. She's gone.

It was a delayed reaction. Did you ever have this happen? Something was in my field of vision, but something else had my attention. And now afterwards I was examining what else I had seen, looking at a picture in my mind. But the brain is full of tricks. It fills in details. You can't trust it. From this comes the classic double take. You see something, you turn away, and suddenly, whoa, what was that?, and you turn back.

So how do you do a double take in the situation I was in?

Maybe I should not say. You'll call me crazy. But I was wondering whether I was crazy, and to settle the question I needed to do something I didn't have to wonder about.

Right. I had to circle around and check. Turn down a side street, turn into a parallel street, go back far enough to be sure I had overtaken the runners and then some, turn up another side street, and back to start, so I could pass those runners again, and look at their faces this time. It's the automobile double take.

I felt pretty silly doing that.

The payoff. It was Runner Girl. I even got the little wave from her.

Holy crap! Did she see me the first time or not? The other car might have blocked. No way to know. If she did, she'll think I'm a weirdo.

But here's something even worse! What happens Monday morning, if this means she's back? And how could she be gone for three months, if she's still here?

Then I realized that she might have been unable to run for a while. Maybe she broke her ankle or something. That would be great news. She needed recovery time, but now things could go back to normal.

Well, not great news. Really. Hoping someone broke a bone. What have I come to?

I parked in the commuter lot that anyone can use on weekends, and walked to the stores. I got the Ledger at the corner store and the usual bagels at the bagel store. At the counter, by now they just ask me if I want the usual, and by the time I slide down to the register, they've got the two coffees ready for me. One of these days I have to ask for pumpernickel bagels instead of poppy. They'd be talking about that for a while. Heh heh. I should do it just to make their lives interesting.

Some other stuff happened the rest of the day.

But as I lay drifting off to sleep, the big question of the day came back to me.

Should I say something Monday morning? Would it be better to say nothing and just nod as we used to do? That would seem the least weird, in case she had any reason to think I was weird. It would put things back to normal too.

But after all this time, it might be a nice gesture to say good morning, or nice to see you, or something like that. Good morning, anyway. Nice to see you: that might raise questions. Why would it be nice? I would need to explain about routines and variations and the workings of my brain, and that can't be done in a few seconds.

I could just see what comes to me, if and when it happens. I've just been reading Shakey, the Neil Young biography. He told people a few times, "the more you think, the more you stink". Don't overanalyze things ; trust your instincts.

There's a literary theme I like where something returns after a long absence. It could be a renewed relationship with someone who'd been gone, or a symbolic object returned to its rightful place, or a way of life restored. I see the appeal of it. Comforting. It's looking back though, isn't it? It's like people in 1970s hoping the Beatles would reunite. Not only was it not going to happen, but even if it had happened, time had moved on. But my particular case, walking to the train and seeing somebody run past, ended only a few months ago, so it probably would still work if it came back.

I fell asleep.

Monday came. No Runner Girl.

I must face the bitter truth. She has changed her running time. And it must be quite a bit later than before, or I think I would have seen her sometime during the past three months.

You are probably wondering whether I could change my working hours so that I could just happen to be walking to the station at her new running time. The answer is yes. Within reason, I could do that.

All I need to do is take a day off and sit on my front steps for an indefinite number of hours to determine what the new time is.

But that would be crazy. Do you see why?

The whole point of the Runner Girl appearance was to be an unpredictably varying part of my morning routine. I usually saw her, but not always, and if I did see her, it was usually around the same place in my walk, but not always. I never knew what would happen on a particular day. This lent a point of interest to the walk. It was inconsequential whether she appeared, and yet there was a pleasing completeness to the routine if she did. I have lost that.

But I can't get it back by changing every other part of the routine. And going to work later would require leaving work later, and I'd lose an enjoyable evening routine I have. So there's no win in changing my hours. It's no good.

Besides, maybe she didn't change her running time. Maybe she really did move away, but she came back to see somebody that weekend, and decided to run her old course. So why should I sit on my front steps? I won't do it.

I'll tell you something. It's better if I don't know.

I am thinking big now, thinking long-term. This is how the Greats think.

You know, that wasn't the first time I ever saw Runner Girl on a weekend. I saw her two or three times last year. They were pretty random though. I'd be coming back from my own run and walk, and I'd happen to see her.

I go out at about the same time from one weekend to the next because I like to go up South Mountain as the sun comes up. I want enough light to see in the woods, but enough dark so that when I get to the top, I can look down at the lights in Millburn. I like how it looks. It's a nice little moment in the two-hour adventure. Actually, I have to creep my time forward or back a little each week to account for the changing day length. But anyway, a week apart, I'd be hitting about the same times.

But it didn't matter if I repeated the same schedule for two weekends. I saw Runner Girl only a couple of times. It was just by chance.

Judging by experience, even if Runner Girl has not moved away, it could take a good long time before another weekend sighting. Months.

I won't know when it's coming. And that's the best part.

Here's my philosophy. Agent Dale Cooper to Sheriff Harry S Truman, in Twin Peaks:
Harry, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just... let it happen. Could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.

Go back to seeing Runner Girl in the morning? What am I thinking?

Just writing the original essay changed everything. Ruined everything, you might say. The whole reason I was so surprised is that I wasn't walking along thinking about whether I would see somebody running past. That's what I should get back to. That time of innocence, when I didn't think about this stuff so much.

The weeks and months will pass. I will forget about this. I'll be out driving, or walking, or working in the yard, whatever. Then, when I no longer expect it, when I'm not planning it, when I'm not waiting for it, when I have learned to just... let it happen, then, by God then, I will see Runner Girl. When my spirit has become ready. When I have arrived without travelling, seen without looking.

It won't even matter whether it happens.

I think I need to focus my energies on becoming more awesome.

— Megan Brennan, on Twitter

Now that is my plan too.

Next time: Games.