No, that's not a whiff of desperation you smell. I merely saw that there was a holiday light walking tour and realistically acknowledged that no one I know or love would be willing to do such a thing with me. When I told one of those people about it, the response said it all. "I bet you'll love it."
Yes and no.
The group met in front of New York Deli and I was one of several first-timers. The last thing I'd expected was anyone I knew and yet there was a woman I'd met at a restaurant last year, apparently a semi-regular in the group.
Interestingly enough, there were plenty of people who'd come because, like me, they enjoyed walking but couldn't find friends to do it with. So at least I wasn't odd man out.
We began by walking up Boulevard admiring lights and decorations before turning on to Stuart Avenue. By then it was already apparent that the group's members were going to move at wildly different speeds. I should have had a clue when the group leader told us that the 10K walk would take approximately 3 1/2 hours.
Seriously? I could walk to the Lilly Pad Cafe in Varina in less time than that.
Here's the thing: it's cold outside, a few degrees above freezing at best. And while I'd dressed appropriately for the weather, when it's cold like this, my walking speed picks up for the first few miles so I can warm up. A couple of women joined me at the front of the pack but the rest of the group lagged a block or two behind.
What this meant was that periodically, we'd turn around and shout to the group leader asking about the route he wanted to take. Since the goal was seeing decorated houses, our path was completely subject to change depending on which streets appeared to have lots of bling.
Someone observed that the popular decorating style seems to be that of strings of lights spilling off a porch or roof. "Hell, I could do that," one woman sniffed. It's not rocket science, that's for sure.
As we outdistanced the pack, one in our trio told me that men her age aren't active enough and can't keep up with her. But she doesn't want to date younger men because they don't have any money. Conundrum.
After Stuart, we went east on Hanover for a bit before switching to Grove and eventually Franklin to get us to the Jefferson, our first stop. No surprise, the hotel was packed to the rafters with a huge Christmas party in the Rotunda, a smaller party in the Flemish room and scads of families dragging squalling kids dressed in their Sunday best around the lobby for photo ops.
Santa must do a lot of self-medicating this time of year.
Our group leader gave us 15 minutes and told us to meet back by the desk. My two walking companions and I made a quick pit stop and then stood there waiting for the others to join us. One of the women pointed to Lemaire and said, "I got engaged there 40 years ago and had my reception there," pointing to a ballroom.
Her Daddy was in steel fabrication, no doubt the source of the checkbook that funded such extravagance.
Once the group reassembled, our speedy trio was ready to get walking again but first we had to pose for a group picture in front of the holiday-bedecked alligators outside. Twice.
From there, we headed down Franklin, turning on 8th Street to get to Cary and the splendor that is the Grand Illumination at the James Center. I knew we were getting close when traffic all but stopped alongside us.
Under the bright lights of all those illuminated reindeer, our leader told us we had 25 minutes to explore before reporting back for the return trip to Carytown. Only problem was, we were finally warmed up and none of the three of us wanted to spend 25 minutes getting cold again for the walk back.
That and the less experienced walker in our trio was starting to feel the effects of shin splints and was afraid if she stopped, she'd never get started again. We looked at each other and made the decision to start back.
"But we walked all this way to see this," our group leader said, gesturing toward the decorations. Truth be told, we'd come all this way to enjoy a night time walk and admire lights along the way. We'd done that.
Another guy in the main group overheard us saying goodbye and elected to join us on our return trip, so then we were four.
But to show our appreciation for organizing the tour, we took a few minutes to walk around the lit figures before heading back up the hill and westward ho, running smack dab into VCU graduation ceremony crowds spilling out of the
Further along, we saw holiday parties through windows, in shops and closed restaurants, in stretch limos driving by.
Even our little splinter group eventually splintered, with the shin splint victim and the last minute addition electing to adopt a more leisurely pace coming back while my lively companion and I kept up a conversation as fast-paced as our steps.
She told me she's in training to bike across Iowa and shared details of biking across Barbados. We discovered a mutual love of quinoa, fried chicken and daily walking.
Before we knew it, we were back in Carytown in what seemed like no time at all. "How'd we do that so fast?" she asked, half joking. "I'm going on the group hike tomorrow at Dutch Gap. Are you coming?'
Nope, I have other plans tomorrow. Besides, I'm not entirely sold on all aspects of the group walk thing yet.
Earlier, a very tall, bearded man with long hair had said that he'd ended up on this walk solely because he'd seen it in Style Weekly, loved to walk and doesn't have anyone to walk with.
We might be walking soul mates since that about sums up why I was there. The question is, could he keep up?
So few can. Tonight that total came down to exactly one woman. And I'm not switching teams even for a fast walker.
But I'm willing to do tryouts for anyone who's interested in giving it a shot. Perhaps I'm more of the small group type.