The strangest thing happened this morning. Mom got dressed for running, but when she went to the door, she brought a bag with her. We don’t usually run with luggage, but this is what she used to do back when we would run in The City before work. We got in the car, and instead of turning the car’s nose toward the hills of My Hometown, Mom pushed the car into the stream of roads that all dump into The City. The City has been closed since we left it seven months ago, and I couldn’t wait to sniff all the things that had happened there since my last patrol.
“Mom, you missed the car kennel!” I wagged, pointing my nose helpfully against the window where she was supposed to turn.
“Can’t go there anymore, bud,” Mom said, landing the car across the street instead. “It closed for good a few months ago. They’re going to be tearing it down any day now.”
I knew that things were bad with the boogeyvirus and the fires and all, but I didn’t realize that they were going to tear down the whole City and start over again. I’m not a sentimental dog, but I was glad Mom had brought me back to The City to run our old route again before they chopped down all the sparkly buildings, leveled all the hills, and plowed under all the pointy houses.
The first half mile of our run used to require expert synchronization. We had to leash around the intriguingly vile igloos that pop up like mushrooms in the damp and shady spots under bridges, and squeeze around the poo-smelling humans sprawled in the middle of the sidewalk. We used to dart through big waves of people smelling of sham-poo, pouring out of the choo-choo train station and racing in all directions with their faces stuck on their phones. But this morning there were only a few stinky people left arguing through their masks with the lamp posts. The sidewalks felt king sized now that all the sham-poo people had taken the last train home months ago. Even the creepy security robot that lurks outside the bank to jump out and startle unsuspecting dogs had gone away.
“Know what’s crazy?” Mom said. “Even the homeless people who haven’t showered or changed their clothes in weeks are wearing masks.”
“Yeah, but they’re wearing them over their eyes, or ears…” I pointed out.
“Some of them aren’t aware enough to seek shelter before they fall asleep or pull down their pants before they go to the bathroom,” Mom said. “Do you know how hard it is to get someone to wear a mask when they can walk around for days without noticing that they’ve lost their shoes?”
“How are YOU going to keep your mask up on the I’mbarkadero?” I asked. Mom’s running mask only stays on her face for a couple of seconds, and with The Witch in her best hand, she has to choose between holding the leash or her mask in the other hand. I don’t always bark at other dogs when Mom’s not holding the leash short, but when I do it’s when I’m on the I’mbarkadero.
“I’ve been worried about the same thing…” Mom said, trying to hang her neck sleeve on her nose for the zillionth time to get ready for the crowds.
Back when there were people here, runners used to come from all over The City every morning to the I’mbarkadero to run an adventure race that had no official starting line and no official finish. We would weave around the clumps of tourists wandering S’s on the sidewalk. We used to dodge through the thick clumps of people climbing off the boat-bus with their noses in their coffee cups. At the very last second we would parry around the men carrying huge crates of vegetables to the farmer’s market. The goal was to dodge all the people without knocking anyone’s phone on the ground, splashing anyone’s coffee up their nose or tipping over anyone’s apple cart, all while not getting squashed by all the bikes, scooters and snakeboarders, and watching out for Bad Dogs to bark at. It was fun like no other run.
But when we came out from behind the baseball stadium and shot out toward the Grey Bridge, there were fewer people on the I’mbarkadero then we usually see on my regular beach run in My Hometown. “Hey! Did you know they’re tearing this place down?!” I barked at a passing labradoodle, lunging at him till Mom snapped the leash with a quick tug so that I spun around in mid-air until my tail was facing the Bad Dog, and my tongue was facing Mom. “Isn’t it so fun to stand on the street shouting warnings about the end of the world?!” I grinned at her. “I bet no one in this town has ever provided that service before…”
In front of the Farmer’s Market there were no men carrying precarious pyramids of plumbs. No coffee-snouted commuters came up the half-bridge from the boat-bus stop. The lady who sells tickets to Alcatraz sat in her tardis playing with her phone. And when we reached Fisherman’s Wharf where all locals must turn back and only tourists may pass, it was so quiet that I could hear the flags banging their tails against their poles.
Even though there was no one there to block our way into Fisherman’s Wharf, we’d already run 5K and it was time to turn back. When we reached the finish line, Mom took me up to my New Office and the first thing she did was take off all her clothes for a shower. Not long after, two new collies I’d never met before came inside. “Hi, I’m Oscar and I’ll be your new manager and lunch captain!” I shouted. Then gave them a tour of the office so I would know where to find them in case I needed butt scratchies. Finally, we all settled in and I chewed on the bully stick that my new collie had brought for me, while everyone else tapped on their laptops.
Watching Mom work became almost as boring as it is at home once the bully stick was gone, so I went to check on the collie who had brought me a treat. He was just starting a conversation with his screen, so I joined him on the couch. “I think you have real potential,” I encouraged him. “I’d like to sit in on this meeting and give you tips on business success.”
So we sat on the couch together, and I let him put his arm around me and scratch my chest in a very professional way while he talked to his screen. Across the room, I saw Mom look down at my empty bed, and then look around the room. Her eyes smiled over her mask when she saw me.
“I think that this chap is a rising star. We should hook our wagon to his train,” I told her with a look. Then I very gently crept my front paw around his arm so I could hang onto it, and shifted my hips position to show him how a handsome dog really gets ahead in life.
“OSCAR! GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!” Mom whisper-shouted, drilling her finger at my bed. I ran over, hardly able to control my excitement.
“Mom, I think I just got lucky!” I grinned. “Did you see???”
“Ding! Ding!” The Witch interrupted with a message from my collie who was spending the day inside the computer. “Was Oscar just humping David on the couch?” The Witch asked.
Oscar, who with a booty like this will never have to work hard in his life