In the spring of 1984, I took six months off to make money for my next semester at Hampshire College. As it happened, Tucker had moved back into the neighborhood. He was in the process of dropping out of Penn State.
Almost immediately, we started going running every morning. My goal was to put in an hour of exercise three days each week. I had taken a triathalon class in college, and because of it I had started running a little. Tucker was totally into it, way more enthusiastic than I was. He moved our training frequency up to four days, then five, then seven. We bumped the time from forty minutes to sixty to ninety. Sometimes we ran for two hours, sometimes more.
"Man, I had to be in the pool with you when we were swimming. And I was in running shape, not swimming shape." He laughed in anticipation of teaching me cross-country endurance. "I didn't know there was a difference. Now you'll see what I mean."
He was right, of course. I had to train up to a reasonable pace and distance. The whole time we did that, we caught up on each other. Tucker talked more than I did. He always had. He described his time at Penn State. He told me about the ROTC program and the drinking there. He told me about the girl he’d lost his virginity to and what she was like. We traded jokes about his sex life. He taught me a dirty song from one of the fraternities.
As we talked, Tucker got sobered up and in shape. I'd spent a year not drinking, two years earlier, and now he had to do something similar.
"You know, I've never had to exercise self-discipline before," he said. "I always had my father's discipline or the school discipline. I never got to set my goals, make my plans, and carry them out."
He was mad about it. He thought not having the freedom to fail as a teen had set him up to fail when he left home. He was angry at himself for not having enough discipline to party and go to classes, too, and we traded advice about doing that.
After a couple of months of us talking and guessing at our running distances and pace, Tucker took his family car over one of our road circuits.
"That was seven miles," he announced. He beamed as he sweated the next day. "We started out with three miles. Up to seven already. Seven is good."
Tucker had visited me at my college once. It was a hippie and punk scene there, almost opposite from the fraternities and ROTC he had joined at Penn State. But he had liked some things about Hampshire, mostly the academic freedoms. He asked about how my college work was going. He asked for details about my girlfriends. In March, when one young lady came down to visit me, he insisted on taking us both out on a double date.
"She's really cute," he announced after. "I don't care how much money you need for school, you shouldn't have left her. That's crazy.”
During the spring and summer we traded advice about women, about school, about discipline and about the details of long distance running. He measured our running courses on the back roads.
"The path we've been doing twice a week? It's over ten miles," he said. "Damn, we're really doing okay."
We alternated long runs with short ones, learned to shout entire conversations across the asphalt in time with our breathing, endured the yeehaw shouts of derision from men in trucks, laughed about the suggestive catcalls from women, and in a very general way, we improved ourselves.
“This is a pretty fast jogging pace,” I said once.
“We’re not joggers,” he insisted. “We’re runners. We don’t jog.”
All those months, whenever someone said we were out jogging, he’d shoot back, “We're running!”
Once, he smiled and as an aside he told me, “I think that’s from cross country team. In high school, everyone insisted we were runners."
"Jogging isn't cool enough?"
"I didn’t really buy into it then. But now I do.”
At the end of May, Tucker shouted to me that he wanted to go into technical photography. I shouted back that I needed a description of what that was. We loped along roads and trails while he told me. We traded lists of possible schools. He was researching the ones with photography programs. We bounced our ideas around. The critical point for him was that he thought he could stick to a degree if he really liked the work. And he loved photography.
Finally, after a lot of discussion and research at home, he decided on RIT. We thought through every part of the application together. As we ran, he described each question and every paragraph of each essay. Beyond that, he planned how he was going to devote himself to academics.
"I don't want to miss the social life either, though," he said. "Do you remember catcalls from that car of women?"
"Brown pickup truck, I think. Anyway, I was thinking about taking a break from all this running. But then came the appreciative comments from women. And I kept going."
"Well, good." He hadn't talked about giving up.
"A few days ago, I was running on my own, just me, and I got a woman hooting and hollering at me for having a cute butt."
I started to laugh while running. We were in shape for it.
"Just me. I'll tell you, it's kind of made my week."
And so we kept running.
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