My old running shoe 1Title: Huntington Drive
Author: Jesse Cheng
Category: Nonfiction

 We were losers and misfits, most of us uncoordinated geeks who couldn’t hack it in a real sport. Every week coach insisted that we were the true B.M.O.C., Big Men On Campus, but it was hard to argue with the jerks blasting line drive field goals in our direction as we tried to stretch in their end zone. We were cross country runners. What did all those banners on the hallway walls mean to us—Go Titan Gridiron!, with their little pink hearts hand-painted by cheerleaders—except to wave us away to our place in the prevailing order, beyond the peripheral boundaries of the school grounds—out, literally, into the streets.

The most familiar of these was the median strip on Huntington Drive, a wide swath of thick grass that divided the main thoroughfare of San Marino, California. Named after the railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, the road was once a major vein of the Pacific Electric Railway. During its heyday in the 1920s, it was the largest electric rail system in the world. After the peak, though, came the decline; one final whistle tooted for the locomotive era, and then the four-track lane that ran the length of the city was laid over with greenery, scraggly trees, and artfully-manicured flower patches.

Since the median strip’s cosmetic makeover, its plush, matted grass has provided generations of local harriers the ideal surface for an end-of-the-week recovery run—three miles out, three miles back. With the past so securely underfoot, it was perhaps fitting that a group of young males coming of age would devote our full attention to what came ahead: league finals, then Southern Sectionals…maybe even the Division III state title. Things were simple to us. Get picked on, kick ass, obtain respect.

We ran hard, and it turned out we were pretty quick, too—fast enough to win the Rio Hondo League my first season on the varsity squad as a junior, and then, in a spectacular upset from nowhere, the Southern California regionals during my second, and final, year. The state athletic commission gave us special patches to sew onto the shoulders of our letterman jackets. They were much better than trophies. We stitched them into the very fabric of our identity, these large red octagons, like stop signs, arresting the gaze of passer-bys with our official status as Southern Section CHAMPS. We wanted the jocks to see. They did. The geeks on our team who wrote for the school paper made sure everyone else noticed, too.

And at the end of every week, after the hill repeats, the interval training, the intense distance runs, we always came back to that familiar route down the middle of Huntington Drive, right through the heart of a town that was suddenly excited by its unlikely athletes. We jogged shoulder to shoulder, the men’s varsity seven, breaking formation every so often to let pass the weekend warriors. They smiled, waved, exhorted us to bring home the gold. As we shuffled across the street’s expansive intersections, patrolling officers nodded from their squad cars. Technically, we were jaywalking—no crosswalks traverse the center median—but under a larger prevailing order, one that extended beyond the school campus, that strip was our territory.

The state championship! Could we really take it? The springy grass that propelled our footsteps seemed to suggest we had the tailwind of history itself, as if Mr. Huntington’s epic vision of electric-powered transport had ceded its literal ground to the rise of the Titan cross country machine. And even though we were shellacked at State Finals—sixth place—no one could ever take away that time in our lives when a group of scrawny misfits had become emissaries of their sport, their youth, the very idea of what the future could hold. We were cross country runners, and the football team could keep its stadium. For one brief moment in the chronicled course of human events, we had the entire city.

Jesse Cheng is from Southern California. Works have appeared or are forthcoming in Prime Number, Pure Slush, The Christian Science Monitor, and Asian Pacific American Journal. His website is