Wednesday, January 06, 1999

Walks just to get out became a friendship

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let's walk, they said. And off we went, out of a toasty office and into the cruel cold.

        “Don't fall behind,” Charlotte Kreinbring warned as I trudged over the frozen tundra on the border between Norwood and Hyde Park. “We only have an hour to walk.”

        “And, our lunchtime route,” Peg Bruggeman casually noted, “covers four miles.”

        Four miles! In this weather? It's barely above zero. The wind-chill factor is 11 below. I must need my head examined.

        Charlotte told me I came to the right place.

        “We're each other's shrinks,” she said. “We walk and talk and get stuff off our chests. And you can't beat our rates.”

        Charlotte and Peg have been taking twice-a-week walks during their lunch hour for eight years. They invited me along for a “Lunch with Cliff,” where I treat people to their midday meal and listen to what's on their minds. Lunch began with a four-mile first course and ended over calzones and a hoagie at the Madison Road LaRosa's.

        “We walk for our mental and physical health,” Peg said.

        Charlotte added that they “never run out of things to talk about.”

        Their walk's topics included politics, pet peeves about their husbands, the love and strength their fathers show as they care for their ailing moms, the solid grounding in reality their rural Ohio roots gave them, and whether that columnist in tow, struggling to take notes and not to fall on his face, would make it to the end of the walk. If not, Peg joked, they might have to name their route “the Cliff Killer.”

        While sharing ideas, the women used their conversations to make a close friendship even stronger.

        “Did you read the article in the paper where a poll named Bill Clinton the most-admired man in America?” Charlotte asked as we walked by a stand of mansions on Edwards Road.

        “He even beat out the pope!” she exclaimed.

        “Makes you wonder,” Charlotte joked, “what's going on at the Vatican.”

        She laughed. Then she yelled “whoa!” as she tried to stop her feet from slipping on a patch of ice.

        “God heard you,” Peg deadpanned. “He tripped you.”

        Regaining control of her feet, Charlotte replied, “It wasn't God. You pushed me, like you always do.”

        Both women laughed at their running joke. Any time Charlotte comes back to the office with skinned knees or scraped palms, she gives the same explanation: “Peg pushed me.”

        Peg and Charlotte started walking together when they were just co-workers, employed by the same company, working in the same building. All they wanted to do was get away from the office for an hour and keep fit. Over time, they became friends. Now, Peg gladly drives twice a week from the building she manages just north of downtown to the Norwood office Charlotte occupies as the controller for Cincinnati Mortgage Co.

        On their early walks, they just talked about work.

        “Now, we tell each other things we'd never tell anyone else,” Peg said as she plowed through shin-deep snow.

        “We trust each other and know it's not going to go anywhere else. We know we are not going to be judged,” Charlotte called over her shoulder as she shuffled along a sidewalk glazed with ice.

        “We are free to be completely ourselves,” Peg said.

        “We don't have to put on a smiling face. We can be wrong. We can sound stupid and act crazy.”

        They can share the worst news. And the best.

        Two weeks before Christmas, Charlotte had a scare with cancer. She shared her doctor's initial diagnosis with just two people — her husband and Peg.

        When test results blessedly came out negative, Charlotte called Peg.

        Then they went for a walk.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.