From Corral G to CMH

Bay to Breakers is well known and respected in the world of competitive runners, and either a joy or a curse for people who live in San Francisco.  On a national level, though, not many people seem to know about it.  I took an uncharacteristic look at the Sports page of The Columbus Dispatch‘s Monday edition, and there was no mention of it, not even a one- or two-paragraph mention.

I waited in Corral G for the air horn signaling that it was time to take off.  Corral G the corral for walkers, and it’s the penultimate corral–the last one is Corral H, which is reserved for families.  Now that I’m a veteran of two Bay to Breakers race, and one Capital City Half Marathon, I am beginning to see that walkers are pretty much second-class citizens in the world of competitive running.  This is most evident in the media coverage.  I DVR’d WBNS’ coverage of the Half Marathon, and sure enough, they pretty much closed up shop after runners began crossing the finish line.  Reporters were stationed at various points along the 13.1 miles, but they were long gone before we were anywhere close.  (To their credit, volunteers along the route did stay to root for us, and to give us cups of water and Gatorade.)

At Bay to Breakers, from my perch embedded in Coral G, I could see that the serious racers–as well as the ones who were there for the Mardi Gras and party aspect–seemed to think of the walkers as the tagalong younger siblings who’d go away if you’d give them a quarter.

I know that the walkers can’t be released with the other runners, especially the seeded runners and Corral A, but it was a good 45 minutes before they moved Corral G up to the line, by which time runners were already crossing the finish line at the Great Highway.  (Isaac Mukundi of Grand Prairie, Tex., won with a time of 35:23.)  This year was better than last year, when we waited at least an hour before we were able to start pounding asphalt.  That meant that we were still standing there with people through tortillas at us while the runners were already finished.

My overall time was 2:34:20, which was an improvement of 10 minutes from last year.  I was in no pain when I was finished.  Indeed, according to my Fitbit, I accumulated a total of 21 miles of walking the entire day, beginning with my walk down to the Embarcadero in the morning, and my walk back from the Great Highway.  I averaged about a 21-minute mile, but I did much better on the Hayes Hill Challenge than I expected.  The hill has an 11% grade, and I scaled it in 12:49.61, not an easy task because many of my fellow walkers were dodging and weaving the drunks around the house parties.

The after-party was still full of energy, unlike last year’s in The Panhandle, where it had pretty much lost its momentum by the time the walkers had made it back.  The party concentrated this year around Mile 4, on either side of John F. Kennedy St. in Golden Gate Park, and featured a much broader area than The Panhandle, so people could relax, hang out, and have fun.

I had the sense to walk back to North Beach–a long walk, even if you haven’t already walked 7½ miles and then some–by another route than Russian Hill.  Hayes Hill has a steep grade, but the 27% grade of Russian Hill is much worse, especially when going down, where you’re fighting gravity the whole way to keep your legs from collapsing.

When Bay to Breakers posts the results on the Website, they should specify walkers versus runners.  Comparing a walker’s pace to a runner’s makes the walker look like a complete invalid.

Bay to Breakers specifies a walker’s corral, whereas the Capital City Half Marathon application asks your estimated finish time.  I decided to err on the side of caution and say four hours.  I think they should specify walkers’ corrals.  (I surprised myself by finishing in 3:23:51.)

The trip home was uneventful, which was great, since departure could have been disastrous.  I rode to the airport in the Supershuttle, with a driver who drove with recklessness that surpassed Steve McQueen’s in Bullitt (1968), where the chase scene took place in Russian Hill.  While on the ride, I realized my Fitbit was not on my wrist.  I went through my phone and found a picture of me in the Green Tortoise’s lobby just before I left–I was wearing it in that shot.  I was about to phone the hostel to ask them to mail it to me if they found it, but when I opened the door to the shuttle at Southwest’s drop-off point, I found the Fitbit on the floor.

After booking my suitcase, I went to my wallet and could not find my debit card.  I was about to call the Telhio Credit Union when I had the sense to look in another part of my wallet–there it was, in a different pocket than where I usually keep it.

As Commander William Riker says, “Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.”


A scene repeated with each gate.  Impatient runners wait for the air horn and the splitting of the tape.


Race Eve

This evening, there has been a No Wi-Fi Pre-Party Hour here at the Green Tortoise, before many (if not most) of the guests here tumble out for a pub crawl.  So, I’m doing teetotaler things, like writing in my blog and letting my dinner from Tony’s Cable Car Restaurant settle.  Probably having such a heavy meal on the eve of Bay to Breakers wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done–I’m just hoping it won’t come back and haunt me while I’m hitting the bricks tomorrow.

There are memes all over Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr about how you should stay in touch with people, let them know you love them, etc., because you can’t take for granted that you’ll get another chance to do it.  It’s very trite, and its endless repetition has made me dread seeing it in my newsfeed, but I have learned during this journey that, like many a cliché, there is more than a grain of truth to it.

I spent the afternoon with my friend Gerry Nicosia, author of the definitive Kerouac biography Memory Babe, in Berkeley this afternoon.  Before coming out West, I suggested to him that we try to meet up with Richard Castile, who lived in a retirement home in Mill Valley.  (I had known Dick since 1979, mostly as a pen pal.  He was an advisor to Bay Area youth in Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the Unitarian Universalist youth organization that was the focus of my adolescence and early adulthood.  We met at General Assembly 1980, which was in Albuquerque, N.M.  Gerry gave a poetry reading at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco, where Dick was a member, and they learned that they had me in common.

Dick and I lost touch when he moved to Stockton to live with his son’s family, and I lost the address.  Gerry had offhandedly mentioned that Dick had moved back to Mill Valley, so I suggested that the three of us try and get together.

Gerry’s voice mail this morning brought news that I did not want to hear–Dick died three months ago, aged 84.  I doubly kicked myself because I learned last year, when I was in the Bay Area for Bay to Breakers, that Dick had moved back to Mill Valley.  Gerry suggested we visit him, but I didn’t feel right about just showing up uninvited.

Dick taught high school history in the San Francisco schools, but he had a year-long hospitalization after being marooned in Donner Summit during a blizzard.  This meant he had to retire from teaching, after many extensive surgeries and therapies.  He always seemed frail to me, but his energy was boundless.  Besides being an advisor to LRYers, he was very active in the Unitarian church in San Francisco, and served on the Board of Directors for the World Affairs Council of Northern California.  He mentored generations of students, and, despite never marrying, adopted a teenage son.

The last time I saw him was when Steph and I visited San Francisco for our honeymoon.  We had a long meal at a restaurant at Giardelli Square, and Steph was fascinated by him and his many travels.

זכר צדיק לברכה

Gerry and I had a good lunch in Berkeley, and we tried to find parking places and navigate the chaos around the U.C. Berkeley campus–on graduation day!  That meant we had to cut our time at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Ave. much too abbreviated.  He marveled at how much walking I have been doing, both in San Francisco and in Ohio–I’ve filled him in by letter about my extensive walking in Columbus and my walks to Athens.  He said it looks like it has been getting me in shape.

I’ve asked myself if this devotion to walking–for longer distances, trying for shorter durations–has meant that I have become what I never wanted to be: an athlete.

I have written in prior entries about my lack of athletic prowess, and how I have never had any interest in any sports at any level.  For a long time, it was impossible for me to grasp that my peers were doing athletic activities voluntarily.  (I remember one Saturday morning when I was about 11, and a friend and I were hanging around the playground of Washington School, the elementary school I intermittently attended, and I saw guys, some of whom I knew, walking into the gym.  There was some kind of basketball clinic that morning.  They were going to something like a phys. ed. class without having to?)

One of the few things my parents did right was not to force me into trying out for athletics.  I saw a lot of my friends who did tee-ball and Little League, but I never considered participating.  As I grow older, I often wonder how many children were forced, and how many did it without really wanting to so they could please their parents.

When I go to my Friday night yoga session in Worthington, I have a 20-minute walk from the bus stop to where the class takes place.  My walk takes me past a park where I have seen boys as young as 10 or 11 playing and practicing lacrosse.  I usually associate that with fraternity guys, the Ivy League, and excessive drinking and violent partying, so I found it unusual that kids that young would be playing it.

At one job I had, a woman who worked there proudly wore a pin all summer.  The pin was large, and it featured a color picture of her son, who was probably about nine, in a baseball uniform.  Two things jumped out at me at once: One was that the bat almost looked bigger than he was, since he was a small and rather scrawny kid.  The other was the expression on his face.  He was not smiling, and he looked like he really didn’t want to be there.

Walking will probably be the extent of my athletic prowess, and many people have complimented and marveled at my speed and my stamina.  And I have begun seeking out events such as the Half Marathon just so I can pay money  to walk a distance I have walked many times for free–and without as many people.  (Bay to Breakers’ allure is all the craziness and an excuse to go to San Francisco, as much as the walk itself.  After 5½ years of living in Cincinnati, hills aren’t a novelty to me, and Hayes Hill is an incline that I think will be easier this year, since yoga has improved my lung capacity.)

So, if I’m paying to walk, and have started to accumulate bibs, T-shirts, and medals, maybe I have ventured into that unknown territory I have never sought to explore.


Here is a picture I took last year.


Bozos on This Bus

I never developed any enthusiasm for The Firesign Theatre, but quite often I have invoked the title of their fourth album, I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.  I think it quite often when I ride COTA in Columbus, and the title was ringing in my head as I was travelling across country this week to San Francisco.

I am typing this in the ballroom of the Green Tortoise Hostel in San Francisco’s North Beach.  The time is just before 10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Saving Time, and I arrived here in the city by the bay just before 7 a.m. today.  I’m early arriving at the hostel, so I had breakfast, and I’m blogging here while waiting for my room and my key to be available.

Last year, I came out here for Bay to Breakers, the 7½-mile footrace from The Embarcadero to the Great Highway, run annually since 1912.  I had such a blast that I decided that I will make this an annual event.  (Last year was even more unique in that I flew out here, and then took a bus trip to Titusville, Fla. so I could be in Brevard County to see Susie graduate from high school.)

I am a long-time veteran of Greyhound travel, and I think that if they had anything analogous to frequent-flyer miles, I’d never have to pay for it again.  This trip was no exception–when I announced my plans to friends, jaws dropped over, heads shook, they made the latest of many doubts about my mental stability.

The trip began Tuesday night at 11:20 from the Greyhound station in Columbus, and ended this morning at the station on Folsom St. here in San Francisco.  I changed buses in Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The bozos on the bus came to the surface as we were crossing Kansas.  The trip from Columbus to Kansas City was uneventful.  I was disappointed that it was too foggy in St. Louis for me to see my beloved Gateway Arch, especially since its other name, the Gateway to the West, would be especially appropriate.

Once we crossed into the Sunflower State, that was when things began to be… noteworthy.  I have crossed Kansas before, but I was totally in awe of the section I saw, so atypical of the prairie, very high skies, and desolation I had experienced in previous journeys, and what usually comes to mind when someone says “Kansas.”  (On the other hand, having grown up in the Allegheny Plateau in Southeast Ohio, I wondered why so many people think Ohio is flat.)  The area was hilly, and rich with vegetation.  I texted my friend John in Madison, Wisc., who has traveled with me many times by bus and by thumb, and who was Google Maps before there was such a thing.  Totally taken aback, I texted him: Leaving Junction City.  Can’t remember Kansas being this hilly and un-prairielike.  He told me I was in the Flint Hills region of eastern Kansas, known for its cattle ranching, and an area quite unlike the rest of the Kansas grasslands.  (I have not read William Least Heat-Moon, but I understand he wrote quite extensively about the region in PrairyErth.)

My awe about this soon took a back seat to the wildlife riding with me.  There was a kid of about 19 on the bus with his girlfriend, and dressed like some of the white gangsta wannabes I saw when we lived in Franklinton–baseball cap turned sideways, the nightgown-sized T-shirt, the pants tailored for clowns, and a skateboard.  He went back into the bathroom, and after about a minute we could all smell cigarette smoke.  (Smoking has been 100% forbidden on buses for at least a decade, although I remember when it was permitted in the last three rows of the bus, although they did not allow cigars or pipes.)  The driver wasted no time in pulling over, and telling the kid he would be getting off at the next exit, which happened to be Enterprise (pop. 855).  The kid tried, in vain, to stay on the bus, but the driver would not budge.  He pulled over the bus, and I saw the kid hop onto his skateboard and roll away, leaving his girlfriend whimpering in the seat they had shared.  (The postscript to this story is that he managed to hitch a ride almost immediately, and reached Denver ahead of us, where he met his girlfriend when we arrived.  Commander William Riker has said that “fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise,” and I guess this proves that.)

There was a food and rest stop in Salina, and a woman on the bus apparently did not learn from the lesson of the smoker who could not wait 30 to 45 minutes for the rest stop.  A new driver took the wheel at Salina, and the woman–who had boarded at Pittsburgh and was riding all the way to Riverside, Calif.–was so bold (or stupid) as to roll a blunt right in front of the new driver, while the driver was reviewing all the logs and paperwork before getting behind the wheel.  So, we were minus another passenger when we pulled out of Salina and headed westward.

We were an hour late getting into Denver, and I worried that this would throw off the rest of my schedule, but I worried for no reason.  The new bus managed to make it to Las Vegas on time, and I surprised myself after dawn by spending my time with my nose against the window, totally awed by the rock formations, plant life, and high canyon walls that flanked I-70 at that point.  (My first trip across the semi-arid land in New Mexico in 1980 put to rest my pre-conceived notion that the desert was just one huge sandbox, but I was not ready for what I saw as I crossed southern Utah.)  I took many pictures, and posted them to Facebook in real time.  Friends in St. George and Salt Lake City told me that this was part of the allure of living there.

Las Vegas was every bit as dismal as I expected.  When the first thing you see is a man in an underpass, wrapped in a filthy sleeping bag like a mummy, you understand the nickname “Lost Wages.”  Even the hotels and casinos I passed had a sad look about them.  (I’m not enough of a New Ager to say they exuded bad vibes or had a negative aura, but they broadcast “Stay away!” to me.)  During his four years of self-imposed exile in the penthouse of the Desert Inn, Howard Hughes wrote in a memo to Robert Maheu, his majordomo and chief cook and bottle-washer, “I like to think of Las Vegas in terms of a well-dressed man in a dinner jacket and a beautifully jeweled and furred female getting out of an expensive car.”  No question he never ventured outside his penthouse when he thought that, and managed to turn the city into his own personal Monopoly board.

I did not gamble in Las Vegas, because within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was in line for the bus to Los Angeles, and I was blessed with my own seat all the way to Anaheim.  We made stops in Barstow (which made me recall the opening lines of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which may be the “Call me Ishmael” of 20th-century American literature) and in San Bernardino (which I heard a woman on the bus call “San Bernaghetto”), and I fell in love with Riverside, especially its theaters, churches, restaurants, and clubs as our bus moved down Mission Inn Ave.  I want to come back and explore it more some day.

Going from Anaheim to L.A. drove home the point that Southern California is no place for a non-driver.  Even after 10 p.m. on a weeknight, the 91 Freeway was moving slower than a funeral procession, with vehicles very close together moving a few feet, stopping for several minutes, and moving again.  I thought at first there was an accident or an event getting out, but it seems to be typical for the Los Angeles area regardless of the time of day.

I slept most of the way up I-5 from L.A. to about Livermore, except for some parfait at a rest stop in Avenal.  I watched out the window more than I read for most of the trip, because the trip left I-70 at Beaver, Utah and took I-15 all the way to Los Angeles, which was unfamiliar terrain to me.

Arriving here in San Francisco just after 7 a.m., I immediately walked up to the Green Tortoise here in North Beach, happy to be walking again after sitting almost non-stop since Tuesday night.  There will be much more to blog about between now and my flight out of San Francisco on Monday afternoon, so stay tuned.


Your celebrity blogger, Green Tortoise Hostel, North Beach, San Francisco


Shades of Difference

This has been a rainy summer, but when the sun is out, it is very hot and very bright.  It’s been so bright that I have actually considered buying sunglasses.  When I had my annual eye exam in June (a must, since glaucoma is so prevalent in my family), I debated spending a little extra money on a set of prescription sunglasses, but they would be one more pair that I could lose or break.

I think that my resistance to buying and wearing sunglasses is that I have seen them more as a fashion accessory and statement than as a practicality.  Having never been a driver, they have not been a necessity when travelling.  I’ve always been able to brace myself against bright sunlight.

Briefly, I wore a pair of mirror sunglasses when I was a teenager.  These had teardrop-shaped lenses, and I had almost convinced myself that I presented an air of cool.  What brought me back to earth was when I was walking down Putnam St. in downtown Marietta.  Two teenage girls (possibly classmates of mine, since I was about 16 at the time) were passing me on the sidewalk.  One planted herself directly in front of me and gazed into my eyes.  Or so I thought.  Instead, she reached into her purse, took out a comb, and stared into the lenses as she combed and adjusted her hair.

After my annual eye exam at the OSU College of Optometry.  All I need to complete the look is a saxophone.

After my annual eye exam at the OSU College of Optometry. All I need to   complete the look is a saxophone.

It took me some time to associate jazz musicians, especially the ones from the 1940s and 1950s, with sunglasses.  (Please note that I drew on that stereotype in the caption for the above picture.)  The first time I saw a picture of a jazz musician wearing sunglasses was on the cover The Shearing Piano (Capitol T-909), in my dad’s record collection.  Dad explained to me that George Shearing (or “old God Shearing,” as Jack Kerouac called him in On the Road) was blind.

A friend of mine, a jazz aficionado, believes the reason that jazz musicians took to wearing sunglasses on stage (and whenever they were out and about in the daytime) was because of amphetamine use and indulging in other controlled substances.  One of the side effects is dilated pupils, so being under bright lights is quite uncomfortable.

I took to wearing sunglasses in the summertime when I was in elementary school, mostly modeling this on Joe Cool, one of Snoopy’s many personae in Peanuts.  Unlike Corey Hart, I did not wear them at night.

During Zappos Bay to Breakers last May, I waited impatiently with many other walkers in Corral G for the green light to step off and begin the 7+ miles to the Great Highway.  There was a family in front of me, a husband, wife, and two girls.  The girls were maybe seven and nine years of age, and, as we waited for the okay to hit the bricks and start walking, the girls were starting to get impatient.  (I probably wasn’t modeling the best behavior, patience-wise, I’m the first to admit.)  As they waited, they both posed with sunglasses (one had a pair of John Lennon glasses with amber lenses, and the older of the two had a pair of black Wayfarers that reminded me of Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983)) while their parents took pictures of them.  The sunglasses were unnecessary at that time of the morning, as the sky was somewhat leaden and fog hung over the Bay.

While I was at CVS picking up a prescription the other day, I passed some time looking over the sunglasses on a spinner near the front door, while the pharmacist filled my order.  I was looking for a pair of rectangular clip-ons to go over my bifocals.  Once again, practicality reigned.  Unlike when I was younger, shades would not be a trademark.  (Some people manage to make this work quite effectively: the Blues Brothers, Fritz the Nite Owl, and above all, Roy Orbison.  In the latter case, he put on prescription sunglasses as a Plan B when he arrived at a concert and realized he had forgotten his regular ones.  For years, I thought he was blind.)

Maybe getting sunglasses at last is a sign of old age.  A friend’s mother used to say that one sign of old age is using a bridge table to play bridge.