Last year, I decided I would arrive at the Bloomsday starting line at 7:15 a.m., an hour and 45 minutes early.
I knew of no other way of getting a decent start, short of being an elite runner, a corporate cupper or a cheater. And a fast start was my only hope of achieving my modest-yet-hopeless goal of breaking one hour. Still, I dreaded the thought of standing around on Riverside Avenue, bored stiff and shivering for 105 minutes.
Well, things didn’t turn out exactly as planned. Yes, I did get a fast start, but a fat lot of good it did me. Let me put it this way - you can’t break an hour when you have to walk up Doomsday Hill.
The biggest surprise came before the race even started. I discovered, to my relief, that the 105-minute wait was the most enjoyable part of the whole race.
Why? Because I got to know some people I never would have known otherwise. The Bloomsday starting line may be the ideal habitat for standing around and schmoozing with total strangers.
Everybody’s excited; everybody’s desperate to pass the time. The result is, people tell perfect strangers details of their lives that they wouldn’t dream of telling strangers on the bus.
For instance, the guy standing next to me told me all about his life as a traveling salesman. Maybe it was just the pre-race endorphins kicking in, but I found it fascinating. Before that, the only thing I really knew about traveling salesmen was what I had learned from Arthur Miller’s play and from those “farmer’s daughter” jokes. It turns out, the life of a modern traveling salesman is nothing like I imagined.
He told me he spent most of his life following the trade show circuit around the country. The rest of the time, he spent on planes and in hotels. He had an apartment in Baltimore, but he hadn’t been back to it in three weeks. He was in Spokane preparing for another in a series of West Coast trade shows (I remember only the man, not his product).
Lacking any real home life, he tried as hard as he could to have a life on the road. Golf was one way to do that. His normal baggage consisted of one suitcase and his golf clubs. He took advantage of his traveling lifestyle to play courses all over the U.S. He was suitably impressed with Spokane’s public courses.
The other thing he did was run. No matter what town he was in, he tried to get out of the hotel a few times a week and do some running. Not only did he get exercise, but he got to know the cities far better than he would have otherwise.
So when he realized he would be in town for the legendary Bloomsday run (yes, he had heard of it before), he signed up despite the late fee.
It wasn’t so much because he wanted to run, it was because he figured Bloomsday is the ultimate Spokane experience. This was his home, if only for a week, and he wanted to immerse himself in the things that made Spokane Spokane.
He immersed himself in it all right. When the gun went off, he was gone. I just remember seeing his back fading into the distance.
He’s not the only person I got to know. During the wait, I stood in front of a crew of middle-aged Montana women who had driven over from Kalispell. We had long discussions about running, about weather, about kids and about Montana, confirming my long-held opinion that Montanans are the friendliest and most sensible people on Earth.
There were others too, but now that a year has passed, I don’t remember every one of my preBloomsday friendships.
All I know is that this experience served to confirm the wisdom of Charles Kuralt, who once said (and I paraphrase): Never squander the chance to walk up to a stranger and shoot the breeze.
Everybody’s got a story. Believe me, in 105 minutes, there’s plenty of time to hear it.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review