Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

I had intended to go to Paris, France, last weekend, as my lovely case manager Erin had escaped from the clowns and had fled to Arizona, and Paul had flown to Michigan, and I refused to be out traveled by these two up-starts. However, I soon remembered that the 24th Los Angeles Marathon was scheduled for Monday, yesterday, and took solace that while my adventuresome and restless case managers were gallivanting all across the country, I could stay right here at home and be a witness to a world class athletic competition for free, and with relatively little effort. Paul especially would miss out as he has competed in three such marathons back east... where they run like the Northern Wind.
The race was set for 7:20 in the morning. This happened to be on the 25th of May, Memorial Day, and my friend Ron's 59th birthday.
Boy, I'm glad I'm not as old as he is.
Oh, by the way, for those of you who've read my post, Do The Right Thing, I wasn't able to watch Terminator Salvation on Memorial Day. No, I watched it the night before, and the popcorn was good.
I left my box a little after 5:30, just at sunrise, and walked west on Sixth. I knew the buses would be all screwed up this morning, so walking was in order. It being before 6 o'clock, the street was still littered with people sleeping in sleeping bags, in tents, in shopping carts, or just laying on the sidewalk with blankets, or plastic bags over them. They were especially concentrated near the Midnight Mission, on San Pedro. The police would soon come to move them along, or the police wanna-bes, guys wearing red and purple shirts with "Public Safety," printed on them, riding around on bicycles.
One elderly black man mumbled something at me from the church entrance on the corner. I don't think he knew what he was saying.
I've lived on the streets only once for any appreciable length of time, and if you've read the Salvation Diary entries, dear reader, you caught the tail end of that experience. Besides being dangerous, and feeling isolated and alone, I found being homeless and on the street exceptionally boring. I passed the seemingly unending hours by reading Tom Clancy novels as slowly as possible, and smoking cigarettes and drinking rum. I often wonder at all the people I see sitting around in the cement parks, and Mission court yards, doing nothing but staring off into space. I just couldn't do that, no matter how down I got.
I passed the morning crowd sitting on the sidewalk at the Food Mart on San Julian, already open for business, and continued west.
Broadway was still pretty much deserted when I got there around 6:00. I walked north to Fifth Street, and continued west. I didn't see any runners until I got all the way to Olive, about four blocks from the starting point at Sixth and Figueroa. I had brought two library books with me, and I placed them in the drop off box in front of Central Library, then mingled with the crowd.
It was a beautiful day for a marathon. Overcast, but not humid. 15,000 participants were milling about waiting to start. Men, women, little kids, big kids, all dressed pretty much alike, in running shorts, tennis or running shoes, and with what they call a racing bib tied across their chests, or mid-section, with their ID number stenciled across it. Most of the attractive women and girls I saw always attempted to wear the shortest shorts available. I don't know why.
The biking contingent had already begun at 5:00. I made my way through security to the starting line. Police were in abundance, there being no crime allowed in Marathon Day. At 6:54, by my watch, the Wheelchair Race got underway, and these were not your average wheel chairs, oh my, no. These chairs were built for speed, and they zoomed away and were out of sight within a minute.
At 7:08 twelve elite (those with a realistic chance of winning) women runners took off, 16 minutes and 57 seconds before the elite men, and everybody else. How chivalrous! But what happened to Women's Lib, and sexual equality? I mean really!
Mayor Villaraigosa was there. Police Chief Bratton was there. Top Sheriff Baca was there as well, because no crime is allowed on Marathon Day. The mayor got on a microphone and requested a short moment of silence for those who gave their lives in service to their country. The National Anthem was sung by the Honda Choir. Then around 7:24, we took off.
I say we because I thought to myself since I was already there I might as well tag along for a bit, just to see what happened. I did have my gardening shoes on, which are tennis shoes, falling apart tennis shoes, so I was ready to go. I took a piece of square cardboard from a homeless individual begging for change, giving him a dollar, and wrote "XXX" on one side, and tied it around my neck with my lucky shoe string. I started out at about fifty rows behind the front runners, but those around me were too slow, and I soon made my way to the front of the pack. You can see me on the left in the picture at the top of this post.
Now I have never really fancied running. Like personal homelessness it is boring to me. One foot after another in endless repetition. However, I can apply myself if need be.
At mile 2 of the 26.2 mile route, I caught up with the pack of 20 or so front running men.
"Hi!," I said, "How's it going guys?!"
A few gave me a strange look. Most just kept running at a steady pace.
I grabbed a bottle of water from somebody and drank a little. Running is thirsty work.
Most of these guys were from Kenya, or Ethiopia, of all places. Not an American among them. I decided to find out what they knew about our current national holiday.
I ran up to one of the runners.
"Hi, what's your name?" I asked.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Rick! Rick Joyce," I said.
"Get away."
I could see he wanted to learn about American customs. I turned around and ran backwards so I could speak to him face to face.
"What's your name?" I asked.
He answered, but I couldn't quite make out what he was saying as at the time we were passing a whole bunch of Japanese-American people playing Tycho drums on the sidewalk.
"What was that?"
"Leave me alone!"
"Did you know that Memorial Day was once called Decoration Day?" I lit up a cigar and took a drag. As far as I knew smoking was not prohibited.
He looked horrified as he watched me.
"Yes, Memorial Day is a special day we Americans set aside to commemorate those men and women who have died while serving in our military."
"Get out of here!"
He seemed a bit perturbed, so I threw down my smoke, turned around, said, "Good luck! See ya later." I then took off to see if I could find the women. They are usually easier to talk to.
I left the guys behind and in about twenty minutes, near the eighteen mile mark, I caught up with them.
"Hi!" I said.
"Who are you?" Always with the questions these runners. This one was a pretty Russian lady, in her mid-twenties, I'd say.
"Rick! Rick Joyce. And who are you?"
"Hi Tatyana. How you holding up?"
"I'm Okay."
"Did you know that today is a national holiday in this country?"
"Yes. Memorial Day," she panted. "First celebrated to honor your Union Soldiers who died in the Civil War, then expanded to all American soldiers who died in any war."
Wow, this was one smart Russian!
"That's absolutely right, Tatyana. Well, I have to go now. It was certainly nice meeting you."
I didn't know it at the time, but she would go on to finish second in the race, and first in the women's competition.
I told her I had to leave because we were approaching the intersection of San Vicente and Wilshire, and I wanted to make the Memorial Day barbecue at the Westwood VA. So I pulled away from the ladies and kept running to Westwood. This was certainly good exercise.
I had two hamburgers, one hot dog, and some potato salad at the annual VA picnic, than ran back across town back to my box, in time to watch the end of the marathon on TV.
By then I was pretty tired and I took a little nap.
When I woke up fifteen minutes later, I was forced to watch CNN for the rest of the day, as MSNBC insists on showing what it is like to live in prison on weekends and holidays.
Because there is no news allowed on Memorial Day.

No comments:

Post a Comment