November 7, 2012

This article appeared in the Nov. 7, 2012, issue (“Run for Cover”).

Sunday, November 4 dawned gray and cold in New York City. Many sections of town—especially in Staten Island—were still suffering from Hurricane Sandy hangover: No power or water or heat. Terrible weather for them, but good for runners—no sun to overheat you, a deep chill to warm your body into.

But the 60,000 or so people who had been scheduled to take the Staten Island Ferry that morning for the start of this year’s New York City Marathon stayed at home or in their hotel rooms or wherever they happened to be crashing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, under deep and, I would say, embarrassing pressure and negative coverage, finally cancelled the event on Friday.

Many of the runners, especially the ones who crossed the globe to participate, had reason to feel a little put out. But not as much as the city residents who were in danger of getting sick or not being able to salvage their home would have on seeing all the resources—generators, drinking water, police officers, port-a-potties, etc.—that the city was not providing for them going to help out with the race instead.

Fairly simple emotions to understand, one would think. But not for Mayor Mike, who has never been long on any emotion, except maybe a cold form of anger.

The whole race decision was botched in a near-perfect manner. The Mayor made up his mind quickly (read: rashly, the way he often does, without appearing to consult many people or knowing the full circumstances), and, when advisors and the press and the blogosphere tore into him for it (the Facebook page Cancel the 2012 NYC Marathon instantly gained more than 45,000 likes), Bloomberg stuck to his guns, digging in for the long haul—the way he always does when he encounters opposition. Then, when he finally did cave, there could be no doubt that he did so purely for the purpose of political expediency. His office’s statement canceling the race was a Botticelli of sulking passive-aggressiveness.

Even the CEO of the New York Road Runners—the organization that oversees the marathon—the skeletal Mary Wittenberg, didn’t favor holding the race, sharing her doubts with a few people in the days after the storm. After unconfirmed word got out that volunteers working on the race supposedly got pelted with eggs by angry residents, the volume on the online vitriol got turned up to 11.

About the only people involved in the morass who came away morally and spiritually clean were the runners themselves, many of whom wound up spending their unexpected holiday in NYC volunteering in areas of the city that had been hit hardest by the storm.

Personally, I didn’t remember any of it. By which I mean that I forgot that the marathon was being held on Sunday. (Forgive me, I was a little busy foraging for batteries and cadging candles from neighbors and looting stores for drinking water.) I did see people running in the street the day after the storm hit and thought to myself, “What kind of fanatic goes running on a day like today?”

But seeing people picking their running route through the storm debris did send me down memory lane. In the early 1990s I ran regularly (or semi-regularly), principally because my girlfriend at the time, Alexandra Horowitz, was a serious runner. I hated it, but love can be a powerful motivator.

The longest distance I ever ran was once around the Central Park loop—about 6 miles. As I remember, I had to stop once, at which point, I threw up.

Love isn’t that powerful a motivator. I stopped running pretty soon afterward.

The other thing I was reminded of is that 10 years ago, I was one of troika of friends—the others being art and food critic Steven Stern and film and TV writer Semi Chellas (Mad Men)—who made a drunken vow to run the marathon in 10 years. This, I remember us suggesting, would give us plenty of time to quit smoking and get our lives (and bodies) in some semblance of order before we had to endure such an ordeal.

Once my power came back on last week, I did a quick check to make sure that I could make this statement: None of us ever ran the NYC nor any other marathon. None of us appeared to have any regrets that we never had; some of us managed to quit smoking without the spur of having to run a distance that no human with access to internal combustion engines or even just bicycles and MetroCards should be made to run.

Personally, it’s now hard for me to think of something that I would go to greater lengths to avoid having to do than run a marathon.

For her part, Semi said, “I cannot believe that I ever said I would run a marathon of any location or length. (Or are they all the same length?) However, on reflection, I remember being very optimistic and full of cocktails a decade ago. It is very possible that I agreed to box Steven Stern sometime in 2013.”

In the hand-wringing, to-run-or-not-to-run portion of the post-Sandy week, people were posting comments like, “How do I justify flying into a disaster zone to participate in a self-indulgent activity of running a marathon?”

Self-indulgent?

Lady, self-indulgent is a day at the spa. Running a marathon is something else altogether. Masochism, maybe.

*

The other great spectator sport of our time, presidential politics, just concluded with the re-election of Barack Obama and with the Democrats holding a thinner margin of control in the Senate. All of which guarantees us four more years of gridlock and do-nothingness in Washington. And you know what? I’m very happy about that outcome.

What’s the line in the Hippocratic oath that doctors are supposed to follow? Something about “do no harm”? Not a bad catchphrase for politicians to have to follow, too.

For me, the takeaway of this election is this: A majority of white men and women preferred Romney as their president.

Tough Mitties. Enough minorities wanted Obama re-elected—African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos of all races skewed pro-Obama by margins of 70 percent or more—that what whitey wants simply didn’t matter.

In other words, American politics is starting to look more and more like Major League Baseball. And thank the Lord for that.

“Marathon Man,” by Bill Vourvoulias.

From “Run for Cover,” the November 7, 2012, issue of V as in Victor.

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