My first recollection of running as a child was in my front yard in Beaver, PA. It was unique because I would run alone, for hours I am told, on snowy winter days in a patch of grass left bare by a gas leak. It left a perfect miniature football field for me, and during half-time of any Steelers game I would throw the ball to myself, avoid tacklers, and dive into the end-zone snow-bank for the score. I made shit up. For hours. Based on the playbook my father had given me, I would huddle with my imaginary teammates, split wide and look into the imaginary quarterback, run my route and somehow throw the ball to myself in a spot just out of reach of the imaginary cornerback (no imaginary safety could cover me). If someone would pass by I would go into huddle formation, so they didn’t think I was some crazy kid actually pretending to drive the whole field on his own. On lucky days my father, brother, or even sisters would throw with me for a bit, but if they couldn’t I was perfectly happy to play the entire game myself.
Another sweet running memory was on Beaver Bobcat Football Nights, on Fridays, under the lights. I would walk with my Dad to the back of the property, down to the game in Gypsy Glen Stadium. We would sit together for the first quarter as he pointed out the players, techniques and always a prediction of what was next. “Three yards and a cloud of dust” was his favorite: he loved the tough running game that he had grown up on at Mount Union College. He preached the value of “third and short”. He had a hearty disdain for throwing the football … unless it was third and long and you had no choice.
The fact I would grow up to be a third and long go-to receiver never bothered him later, but at the time it felt like sacrilege. By the second quarter of every game, no matter the score, I would accept an invite and ask dad to “go run”. We would go to the grassy patch behind the north end zone and play crazy games of touch football. The fact that there were loads of fans passing between us with hot chocolate and hot dogs did nothing to dissuade us. We would run like mad, dodging fans and food trays, making our way from one side of the klieg-lit night to the other. If the real game yielded a score, we would break for the chance to catch the real football after the extra point. Then our game was back on. At some point, we would return, exhausted and grass-stained, to our fathers in the stands to watch the end of the game and catch our breath.
A third running memory was the cross-country track at Choate, which I ran in spikes during baseball practice, reciting the poetic lyrics to Thunder Road by Brice Springsteen to pass the time. It was spring term in Wallingford, and playing baseball for Tom Yankus was about the most sublime athletic experience one could imagine Except when we had to do training- or sometimes disciplinary- runs. The penalty of choice was the cross country loop, a two or three-miler that was hilly but not really that bad. Nevertheless, we dreaded it. And no-one dreaded it more than Doug Pearl, a strapping 6+ footer who was our starting pitcher and led an otherwise sedentary exitance between starts. To pass the time on these runs, he devised a perfect remedy. We were all Bruce fans, so he began by simply blurting out “Screen Door Slams… and someone else would reply “Mary’s dress waves”.. and our small group would take turns with each successive lyric, like some deranged army detail passing time on a pre-dawn run. By the time we hit the final verse “…, I’m pulling out of here to win”… the dreaded run would be over. I can still recite the whole song now, thanks to those runs and Doug Pearl. I use it nightly as a bedtime poem for my kids- it is super boring when spoken slowly.
And so we get to this week and this picture. We found out about the Connecticut State Championship Semi-Final game early on a Tuesday morning, and by afternoon had arranged a plan to make it. We walked hand in hand toward the lights on the field, and we headed to the stands to join my Dad-friends there, as I am now playing the father. After a brief bout of shyness and worry, my son hangs with the grown-ups for about one quarter, then asks to play ball with the kids across the way, down where the hot dogs and hot chocolate are served. He makes quick friends, and, without guidance or direction, begins a game that doesn’t end until late in the night. Exhausted, grass stained and content, we walk out of the stadium, get back to the house just before he passed out exhausted, at his regular boy bedtime.
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines rolling on
But when you get to the porch, they’re gone on the wind
So Mary, climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win