IN THE BEGINNING

Arriving in Boston August 10, 1974

Arriving in Boston August 10, 1974

It was 40 years ago today that I drove into Boston in a white, right-hand drive post office van as Richard Nixon was fleeing Washington D.C. in a green Chinook Marine helicopter. At age 26 I was escaping a failed marriage while at 61 Nixon was being exiled from a disgraced presidency.

Neither the dishonored ex-prez or I had a plan or a job to speak of, and no prospects.  But unlike Mr. Nixon I held the confidence of the post-WWII Baby Boom generation, the tidy belief that ours was a crossroads cohort, fated to a new set of values espousing brotherhood, integrity and the like. Though we would soon enough be disabused of that belief, it remained bedrock in our early, formative years.

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It had taken me two days to drive 1178 miles east from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and as I pulled up in front of 61 Empire Street in the Allston section of Boston, last year’s Allman Brothers hit Ramblin’ Man poured from my stereo like an ally of the warm summer sun.

My new home lay about a mile north of Harvard Square just a block off the Mass Turnpike.  Up on the corner sat the Merit Gas station on North Harvard Street where I had worked part-time the previous fall to make ends meet.  But that was during a five-month visit.  This time I was here to stay, so no gas station work for me.  Besides, the Arab oil embargo had lines stretching blocks on end.

Now, as I turned off the sturdy slant-six motor of my reconverted van, my new roommate, Patrick, bounded down the stoop with a joint fired up.

“Hey, Reavis!” he said, extending the sweet-scented memory cleanser to me from behind a wide grin. “Welcome to Boston.” Continue reading

FAMILY DINNERS

 family meals    It is a long-lost tradition in these frenetic, more individualized times, but in days of yore families came together to eat dinner as a unit.  In our house it was a time to discuss the issues of the day, learn the manners of the table, and generally upset Mom and Pop for the remainder of the evening — although that was more a by-product of the first two than a specific goal in itself.

By family I mean in the extended sense, our dogs were also at hand (and underfoot).  And as anyone who grew up with dogs in the house can testify, in general parents treated pets better than they did the children, although more times than not they would leave the estate to the bipeds.

In our household dogs could do anything, while we, the children, could do very little.  And please don’t think this is some rose-colored remembrance.  We were an eclectic family when it came to pets: birds, squirrels, turtles, fish, we co-habitated with each at one time or another.  No cats, though.  But always and primarily dogs,  plural.  One great dane and two dachshunds, that was the standard issue.  Do not ask why; these things evolve.  While the other pets were always treated well, in no way were they in the same class as the dogs, which assumed a status similar to that accorded cats in ancient Egypt.

Dinner was a time when this distinction in treatment was particularly acute.  The dachsies, like many canines, had a difficult time regulating food intake.  Put food in front of them in any quantity, and they would scarf it up no matter if it outweighed them by a factor of three.  In that sense I always thought of cats as a faith-based species, perfectly able to leave their food unattended, with faith enough that it would still be around when next they sought it.  Dogs, on the other paw, seemed to be natural atheists, as they took no heed of, nor faith in the future whatsoever.  One of our dachshunds, Priscilla, required special attention. Continue reading

PASSING OF A HERO

John Thomas

John Thomas

An ArmoryTrack.com news release has informed us that two-time Olympic high jump medalist John Thomas of Brockton, Massachusetts passed away Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at the age of 71.

A soft-spoken gentleman, Thomas was revered – especially in his native New England – as one of his sport’s most enduring icons.  He was also among my personal boyhood heroes, joining former mile record holder Jim Ryun, St. Louis Cardinals baseball star Stan Musial, and St. Louis Hawks basketball All-Star Bob Pettit. With great fortune I got to know “JT” during my quarter-century living in Boston.  Meeting your heroes later in life and finding that they embody all the qualities you’d  imagined of them as a young fan is one of the pleasures life can offer.

The following is from last March 25th’s High Jump Heroes which speaks to the seeds of a life long passion planted in a young boy’s heart by heroes like John Thomas and his great Russian rival Valery Brumel. Continue reading

A PLACE WE COULD ALL CALL HOME

The Hub

Among its gentler parochialisms, Boston is called “The Hub”, or in full, “The Hub of the Universe” — a title conferred by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858.  While a tad presumptuous given the size and scope of at least one other five-borough burg 220 miles to the southwest, it is nonetheless rather less disputable that The Hub of the running universe in the decade from 1977 to 1986 existed at 372-A Chestnut Hill Avenue in Boston’s Cleveland Circle, the address of the original Bill Rodgers Running Center.

For those too young to remember, even after the Running Boom hit in the wake of Frank Shorter’s Olympic Marathon gold medal in Munich 1972, we still bought our running shoes at regular shoe stores or general sporting goods shops.  Back then there were no such things as running specialty stores.   I remember buying my first pair – I think they were $9.00 ProSpecs – at a little hole-in-the-wall shoe store on Harvard Avenue in Brighton, Mass.  I was just quitting smoking, so I didn’t want to spend too much in case I didn’t like running.

But as one habit was exchanged for another, and the running wave continued to mount, Wesleyan grad Bill Rodgers appeared as a legitimate rival to ex-Yale Eli Shorter. And with that, the sport of foot racing surged into the mainstream of American culture and finally business, too.  There was a booming new market to service.  A generation which had once assembled for ‘sit-ins” during college was now meeting for fitness runs after work.

“Ready, Set, Sweat!” announced the cover of Time Magazine in the summer of 1977.

SI Cover Boy

Following his victories in the Boston Marathon in 1975 & 1977, then the first two (of four straight) New York City Marathon titles – when the five-borough course was still brand new – “Boston Billy” led running into its coming of age.  Thus, with his fame still budding, Bill and his older brother Charlie opened the first Bill Rodgers Running Center in the fall of 1977.

Cleveland Circle was an ideal location, on the western edge of the city, just one mile from the leafy Boston College campus, and terminus for the MBTA’s Green Line “C” trains.  A bustling urban neighborhood, The Circle also happened to join the Boston Marathon route as it passed the 22-mile mark as the route turned onto Beacon Street for the final four mile stretch into town.

I had moved to Cleveland Circle in February of 1976, and by the following spring had begun Runner’s Digest, the first radio talk show devoted to the sport of running. When Bill and Charlie opened the store just two blocks from my apartment, it all but became my production studio. Continue reading

HIGH JUMP HEROES

Valery Brumel & John Thomas

The two silver maples in our small backyard stood like sentinels some twenty feet apart as they guarded the house with their interlocking canopies of green.  During the brutal St. Louis summers when the heat and humidity would fight to reach 100F first – then stay the longest – the shade from those old squirrel-bearers represented the fringe ground of relief in a world bounded by torpor and sweat.

Strung at a height of around seven feet between the two trees ran a twisted rusty wire on which my mother used to hang potted flowers, part of the riot of colors she cultivated in our yard.  But that old wire always represented something more to my agitated young mind than a tree leveller or flower pot holder.

You see, I was a high jump enthusiast in my youth, just as I would become a running enthusiast in my adult years. So whether it was jumping up to touch the top of every door jamb I passed, hopping over the hedge mom had planted out front along the sidewalk, or paying a neighborhood kid a nickel to keep holding a broomstick for me to scissor over, my life was nothing but an extension of my athletic passions. On many a sweltering summer night as I lay open to the endless possibilities ahead, I dreamed of being able to leap over that wire in our backyard, because that was how high my heroes jumped.

During those growing years when athletes were still unseen giants of the imagination, two of my athletic heroes were Olympic high jumpers John Thomas of Boston, and his great rival Valery Brumel of the Soviet Union.  Between the two of them Thomas and Brumel exchanged the high jump world record nine times in the early 1960s (six for Brumel, three for Thomas) as they battled for leaping supremacy when Olympic sport was a highly-charged subtext of the Cold War. Continue reading

CHUNKY MONKEY CONVENIENCE

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“I could really use some ice cream.”

“Wait till the next commercial, and I’ll go over to Store 24.”

“Think they’ll deliver?”

“From across the street?”

“Down the road to convenience, no path is too short.”

“You’re diseased.”

“Thank you. Ask for Chunky Monkey.” 

END