FORTY YEARS AGO ON NEW YEAR’S DAY

Hodgie (in red) battling Rodgers, Salazar, Roche & Thomas at 1979 Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston

Hodgie (#3 in red) battling #1 Bill Rodgers, #2 Al Salazar, with Mike Roche & #14 Randy Thomas hanging on at 1979 Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston.

As 2015 slides into 2016, we offer a New Year’s story written by guest blogger Bob Hodge, a Lowell, Mass native who was a charter member of the Greater Boston Track Club.

A graduate of the University of Lowell, Hodgie went on to finish third in the 1979 Boston Marathon. He has also won the Beppu-Ōita Marathon in Japan in 1982, while setting his personal best of 2:10:59 finishing second at the 1980 Nike OTC Marathon in Eugene, Oregon.

The following is part of what made Boston a running Mecca in the 1970s.


by Bob Hodge

New Year’s Eve 1975 I was headed out the door onto the mean streets of Lowell Mass. to a house party in Pawtucket Ville. I had on my leather coat, the one I had bought from Bill Rodgers when he was still down and out — double-breasted heavy cow leather purchased from some artiste in Provincetown. Yes, I had that on, but just as I was about to leave the phone rang.

“Hey, Hodgie. We are meeting at the Eliot tomorrow at noon for a long run down to  Sharpless’s family home in Scituate. Are you in?”

It was friend and University of Lowell track teammate Vin Fleming calling from his place in Boston. I told him I would plan on coming, but if I didn’t arrive at the appointed time, well, you know what to do.

“Okay,” said Vin-ho, “but if you don’t make it you will miss out on a great pahty (sic).”

So out the door I went as my friends were waiting in the car out front.

Hodgie wearing said leather coat at Bill Rodgers Day celebration at Faneuil Hall 1979.

Hodgie (standing left) wearing said leather coat at Bill Rodgers Day celebration at Faneuil Hall 1979. Boston Marathon race director Will Cloney hands Bill a commemoration as GBTC teammate Randy Thomas looks on.  Boston Mayor Kevin White sits clapping on far right.

“Hodgie, that coat looks like something Mick Jagger wore in the 60’s,” said Richelieu, my French-Canadian friend.

“Gimme a beer,” I said. “Will Lee Ann be there tonight?”

“Of course she will be there. We’re going to her house, peckerwood.”

“Hey Fishman, what’s the train schedule to Boston look like tomorrow?”

“Holiday schedule. Why, you got something going on in Beantown?”

Steve was my Greek friend whose dad owned a fish market. He was on his way to becoming a train conductor.

“Yeah, I am meeting some fellow runners at the Eliot Lounge at noon and we are going to run down to a house party in Scituate.”

“Scituate?!! Hodgie, are you crazy?! How far is that?”

“I’m not sure, probably 20 miles or so.”

That’s part of the thing about running, friends that didn’t do it could never comprehend the distances involved. Anyway, the party was the usual drunken debauchery. My friend hugged Lee Ann at midnight and I did, too – unfortunately, no more than that. Not long afterwards I was getting tired and bored. So when no one was paying attention I just up and left and started walking home.

By then it was nearly 2 a.m., and it wasn’t long before I got tired of walking in the cold and snow. Traffic was down so I started a slow trot, you know, just to generate some heat. Before I knew it, I was running at a pretty good clip, intoxicated and wearing that heavy leather coat. As I proceeded through downtown Lowell running down the middle of the empty streets a cop car pulled alongside.

“What the hell are you doing running in the road like that?” one said out the side window.

The coppers did not look amused.

“Sorry. I am just heading home to Centerville.”

“Well, get out of the road and quit running. Jesus, kid, we thought you were a robber.”

“Okay.”

As soon as they were out of sight I finished my run home; just a few miles all told.  Next morning I was up early, grabbed my running kit and headed for the train station which was only a couple of miles away.

America’s bicentennial year dawned clear and cold in Lowell, nobody on the streets. I needed a coffee bad, but it looked like nothing was open. Then I remembered the Owl Diner, open 24 hours and right on the way.

Owl Diner, Lowell, MA

Owl Diner

When I popped in it was a sight to behold. Besides being dark and damp, the place was frigid, laced by a wind coming in through a broken window. At a table to the right two guys were sleeping their night off face down.

I sat down at the counter, and waited a minute before a waiter came out chuckling and said, “What will you have, the special?”

“Just coffee, please.”

I slugged down a cuppa and headed to the train station which, like much of Lowell was old and worn out and depressing. I wasn’t really sure of the schedule down to Boston, but fortunately I only had to wait about twenty minutes, and reached the Eliot Lounge on Mass Ave. earlier than expected.

Tommy Leonard at his station at the Eliot Lounge

Tommy Leonard at his station at the Eliot Lounge

Fortunately, our bartender pal Tommy Leonard was there and he let me in. We had some more coffee and talked about the upcoming run. As always, Tommy’s enthusiasm began to get me, and I felt a bit of a rush of adrenaline to get started.

Tommy had started this run to Scituate the previous New Year, finally getting down to the South Shore in the back of a cab after visiting some establishments along the way.

Soon, a group of us that included Scotty Graham, his brother Kenny, Vinnie Fleming, Bill Rodgers plus Tommy and Sharpless Jones (and assorted others from the GBTC) began the journey south.

It was easy running in the beginning. The air was sharp against our cheeks, but at pace all else was warm as a bun in a toaster. But then around 15 miles in I started to feel some fatigue. Nothing serious, but I hadn’t done many runs of 20 miles in my running life until then, so this was something of unchartered territory for me.

As per plan, Tommy and Sharpless jumped in and out of a cab along the way, creating little water stops for the rest of us. I thought about jumping in with them a time or two, but managed the entire distance, arriving down in Scituate after a little more than two and a half hours of running.

All in all, we were just a little the worse for wear, all except Bill, of course, who looked unfazed as he already had his sights firmly set on the U.S. Olympic Marathon team later in the year.

After we got to the Jones’ residence, we cleaned up and changed, grabbed snacks and drinks, then sat around the large fireplace and nestled in the warmth listening to the New Black Eagle Jazz Band and watching the series of college bowl games as we runners mingled with the extended Jones’ family and friends. Life was good, this running life.

Over the years we would all have many such running adventures, including more New Year’s long runs south to Scituate. Our generation of runners had more in common with the old style runners like 1957 Boston Marathon champion John J. Kelley than with the professional runners of today — not that we didn’t want money and status to accompany our efforts. Bill harped on this constantly sometimes to comedic effect.

Forty years out from these events reminders of my running life are everywhere it seems, on the web, in social media and especially in my head. Writing is one way of remembering and sharing. Neil Young penned a song about sitting down and writing a long letter once.

One of these days

I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter

To all the good friends I’ve known.

One of these days,

One of these days,

One of these days,

And it won’t be long, won’t be long…

END

 

(Thanks to Hodgie for the memorable post.  Hopefully, it will spur him to write more.)

P.S. from Hodgie regarding the leather coat:
“Unfortunately it was not a happy ending for the coat. It was convicted in the court of public opinion by fashionistas of going out of style and never coming back.It is sentenced to death and burial at the bottom of the Clinton (Mass.) capped landfill.”

This from Bill Rodgers:
“I
just wish I had that damn coat back! I bought it in Provincetown when I still had my 650 Triumph Motorcycle; it was my Bike Coat..cost me money I borrowed from Jason Kehoe; just like the money I borrowed to buy my Triumph!  I recall some great chili at Sharpless Jones place..And it was a long haul run! Happy holidays for sure! We runners got some good ones!

Bill


*

While the runs from the Eliot to Scituate have long since ceased, many such runs will commence around the running world on New Year’s day 2016.  One of note will gather in Mystic, Connecticut at noon at the John J. Kelley statue (next to Mystic Pizza) to ring in the New Year with a 4 mile jog to Esker Point Beach to begin “frolicking” around 1 PM according to Jim Roy.

Kelley statue in Mystic

             John “The Younger” Kelley statue in Mystic, Ct.

Whether in Mystic or where ever, we wish one and all a most HAPPY NEW YEAR!

info@johnkelley.org

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26 thoughts on “FORTY YEARS AGO ON NEW YEAR’S DAY

  1. Thanks, Toni…and Hodgie.
    I have a funny story to tell…at the 1982 NYC marathon (that I ran with someone else’s number who couldn’t make it due to injury) I wanted to be the last person across the start line to see how many of the thousands I could pass along the way. After the cannon went off and the runners started to get going, I stood waiting for all to leave. There was one runner standing to my right with a GBTC singlet on who also wanted to be the last person to start…so we shook hands and started together. That runner was Sharpless Jones. I ended up running around 3:12, passing thousands, one who was behind me was Sharpless. Never saw him again even though I’ve been a Boston area runner for years, hope he’s well.
    Happy New Year!

    • Thanks for that recollection Steve. Sharpless is alive and well though I don’t see him very often. That sounds exactly like something Sharpie would do. Paul Fetscher relates that George Kimball tried the same at NYC Marathon. Who would have thought so many vying for last place! Sharpless and George actually had a match race one night from the Eliot Lounge front door one time around the block. Sharpless ran barefoot. Not sure there was any “winner” in that contest.

  2. If I had a chance to be young and fast then or young and fast now, I’d take then. The 1970’s and 80’s were a unique time to be a runner. I’m glad I was part of it. Since I don’t have a choice, it worked out well anyway.

  3. Great Reflection on those wonderful days. People stopped calling “Hup, Two, Three, Four..” as we passed. And the long runs to a party were de rigour. Great to hear this story – about guys that even us New Yawkers knew every one of the usual suspects.

    George Kimball was the first person I remember intending to actually place LAST at the NY Marathon. At the sound of the Howitzer, George popped the top on the first of the six pack he had on his hip. He headed over the bridge and slapped hands along Fourth Avenue and after a while, go so bored he actually started running. One of his few efforts after his 4:24(?) high school mile fifteen years and 50 pounds before. Zoe Kaplowitz, a CP survivor actually managed to finish last … Monday evening.

    Many fond memories of The Elliot Lounge making Tommy Leonard the Most Famous Bartender in America!

    Happy New Year to all who celebrated the breaking the Curse of the Bambino – and their friends.

    The first team race the Warren Street Social and Athletic Club ever had was Boston a mere 38 years ago!

  4. Though I was just a young punk back then, I love hearing such reminiscences of the running scene going on all around me that I was oblivious of. Keep ’em coming!

  5. I was a youngster growing up and running in New Zealand in those days, occasionally hearing about the exploits of Bill and others when some rare running magazine made the rounds. But it sounds like the running life was just the same I experienced, right down to being stopped by the cops when running home, in the dark and rain, in my best clothes and shoes, from some party at a team-mate’s place. Good times ! Just wish I could get those knees back 😉

  6. I ran the road race circuit around Boston about that time as well. They weren’t clogged with hobby joggers, fund raisers and fatties. It cost 50 cents or at most $2 to enter road races and you got nuthin’ if you didn’t win, no prizes or t-shirts, etc. I remember the North Medford Club in particular as it was made up of real working class heroes who were wacky characters, but serious about their running. One guy had lost most of his arm in the war, had horrific running style, but never quit a race. I qualified for the ’73 Boston Marathon by running what was then the Silver Lake Dodge Marathon, which was really a 20-miler. Day of the race, which followed the Boston course until somewhere in Newton when it took a left, the road was packed hard with about 3 inches of snow and ice. This was before Nike shoes and moisture wicking gear. I ran in jock, cotton socks shorts and heavy cotton sweats which got heavier by the mile. I too, got stopped by cops very early one summer morning (4 a.m.) running to my job at the post office. Cop went nuts, said he almost shot me for running away, said he thought I was a car thief, otherwise nobody had a reason to run at that hour.

    • Framingham I hear that the Happy Swallow is no more. SLD was my first marathon as well in 1977.
      1977
      The Silver Lake Dodge Marathon
      In February, I ran my first marathon, the infamous Silver Lake Dodge race sponsored by the car dealership in Wellesley. I wished to compete in this race in order to get my qualifier for the Boston Marathon, and also as a way of viewing, at ground level, the first half of the Boston course. My Greater Boston Track Club teammates and I often met at Boston College and trained frequently on the second half of the course, but I had never run the first part from Hopkinton and thought that this was important preparation for Boston.

      The runners were shuttled by buses from the finish line at SLD to the start in Hopkinton. As we were leaving, I noticed the darkening sky and hoped that the bad weather would hold off until the race was over. It didn’t. By the time we reached the start it was snowing very lightly, as I prepared to run, I realized that I had forgotten to bring either a hat or gloves. I ran in shorts and a turtleneck shirt – there was no Polypro or Gore-Tex in those days – with the sleeves of my shirt pulled down over my hands.

      As we got underway, the snow began coming down hard, and by ten miles it had covered the ground and was blowing around so that visibility was nil. So much for viewing the course. Every time I saw anyone (spectators were far and few between) I would cry out for a hat or gloves; the answer I received the entire way was negative. Meanwhile, my teammate Vin Fleming had taken a huge lead, and as I passed the halfway point someone told me he was on 2:12 pace. Impossible, I thought. Not in these conditions.

      I survived and finished 7th in 2:47. Vinny had dropped out in the Newton hills while leading after being repeatedly assaulted by a sand and salt spreader riding ahead of him. A lead van carrying some members of the press, including a television news crew, captured it all and we had a barrel of laughs at the Eliot Lounge after the race watching it on the 6:00 news. To add insult to injury, as we thawed out back at the car dealership and enjoyed coffee and donuts, Vinny – who was now in street clothes – was scolded for grabbing his share of the food; the attendant told him it was for the runners only. Vinny’s donut hit her in the head. (Vinny would go on to finish 5th at Boston in 1977 in 2:18.)

      Later that same evening, Bill Rodgers had a party at his house in Melrose. We left the Eliot in my dad’s ’66 Chrysler Imperial and headed for Melrose: Vinny, sportswriter extraordinaire Joe Concannon, running guru/Falmouth Road Race founder Tommy Leonard, and myself. Not being entirely sure of the street and thrown by the dark and the snow, I made a wrong turn. We proceeded down a hill, where we turned around and began to drive back up. We were not making it. Vinny, Joe and Tommy got out and pushed the mammoth Chrysler as I squealed snow slush on them, but we made it out of there just a bit worse for wear and tear.

      • Hodgie,

        Silver Lake Dodge was the marathon Bob Clifford later got DQ’d from, after the dealership guys who were riding ahead of the race the whole way wouldn’t or couldn’t believe that someone could come from that far behind in the final mile to win. So they DQd him without ever asking around whether this guy was legit or not.

        Of course, Clifford was a sub-2:20 guy just doing a tune up run for Boston, while the guy in front was a lot slower and was also dying at the end. So, as anyone who ran knew, it’s easy to see a huge lead slide away like an old man sliding into a warm bath. I think Clifford had to sue SLD cause the story of “a cheater named Bob Clifford winning the marathon” made it onto the local TV news. What’s worse is that it was the second time Clifford had been wrongly accused of cheating.

        One year at Boston someone wearing a similar number or with the same name, whatever, was accused of some mal-action and written up as a fraud, name Bob Clifford of Newton, Mass. As we all knew, you couldn’t find a more honest, decent man than Clifford. But here he was trying to explain to a bunch of Dodge salesman how he ran the other guy down, not cause he was trying to, just that the other guy died in front of him. Silver Lake Dodge, a true legend in Boston area marathon lore.

      • Yes Toni the SLD was an infamous old timey road race. A 30k for many years that many legendary runners from our region used as a tune up for Boston. Extra special being held in February and on the BAA course. It became a full marathon when QT were initiated and most athletes competed here for qualifying and a run over most of the course. Bob Clifford always a classy individual coach of the GBTC women for many years. A 2:17 performer.

      • I wouldn’t say it was one of the best ones around, but it was great to be able to qualify for Boston at that time of year (Feb?). I was one of those who ran a 2:49 at SLD in ’81 to qualify for the April race, just 2 months later! Great memories of running with my club mates (IATC) all working together to get that qualifier down a cold and quiet road. Didn’t feel much more than a 26 mile tempo run, certainly not a race!

      • Hodgie San: the Happy Swallow survived 77 years, (opening upon the end of Prohibition) to Jan., 2011 and was converted to a “family-style” restaurant called the Railroad Inn (?) in Jan., 2011. Among it’s many notable mid-marathon visitors (it’s a quarter mile past the 10k mark at the Framingham railroad station) have been the inestimable Tommy Leonard and Olympic marathoner Don Kardong who mentioned it in his book. I have one friend from the SF Bay area who downed a beverage at the stand-up bar there in a late-70s marathon to the applause of the locals, resumed the race through the Wellesley College scream tunnel, and then turned around and made his way back to the Swallow, claiming to this day that that was all the “Boston marathon experience” he needed. He says there were other “runners” (ie: quitters) there with him well into the evening.

    • Hi Tony,

      Who was that comment from?

      One night I was running thru Hempstead Lake State Park, after dark, when a State Trooper came up behind me and put on his bullhorn

      “Get out of the Park. It closes after dark!”

      I waved for him to pull up alongside me

      “Officer, I’m leaving as fast as I can”

      After considering my response, he simply drove away.

      Paul G. W. Fetscher CCIM, SCLS President Great American Brokerage Inc. 100 W. Park Ave. Suite 309 Long Beach, NY 11561 (516) 889-7200 Fax (516) 889-5113 GtAmerican@aol.com http://www.RestaurantExpert.com Specialists in Restaurants and Retail

      • I can’t escape then nearly as well as I used to.

        Happy new year Tony

        Keep up the good work@

        Your Fan

        Paul

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