It had quickly become a June tradition, the drive down from Boston to Litchfield, Connecticut for the Litchfield Hills Road Race. The seven-mile event was co-founded in 1977 by Boston Globe sportswriter Joe Concannon in his hometown as an early summer bookend to the famous seven-mile Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod, which had been the brainchild of Joe’s pal Tommy Leonard, he of Eliot Lounge fame in Boston.
In year one most of the big guns of the Greater Boston Track Club had accepted Joe’s invitation, and with the world’s number one marathoner Bill Rodgers leading the way, Litchfield quickly established its racing bona fides, marked by the brutal Gallows Lane hill in the final mile.
In that first year I tape recorded the start of the race on Main Street, later using the starter’s long drawn out intonation, “R-u-n-n-e-r-s R-e-a-d-y…” followed by the BOOM! of the First Litchfield Artillery canon and crowd cheering as the opening of my weekly Runner’s Digest radio show.
What defined Litchfield wasn’t just the friendship with Joe Concannon, who covered the sport for the Boston Globe at a time when that coverage helped create the sport of road racing in the public consciousness. It wasn’t the nose-scraping elevation of Gallows Lane or the quality of the race field. Instead, what made Litchfield special was the raucous party atmosphere that draped the weekend like the high humidity that always seemed to arrive with it. Led by co-race founder Billy Neller and race director Rick Evangelisti the Litchfield weekend soon became a fixture on the racing/party calendar for runners from the north and south alike, dividing the town into Red Sox and Yankee fandoms in the process.
In year six a group of friends from Boston made the two-hour drive for what promised to be another weekend of camaraderie and near-debauchery. Joe Concannon had always been the gracious host, and in 1982 he promised to get us a house, as in previous years we’d either rented a knotty-pine motel room along Bantam Lake, or stayed with a local family in the grand tradition of New England races. But by `82 we no longer wanted to put the poor Mrs. Neller through any more male hell-raising than that she normally went through with her own brood, featuring the lovely Jack and frisky Billy, a couple of real Irish setters. So we took Joe up on his offer of housing.
When we arrived at the address, we were very impressed. The place had a lovely yard with plenty of flowers, and a gentle curve to the driveway leading to the split level house. “Sure,” we thought, “we can handle this.” Only upon closer inspection did we begin to pause and wonder whether Mrs. Neller still had room in the kennel.
Joe had forewarned us that the owners would be away that weekend. “So just make your selves at home,” he’d said, “and don’t worry about getting keys, because the house will be open when you get there.”
Litchfield is a quintessential New England town, situated about half way between Boston and New York City in north central Connecticut. The town green fronts Main Street with its gray stone and red-brick buildings creating a wonderfully quaint New England setting.
Litchfield is also one of those old-fashioned towns where everyone knows just about everyone else. There isn’t much locking of doors, a real throwback to another era. Accordingly, we didn’t find it too strange when, like Joe said, the house was open when we got there. But it was how it was open that made us wonder.
You see, as we walked up the path to the house with a gentle breeze blowing the fresh green summer’s foliage, we noticed that the door wasn’t just unlocked. There was no knob on the front door at all. We realized this was a small town, but no door knob? I guess it is one way to have the place open — and small towns have been known for their eccentricities — so we walked in thinking nothing more of it.
Just like the outside, the inside of the place was tidy, clean, and nicely presented. There were lots of windows and light and even smelled fresh for guests. I headed one way, friends the other, looking to stake out the best bedroom selections. Slowly, though, as we regathered in the living room the reality began to sink in.
“Gosh, you know, it’s kinda strange, but there aren’t any knobs on the faucets in the kitchen,” I said. “There’s no way to turn the water on.”
“Well,” said John Theriault, laughing like the whole thing was a joke, “same thing in the upstairs bathroom.”
“Look over here,” yelled Todd Miller, “the TV is knobless, too.”
Had Stephen King stayed here last week? Was this Rod Serling’s old summer place? There wasn’t a knob in the entire place. This was too strange. No TV knobs, no shower or sink knobs, no knobs on the radios or stove, no handles on the refrigerator. We had arrived at The House with No Knobs. What, exactly, was the message here?
We ended up going to the local hardware store in town to stock up on clamp-wrenches and needle-nose pliers so we could use the house, after which we spent a fine summer’s weekend in Litchfield, Connecticut looking like a house full of plumber’s assistants with our tools sticking conspicuously out of our back pockets where ever we went.
I forgot how the race went. Didn’t matter. We’d made it to Litchfield, and that was plenty good enough for us. So happy 40th Litchfield Hills Road Race. I’ll carry a wrench, some needle-nose pliers and a can of Budweiser around with me on Sunday to help commemorate and celebrate.