Monday, October 11, 2010

nugget #6

Here is a little number from the checkers newsletter of August, 2004.

It’s Getting Deep Here
By Bill Donnelly

            A while back Mary Kunz, a writer for The Buffalo News, wrote a column about running around the Delaware Park meadow.  The main gist of her interesting column was about the port-a-potties that appear at intervals along the road, and how sad it is that the bathroom by Scajaquada near
Delaware Ave.
is never open, and she can’t remember it ever being open. 
            The piece she wrote was eye-opening.  Imagine, the city pays $69 a month for those lovely port-a-potties.  What was most amazing was the fact that the company that owns them empties and cleans them twice a week.  Anyone who has ever run by them after a few hot days in July would find it hard to believe they have ever been cleaned.
            No runner ever wants to use then, but being that running makes us all “regular” folks, now and then nature demands that one must reluctantly make a pilgrimage into the suffocating confines of those Johnnie-on-the-spots.  Upon entering, after taking a deep breath of fresh air first, one finds – er, never mind, I won’t go there.  You may be eating.  Anyway, if you run around Delaware Park, you know exactly what I mean.
            The thing Ms. Kunz wrote that got me thinking about running back in the Day (you just knew I had to be getting around to reminiscing, didn’t you?) was her thoughts on that brick building that houses the bathrooms.  Now this is not going to be just a column about how tough we had it back then.  You know, having to walk eight miles to school everyday, even through knee-deep snow and all that (even though we did, you know).  Actually much of what we faced when running back in the seventies was pretty good, and that bathroom was one of those good things.
            There were not as many of us running back in the Day, but most of us were marathoners who ran 80 to 100 plus miles per week, and we did most of those miles at the Delaware meadow, or golf course.  Everybody seemed to run there, and you almost always had someone to run with.  We never put out or carried water, and the drinking fountains at a couple spots now weren’t there back then.  That’s where the brick building housing the bathrooms came in. 
            The facilities were always open, and always kept spotless, so you did not mind going in as one dreads those port-a-smelly-things we must now use.  Running a hard 16 miler, especially in the summer, was thirsty work.  That bathroom had sinks from which flowed, when turned on, torrents of ice cold refreshing water.  No dribbling little drinking fountain from which you can get refreshed only if you take seven minutes to suck in air and water.  No, you could gulp your fill in seconds and be on your way back to a grueling workout, which is what it was all about.
            There were no port-a-nasty-poopy-yuck-a-johns back then, and that was a good thing.  Passing the Buffaloes at the zoo in the summer was the only foul smell we had to endure, and that smell put hair on your chest.  I think that’s why very few women ran back then, but now the port-a-gawdamighty-is-it-alive-a-johns take the hair right off, so you ladies can keep right on running.  As I said, the bathrooms were kept pretty clean, so on those rare occasions when nature hollered, you had a clean retreat to go to.
            There were of course other differences back then, and, no, I won’t get into how we used to have to walk nine miles to school everyday, even through waist-deep snow (even though we did, you know).  Back in the Day, even though we were training for road races, we almost always ran on the grass.  No matter how many of us were running together, we ran along next to the road, but never on the road.  You can still see the path we wore into the grass around much of the meadow.  I don’t think grass could ever grow in some of those places again.
            Of course now, some of our old path has been covered by a new, wide path that meanders around the park.  The problem with this path is that someone, who shall remain nameless only because I do not know who the idiot was, decided to cover most of the path with cinders.  It’s a quaint idea I suppose, but most of us old-timers want nothing to do with cinders.  Away back before the Day, many of us ran track in high school.  Let me tell you, that could be tough.  After walking the ten miles to school, even through chest-deep snow, we would then have to run on a cinder covered track. Nothing like trying to run a race or a workout with your shoes slowly filling up with jagged, pointy, little sharp cinders.  Ow!  And lord help you if you took a spill on them.  You would be still picking cinders out of your bloody knees weeks later.  Ow!!!  Being the graceful runner I am and always have been, I believe I still have cinders that have since become a permanent part of my kneecaps.
            So nowadays most everyone avoids the evil cinder path, and we mostly all run on Ring Road.  By the way, we never called it Ring Road back in the Day.  But why did we run on the grass when we were training for road races?  Easy, that road was too darned dangerous!  As I recall, it had two-way traffic, and of course the safety zone for runners, walkers and skaters did not exist then. 
            Back in the Day, the road continued right next to the bathroom and was an entrance onto the Scajaquada Expressway.  Imagine trying to safely get onto the Expressway twenty yards from where cars have to come to an almost complete stop in order to get off the expressway to get onto Nottingham and Delaware.  Total insanity!  I believe that pair of entrance-exit non-ramps was designed by the same wit that came up with the idea of putting cinders on the path.
            Even though it was a dangerous place to try to get on the Scajaquada, many people did just that, so what we call Ring Road now was a shortcut to the expressway from Colvin.  Funny how when people use a shortcut, they feel they must exceed the speed limit to make it even a faster shortcut.  Needless to say, what we now call Ring Road was a very dangerous road to try to run on and stay alive on at the same time.  One guy, who must have been just getting into running, since we did not know him, was actually hit and killed by a driver heading for the expressway after happy hour.  That was in the late seventies.    
            And so for our own safety we stayed on the grass.  Who knows, that may have been a blessing, as all those miles we ran may have crippled us had we been doing it all on a hard surface.  We just had to dodge the occasional tree root, and most of us could do that blindfolded since we ran lap after lap after lap there.  Believe me, always having friends to do that with and to talk with kept us from going bonkers.  Also, as I mentioned, we didn’t have to dodge any Port-a-could-such-a-foul-smell-really-come-from-humans-a-potties.  We also didn’t have to dodge all the walkers, roller-bladders, and bicyclists who ride in the safety zone when the weather is good.
            Even in winter, we tried to run off the road when we could.  We had good practice from all the times we had to walk the eleven miles to school through neck-deep snow.  Of course, at times, as will happen in Buffalo in winter, we would get some really deep snow, and we would be forced out onto the road.  The good thing was that in those cases, traffic was usually scarce, and slower.  Of course we needed the road plowed for us, so we figured out a unique system for doing that.
            Before winter rolled into town, a few of the runners would get together and present the road crews across the Scajaquada with a case or two of beer.  Amazing what a little grease on the old gears will get accomplished.  Any time Buffalo was hit with a blizzard or just a heavy snow, and most roads were not yet plowed, we runners knew that if we could just make it to the park, that road we now call Ring Road would be plowed, and we would have clear sailing.  Worked like a charm, and it didn’t even have to be good beer.  Later, Ed Wolfly, a very good soul, who worked for the Streets Department and became a runner of note, provided the extra insurance we needed to make sure the road would be clear at all times.  I’m sad to say Ed passed on a couple years ago. 
            Even after the famous blizzard of 1977, when the rest of the city was paralyzed, the road around the park was one of the first to be opened.  The snow was above the light poles in areas, and runners remember running on the road through an almost tunnel of snow, looking up and seeing cross-country skiers high above them gliding along.  Even the reindeer were able to escape from the zoo by walking over their fence on the mountain of snow that covered it, and yet the runners were running on a clear road.
            So yes, Ms. Kunz’ column about the old bathroom brought back memories of what it used to be like running around Delaware Park back in the Day.  It wasn’t at all that bad.  But since I mentioned the blizzard of 1977, let me tell you, now that was a tough time, walking those twelve miles to school through over-the-head-deep snow, but I’ll save that story for another time.     


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