The Meaning of Fries
By Bill Donnelly
Throughout the many years I was just a lowly Special Education teacher, I found very few people, friends or strangers, ever came to me looking for answers to Life’s greatest questions. All that has changed in the past couple of years. Ever since I became a reader of gas meters for the company that shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with “Irrational Fool”.
For you see, a meter reader does more than just punch out numbers into a hand-held computer. No, a meter reader travels the width and breadth of
Western New York going into everyone’s basements. I think it was Confucius who said: “Man who goes into neighbors basement peers into neighbor’s very soul!” It was either Confucius or Sponge Bob Square Pants, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that many people believe that having “peered” into so many neighbors’ souls, I have become quite wise in what makes people tick. Actually, I have just seen a lot of really messy basements (you wouldn’t believe how many people just throw their dirty clothes down the basement stairs – or do you do that?) and really strange collections (beer can collections lead the list, but they are often in disarray, having been knocked over by errant dirty clothes jettisoned down the basement stairs).
Noticing that people were asking me more and more questions, I started keeping a list of all questions asked me over the past year. Leading the list is: “Do you want fries with those burgers?” That one is easy, and I simply reply: “Why of course, and you can super-size me while you’re at it.” This exchange is not what this article is about, I just want you to realize I did keep careful tabs on all questions asked, and this one led the way with 297 incidents recorded.
Not far behind, a less important question, since it does not deal with food, was: “Oh all-knowing meter reader, what is the meaning of Life?” Come to think of it, the answer could be all about food, for example, see number one most asked question of me above. But I feel that is not what these people want to hear, so I get an all-knowing look on my face (Diane says it’s the same look I get when I have really bad gas) and I tell them the following story about the Cole’s race Back in the Day. The following is the way I usually give my answer.
Listen Grasshopper, the Cole’s race was one of the early races started by the owner of Cole’s, Dave Schatzel. Cole’s is the very fine eating and drinking establishment located on
Elmwood Ave. just south of Forest, not far from . The race was held in late summer, and was about 2.8 miles. We lined up at City Hall and ran straight down Elmwood to finish in front of Cole’s. People have asked why we didn’t just make it a 5K, but we didn’t think much in terms of kilometers, it was simply the distance from City Hall to Cole’s. I believe it was run from the early 1970s until the mid to late 80s. If you go to Cole’s to this day, you can see all the individual winners listed on the wall near the back. Buff State
Like many of the races Back in the Day, Cole’s also had a team competition. I believe this competition led to the formation of many of the running clubs we see in
today, and Cole’s was the cornerstone of team competition. This was because of the Cole’s team trophy, which would be retired by the first team to win it three years in a row. You wouldn’t think that would be so hard to do, would you? The fight to win that trophy drove clubs desperate to win it, led to clubs being created, and saw runners being lured from one club to another, all for the glory of winning the Cole’s team trophy. Buffalo
Along with the question as to which came first, the chicken or the egg, we in the Buffalo running community wonder which came first, the Belle Watlings or the Buffalo Philharmonic A.C. I know the Belle Watlings started calling themselves that name in 1969, and the BPAC came along shortly thereafter, but which registered their name with the AAU first is a burning question that may never be answered, simply because no one cares. Anyway, the Philharmonic jumped into the Cole’s team competition in a big way right off the bat, and after two straight wins in the early years, the trophy looked to be theirs.
Dick “The Founder” Sullivan of Belle Watling fame saw things differently. He put together a crack team of “old fellows”, with a youngster or two, and won the next year, denying the BPAC their glory. The Watlings won again the next year, and were ready to retire the prize when something unexpected happened. Checkers A.C. was born.
As I mentioned in a previous article about Joe Jordan and his bar on Hertel the club was named for, he got the idea to start a running club after his running buddy Matty Hellerer won the Cole’s race in 1974. Checkers of course came along just in time to keep the Belle Watlings from winning the third time, but after Checkers won twice, they had a split in their own club. Checkers’ member Randy Halm and others wanted a
club that would represent the city in out of town races, and he took the top Checkers’ runners and other area runners and created the Greater Buffalo A.C. They wore all black outfits, and were known to others outside the club as the Darth Vader club. Buffalo
Of course, they won the Cole’s race the next two years, but before you knew it, Checkers put back together a crack team, and finally won the race three years in a row to retire the trophy. That was in about 1983, and I would guess you could still see it at Checkers. I know Joe Jordan has a picture of the celebration he’ll show you if you want to see it.
So much for running clubs in Buffalo, what about the meaning of Life, eh Grasshopper? Back to the Cole’s race of 1974. The race was in the morning, and off we went. I had a particularly good race that day, coming in third place behind Matty Hellerer and Fred Gordon. On the way into the bar to get our stuff, I heard Dave Schatzel tell Hellerer and Gordon that he was arbitrarily making them Expert Class, so that made me the winner of the open division. Matty still got his name on the wall as winner, but I would get a nice big trophy.
Now, one reason Cole’s was such a popular race was that Dave threw quite a party the night of the race. We all came back, and the upstairs was open to the runners for some really great food and all the beer you could drink. This was the forerunner of how most races are done in
now, but you didn’t find this kind of treatment anywhere else after a race in 1974. We got our awards, and mine was a big silver bowl donated by the No-Name Bar, a fine establishment right down the street. The bowl was probably aluminum, but it was engraved with the No-Name name on it, it was the nicest trophy I had won, and I was happy as a clam. Buffalo
We ate and drank and partied for hours, and I was hanging with the Belle Watlings, whose motto was “race hard, party hard!” Then Mike Miesczak entered the picture. Mike was an excellent runner Back in the Day. He was best at short distances, but he did quite well in the marathon. I remember him doing a in
, and once he put it all together in Skylon, and ran a . As my brother Tom says of runners Back in the Day, and he ran a (with a lot of change on an easy course) we always considered ourselves middle of the pack runners with those times. Of course, with my time being way better than Tom’s, well, I just grin and shake my head yes, “we” were middle of the pack runners compared to Zimmerman, Gordon, Hellerer, and others (ME). Boston
Yes, Mike was a good runner, but his claim to fame was he somehow convinced Nancy Dragoo to marry him.
was the top area female in middle and long distance. She too ran a marathon in (for the sake of continued married bliss, I will not say whose time was faster – also, I don’t know). Nancy still holds records in races across the state, but she and Mike do not compete anymore. They are retired Buffalo school teachers (they would not know the answer to the question concerning the meaning of life!), but you may see Nancy running her three miles a day near her home on Grand Island, or playing golf. Mike too enjoys playing golf, or skeet shooting at the gun club up there. By the way, skeet is the term Grand Islanders use in referring to the mosquitoes that inhabit the swampland that is Nancy , and those skeets are big enough to shoot. Grand Island
Anyway, back to Cole’s, and how Mike plays into it. He was a regular at the No-Name Bar, and he ran representing them. He was under the impression that the No-Name Bowl was to go to the best runner from that Bar, which was Mike. I guess somehow I convinced him that in no way was I letting that fine trophy leave my person, he accepted that, and left. We continued to party, and soon Sully said it was tradition for the winner of the No-Name Bowl to take said bowl to said bar and have said bartender fill it with said beer. Have I said enough? I thought this an excellent idea, and proceeded to the No-Name, with the Belle Watlings promising to follow.
At the bar I found Mike nursing a beer by himself. I told the bartender of the tradition of him filling my trophy. He said, Yeah, right! Seems he had run the race the year before, so he knew better, but since it was such an inventive story, he filled up the bowl. That’s a lot of beer, so to mend fences, I asked Mike to partake with me. We got it halfway down, and still no Watlings. Realizing they were not coming, I decided to head back to Cole’s, half filled bowl under my arm.
No-no said No-Name bartender, there is an open container law here. The Irish in me wouldn’t let me waste good beer, so I chugged it. Then I realized it was time to meander home. I lived close and walked home, though I don’t remember getting there (ah, the folly of youth). I just know I woke up quite hung-over, and worse of all, there was a big dent in the side of my bowl.
A few years later when I was recovering from an injury, and Tom was coming into his own, he beat me in Skylon. He knew he would, had taken my No-Name Bowl, had printed on it “The Donnelly Cup”, and brought it to Checkers for the post-race celebration. I went along with it, but he had to have the bowl filled with beer and drink it all to keep it. Couldn’t do it, but sometime during that night, he managed to lose my prized No-Name Bowl.
What, you say, has this got to do with the meaning of life? Every time I tell this story to a young Grasshopper, He forgets what he asked me in the first place, and he hops away. Perhaps still thinking me an all-knowing meter reader. Well, I’m going to keep reading meters until I finally get into the basement of a certain skeet shooter on
. He was there that night at Checkers. I suspect if I look under the dirty clothes on top of his collection of beer cans and running trophies, I just might find a certain No-Name Bowl. And that’s what life is all about. Grand Island