Monday, February 28, 2011

nugget #23

Ah, we just got back from a vacation in sunny Florida, so here is a story that takes place during one of the nicer months here in Buffalo, June.

2 Live Hurdle Crew
by Bill Donnelly

            As runners, we all know the thrill and fun of competing in races, both long and short, on roads, tracks or over Hill and Dale.  Dale Hill was actually a friend of mine who fell in a race right in front of me, and I had to literally go over him, thus the term, over Hill and Dale.  Anyway, if all you ever do is run in the races, you really never get to know what it takes to pull these events off.
            A great way to learn this is to volunteer to help out at some races.  Doing so can be a real eye-opener.  I’ve had the fun of working traffic control at several 5K races, all of which happened to be held on Buffalo’s lower West Side.  I’ve been called some colorful Latino names by upset drivers wanting to get somewhere fast.  Didn’t know what these expressions meant, but I know I would never say them to Gramma Mora’s face.  And this is just stopping traffic for a 5K.  Imagine the things I would be called had the race been a marathon.
            Speaking of marathons, I have worked the water stops at a few of these LONG races in my day, the last time being the Buffalo Marathon in May of 2006.  I was at the 17 mile mark, so we were there quite a while getting things ready and handing out the refreshments to runners of all shapes and sizes.  I of course got to work at the table handing out the Power-Sticky-Aide.  By the time I was finished, ants were crawling all over me to get at the goop that had been spilled on me.  But it is always an interesting perspective to see a marathon from this vantage point, rather than being one of the participants.
            So volunteering for races can be challenging yet very rewarding and enlightening.  I always enjoy doing it.  That is, until this past June when Roger Roll put out the emergency call for help with the Empire Game trials.  Seems the trials were supposed to be held in Rochester, but because of a scheduling conflict (probably something important like a tractor pull) the officials informed the University of Buffalo it would be held at their track.  This was five days before the event.  And UB’s two track coaches would have to put on the event.  And the two coaches, Vicki Mitchell and Perry Jenkins, were out of town when they were informed of this.  And they would have to come up with the volunteers.
            That’s where Roger Roll, the President of Checkers, or as he likes to be called, “the Great Exalted Grand Pooh-Bah and Royal Highness Himself Forever”, comes in.  He had to get helpers, and get them fast.  That’s where we lowly peons who are mere members of the club come in, we were silly enough to say why sure, we would love to help, just tell us where and when and should we bend over for this too.
            Roger needed enough people to work two shifts, till , and till about when hopefully everything would end.  Being the type of people who hate to sleep in on a Saturday morning, Diane McGuire and I volunteered for the morning shift.  If you believe that hating to sleep in crap, I have some great real-estate I’d like to sell you.  It’s located in the 9th ward of New Orleans.  No, Diane and I thought it best to take the early shift so we could get it over with and have the rest of the day for ourselves.
            We also had a beer-tasting event at the Sterling Place Pub to go to at , so we wanted to have time to rest up for it.  By brother Tom, better known as Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother, and his wife Julie, better known as Bill Donnelly’s slow little brother’s wife, were also going to the beer-tasting, but they offered to help out during the afternoon shift.  I was worried they might be tired and late for the all important beery event.
            Well, Saturday, June 17th arrived very bright and early for us.  We managed to get out of bed, but we had to skip out usual weekend ritual of treating ourselves to some Starbucks coffee.  Just one of those little treats we save for ourselves, but this morning we had to skip it because they were not open yet when we first got up, and as we needed our coffee right NOW! we made our own.  By the time we finally woke up completely, we were out the door and headed for UB.  We arrived just before seven just as Roger was rolling up (no pun intended) with a hot steamy Starbucks in his hand.
            Others arrived within minutes, as Roger was very clear that we were needed at seven sharp.  These included the usual suspects, Amy Fakterowitz, Linda and Becky Forrestel, Cathy Levine, Russ Trippe and Jim Christen.  As we made our way onto the track, Roger informed us that he ordered bagels for us on his computer, but he was afraid that since he hadn’t paid his AOL bill in six months and they cut his service, he was worried the order didn’t go through.  He was more upset with the fact he couldn’t get on anymore, but we were more concerned with the lack of sustenance.
            Then Roger told us he thought of setting up the Checkers tent for us, but decided against that since it would involve too much effort to be worthwhile.  We peered towards the cloudless sky with already parched lips and sunburned foreheads, searching for any small cloud to block out the blazingly hot sun, which already had sent temperatures towards 90 degrees, even though it was only .  OK, so maybe I exaggerate a bit, but then we were informed by the team of students out to raise the Stars and Stripes that the meet would not be starting until sometime after nine, so we had plenty of time to go find a Starbucks or something, as we were not needed for two hours.
            The Amherst police records for Saturday, June 17th show that at exactly the dispatch received a frantic 911 call that was later traced to Roger Roll’s cell phone.  The recording is chilling, with a shaky, frightened voice screaming “Bill Donnelly has me in a headlock” followed by a gurgling sound and then silence.  The others quickly pulled me off Roger, but I think only so they could have at him, but he quickly escaped, err, went to see if he could find Coach Mitchell or Coach Jenkins.
            The rest of us meandered over to the high jump pit and collapsed on the jumping mat and made small talk.  The small talk was mainly about impeaching his Grand Holiness, and there was talk of heating up some tar and plucking a few chickens for their feathers, all of which would be presented to his Exaltedness, but soon the hot sun had us delirious enough we forgot about his Pooh-Bah and thought how nice a tent would have been.  Oh yeah, that was Roger’s call, and it was back to talk of running him out of town on a rail.
            Finally Coach Vicki showed up, Starbucks in hand.  Is there no justice?  Seeing that we, as a group, had no direction, she organized us and had us set up the hurdles for the races to come.  Those gosh-darned hurdles, which we would all soon grow to hate.  Coach Jenkins was also now on hand, and he walked about giving orders through a bullhorn, which we would also grow to hate. 
            These hurdles were not your new state of the art hurdles you would expect a big school like UB to have.  Coach Vicki said something about them being purchased for the first Olympic trials back in 1896 or something.  I believe that to be true.  Some were broken, and all were difficult to raise and lower.  Since the first hurdle event would be the high hurdles, we had to raise all 80 of them to their highest position and place them appropriately on the track. 
            To raise them, you had to use both index fingers to push in these stubborn metal nipples (can I say that word here, oh well, I did) in past these finger-eating sharp holes in the shaft (can I say that word here, oh well, I did) of the hurdle and pull up or push down to the next finger eating hole, whereupon the nipple pops into the hole.  If you have to raise or lower it two or more notches, that means more finger- eating pushing with your already bloody index fingers.
            Well, we got the hurdles set up, and we were satisfied with our work, when Coach Jenkins yells into the bullhorn, even though he was two feet from us, that the first event would be the 10,000 meter run, so please move the hurdles off the track.  Amy and I looked at each other knowingly.  She, being a third grade teacher, and myself having taught for over twenty years, knew busy work when we saw it, or in this case, did it.  I used to call it “bell work”, and it’s what you gave the kids to do as they first came into the room each morning just to get them settled in and to let them know who is the boss.  Boy, did we feel like third graders.
            After we cleared the hurdles, they called for volunteers for other events, and as Linda and Becky Forrestel looked at their bloody fingers, they quickly agreed to go work the javelin event outside the stadium.   I heard later they misunderstood the directions of what they were to do, and instead of measuring the throws, they thought they were there to catch the javelins.  That explained the sharp dents in Linda’s forehead later, and as her husband Peter told me since, she was never very good at playing catch.  Daughter Becky did much better, and she was actually kind of pleased to have lost her index finger on her left hand as she will never have to work the hurdles again.
            Meanwhile, the rest of us watched the exciting 10K race unfolding before our sunburned eyes, as runners went lap after excruciating lap around us as we pretended to be sitting under the tent Roger didn’t bring.  Then a moment of action as we set up the steeplechase hurdles, and waited while a few 3K races were run here.  It was close to and only “bell work” so far. 
            But all that changed in an instant.  Suddenly Coach Jenkins was calling for the “hurdle crew” (it was nice to have a title at least) to set up for the high hurdles at the blue lines.  That was over in a flash, and it was time to move the hurdles to the white lines and lower them a notch.  Again a flash, and move them again back to the blue lines and lower them two notches.  Jim Christen held up a finger that was actually gushing blood.  We started to use other objects such as keys and Chap Sticks to push in those nipples.  Then Coach Jenkins is barking at us that the hurdles have to be raised one more notch, we lowered them too much.  A flash and move the hurdles off the track for the 100 meter dash.  And now Coach Vicki is gathering us together to give us instructions for the finals of all the hurdle events.  Oh no, not again!
            But first she promised us gloves for our hands.  Unfortunately, she could find none, but she did give us socks to use.  Apparently the school had gotten tons of socks to use as rewards for the football team.  Every time they would win a game last year, each member of the team would get three new pair of socks.  They still had tons of socks after that season, so Coach Vicki gave them to us.  Little help in fighting those finger eating hurdles, but we would have nice clean white sock to wear next time we went out.  Except for Jim, since he tried using his for the hurdles, and now they not only have holes in the toes, they are all bloody.
            Now Vicki gave us instructions for the upcoming hurdle events.  I believe they were very detailed, but as we were all zoombiefied by now, and as it was and the next hurdle crew should be arriving shortly, none of us caught much of it.  After Coach left us, thinking she had all under control, Amy turned to us and asked “Did any of you catch any of those instructions at all?  Now I know how my third graders feel as I try to impart wisdom into their pea-brains!”  It was true, we all had that dazed third grader look and all any of us heard Vicki say was “Now as soon as yuba yuba yuba move them to the blue line yuba yuba then you yuba yuba yuba which will be right after the yuba yuba and then lower them three notches yuba yuba to the white lines yuba yuba”, well, you get the idea.  But we didn’t worry, our relief would soon be here at . 
            At I was on Amy’s cell phone to my brother, as no one had arrived yet.  By the way Amy, did my blood wash off the buttons ok?  Well, Tom, my slow little brother, said they were leaving shortly as Roger said anytime between and was fine, which would explain why the other afternoon help did not arrive until at least .  When I informed the morning hurdle crew of this, they actually almost left to find those chickens to pluck.
            We were hungry, tired and sunburned, but we hung in there till help arrived.  When it did, we were out of there feeling sorry for our relief, as they would be there probably till forever.  When Diane and I arrived at the Sterling Place Pub about two hours later, there were Tom and Julie, looking fresh as can be.  Seems everything was over by three and they hardly had to move any hurdles.  YOW!  Where are those chickens when you need them?
            Oh well, after a few Flying Bison barley malt beverages at the pub, I mellowed out.  And you know what.  Roger was at that track meet all day trying to coordinate everything just to save the club some bucks for next year when we use UB’s track for our workouts.  He spent so much time setting things up and wrapping things up.  And never a complaint from him, just smiling all day.  Except when I had him in that headlock.                     

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