01 November 2012

Sandy In My Eyes

Obviously I’m not the only person who’s seen the irony of a storm that whips up and rips up sand being named Sandy. Still, Monday morning when I braved out (OK, it wasn’t that brave) into the pre-storm spray to log the day’s streak-minimum three miles, I couldn’t help think of the metaphor of the bully kicking sand in someone’s face. The immediate someone was of course myself, taking the spray, not sand, head-on, right in the eyes, the usually-shielding running hat being utterly useless in the face of the fringes of a tropical cyclone, but the bigger someone has been the whole east coast, notably New Jersey and New York City.

What a year to have decided – long ago – to run the New York City Marathon.

A couple of days ago, as Sandy approached, I fretted that I’d indirectly coaxed my niece into the claws of Mother Nature as she attempted her first full marathon at Marine Corps in Washington as Sandy menaced. But Sandy politely held back just long enough, deluging areas just east of DC while leaving the marathoners somewhat blown but quite dry, and Kris can now put the “Marathon Finisher” sticker on her gravestone when the time comes. Sadly, that was the end of Sandy’s patience. You know the rest of the story. In short, it wasn’t the Marine Corps Marathon I should have been worrying about.

In the days following the disaster we watched to see how this would play out regarding the NYC Marathon. The physical and logistical problems were obvious. But the emotional angle was, and still is, trickier.

Physically, much of the city remains without power, not to mention other damage. Logistically, the Staten Island Ferry, slated to shuttle twenty-four thousand of my friends to the start, is out of commission, which is largely irrelevant since you cannot get there anyway with no subway service to lower Manhattan.
The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the route to the start for the other twenty-three thousand friends, is now on the NYC Duathlon course as the swim segment, and I’m not a strong swimmer. Other problems abound, ranging from traffic to the simple question of whether enough restaurants will get enough shipments of chow to serve up enough pasta on Saturday night. I’m packing my granola bars.

Emotionally, there’s the big question of whether this is the right thing to do at all. People are suffering. Basic needs are unmet. And we’re going to put great efforts into holding a race?

But New York Road Runners’ head cheese Mary Wittenberg made a couple of good points, appearing on the Today show this morning. First, the decision was made only with Mayor Bloomberg’s approval. Second, logistical changes were made to avoid the use of public resources, notably, all transport to the start will be on private coaches. And finally, the economic impact aside, she pointed out that the marathon is a symbol of the triumph of human spirit. Letting it go on will hopefully serve as an inspiration to New Yorkers everywhere that not only can life go on after the disaster, but that the city and the country will recover, because of the spirit that drives nearly fifty thousand people to push themselves to the limit. It seems to me it’s a far more motivating statement than George W. Bush’s admonition to go shopping after 9/11.

I can understand the symbolism. It jives with the message that I often try to convey in these pages about taking the active choice, taking control, and making positive things happen for yourself and those around you. You are heavily influenced by what you see around you. Perhaps we can help to deliver some hope to those who need it.

After all, New York City is a place that defies logic, defies itself. I’ve often said that it succeeds in spite of itself. When one ponders the difficulty and cost of getting anything done there, one has to wonder how anything does get done there, or why it is done there in the first place. But to borrow the oft-used quote from Jurassic Park, life will find a way. Sure, the source wasn’t a bastion of philosophical wealth, but they made a good point.

Growing up in Upstate New York, we had a strong love-hate relationship with New York City. By the time I became old enough to be politically aware, the Big Apple was going bankrupt under Ed Koch (who now has his name attached to the Queensborough Bridge, mile sixteen on the course, or the 59th Street Bridge if you’re a Simon & Garfunkel fan). We figured that the tax dollars we sent to Albany were simply dumped into the river to float uselessly past the vortex of The City. Not long after, our governor Hugh Carey, a Brooklyn native (who as of two weeks ago has his name attached to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which would have been our route to the start had it not become an ersatz aqueduct)
seemed to fuel the Upstate-Downstate feud by coming to our city to scoff at a local looming environmental disaster, uttering the now famous phrase, "I offer here and now to walk into Binghamton, to any part of that building and swallow an entire glass of PCBs." Needless to say, there was no love lost between “us” and “them”. For a time, I even rebelled against the very label, “The City”. After all, Boston is a city, too, right?

I got over it. The fact is, there hasn’t been a single time in my life when I haven’t felt at least a little bit of awe and excitement upon entering the City of New York. Granted, that comes with the trepidation of the hazards and aforementioned inconveniences of doing anything in the city (which I try to communicate as a reality check to Darling Daughter the Elder, thinking of college and star-struck by the place), but face it: you can’t fly in and see the skyline, drive in over a grand bridge, or even ride the rail in and marvel at the length and breadth of the catacombs though which you travel, without recognizing that it’s an amazing place, even with all its dark and seamy undersides.

Leave it to New York City to have the chutzpah to try to pull this off after what they’ve been through.

I’m still somewhat split on it, but they’ve said that the show will go on, and so I will be a part of it, part of a show of support for a resilient and strong city. Even if I’m not yet quite sure how we’ll actually get there. Life will find a way.

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