Marathon 2010

I woke up this morning thinking, “I’m too tired and sore to get out of bed.”  Twenty-five thousand other people got up and thought, “Maybe I’ll run 26.2 miles today.”  The Boston Marathon started in 1897 and happened today for the 114th time.

I (of course) find the logistics of coordinating a marathon as fascinating as someone who’s capable of running in one.  Look at the precision:

Water distribution near Cleveland Circle

The supply list for each water station includes “Cardboard (23×36), 128 pieces” and I absolutely cannot figure out what they’d use that many pieces of cardboard for.  It also includes two shovels, six rakes, and 12 “Gatorade stirrers.”  And, inevitably, four rolls of duct tape.  You can’t do anything without duct tape.

The marathon brings out some local color in all parts of the region.  I caught this pair of bananas being chased by a gorilla toward the end of the race, for example:

Gorilla chasing bananas

Gorilla chasing bananas

But I’ve always been particularly intrigued by the women of Wellesley College.  They traditionally line the route alongside the College, screaming so loudly that their segment of the course is dubbed the “scream tunnel.”  They also offer kisses to the passing runners.

This pair of photographs comes from the Boston Globe:

Kiss a First Year

Kiss a First Year

Kiss a Senior

Kiss a Senior

Notice that “I’m a senior” and “I’m a first year” are both given as added incentives for stopping for a kiss.  Sophomores and juniors are, perhaps, less skilled kissers.  One sign this year read, “I Majored in Kissing.”  Another advertised (and here we step up a few notches on the “disturbing” scale), “I won’t tell your wife.”

It’s easy at first to see the creepy side of this tradition.  Middle-aged men essentially pause in the middle of a race to take advantage of the fact that they do not ordinarily get to kiss 18 year-old women.  And we know from OkTrends that they want to.

But that overlooks why spectators gather for this marathon in general: to encourage these runners who are testing the limits of their own endurance — sometimes beyond the breaking point. And it’s not just a poetic ideal.  Fans shout encouragement to each individual. Many runners write their names on their clothes just to hear thousands of people shout them along the way. Imagine at mile 22 feeling like you can’t possibly take another step only to have a complete stranger start jogging along side you and shouting with the crowd, “Let’s hear it for Sarah!  Come on, Sarah!  You’re almost there!  It’s all downhill now!” I’ve seen it happen.

Twenty-five thousand people run in the Boston Marathon.  Half a million people come to cheer them on.  Volunteers hand out cups of water and clear the streets with their rakes, shovels, and duct tape.  Locals put on absurd costumes to make everyone laugh. Bands perform in the street to make everyone dance. And at Wellesley, the students cheer on the athletes so emphatically that runners actually have to remember to pace themselves through the tunnel.

A couple years ago, Adidas (one of the event’s sponsors) ran ads that showed a bib number along with that runner’s “reason for running.”  One said simply “To hear the Wellesley scream.”  My absolute favorite read:

My muscles were screaming, but the fans were screaming louder.

And if that isn’t enough, you can even stop for a kiss.

MBTA ScoreCard

The MBTA has published a document titled MBTA ScoreCard.  Acting General Manager William Mitchell writes on the first page:

With this ScoreCard we begin publishing the same performance metrics that we use internally to measure our progress towards meeting our service quality goals.

It’s 25 pages of mostly graphs, covering statistics on ridership, on-time performance, speed restrictions, dropped trips, maintenance, and safety.  Some of the data are woefully uninteresting.  Some are fascinating.

It’s not clear how often we’ll see updated ScoreCards.  The current document is dated “September 2009,” implying a monthly publication, but some of the graphs cover data dating as far back as January, 2004.  Even if this is the only ScoreCard we see, it’s a nice gesture.  Score one for Mr. Mitchell.

Just The Pass, Ma’am

A colleague stopped at my office on her way into work a couple weeks ago to report a wonderfully exciting new discovery on the Green Line: MBTA police implementing the very policy I’ve advocated since our fair city first introduced the CharlieCard.

The MBTA police, operating undercover, will watch people board at the rear doors, then show their badges and ask to scan everyone’s CharlieCards. Those with valid monthly passes quietly return to their books and newspapers.  Those with only stored-value cards (or no cards at all) get citations.

Although I haven’t seen any news reports on the subject, anecdotal reports from my coworkers and websites suggest the first citation is about $15.  For a second offense, the penalty jumps to $100 or $125.

I wholeheartedly approve!

I carry a valid pass, so I’m entitled to board any MBTA vehicle at any time.  I’ll happily prove that fact to an inspector whenever I’m asked.  Thus, let me board efficiently at any door.  Catching only a few people trying to exploit the leeway granted me and my fellow honest commuters can compensate for any lost fare revenue.

We the People

For reasons that I shall leave ambiguous, I was perusing the (current) Boston Municipal Code yesterday. There’s some great stuff in there. For example, it’s illegal to manufacture or sell a mercury thermometer in the city of Boston, except by prescription.

Then there’s this restriction:

Whoever sells, or distributes, or imports, or loans, or possesses with the intent to sell … a book, pamphlet, ballad, printed paper, phonographic record, print, picture, figure, image, or description which depicts or describes … patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated … shall be subject to a fine of fifty ($50.00) dollars….

Then there’s this regulation for street-railway cars (emphasis mine):

No person having control of the speed of a street-railway car passing in a street shall fail to keep a vigilant watch for all teams, carriages, and persons, especially children, nor shall such person fail to strike a bell several times in quick succession on approaching any team, carriage, or person, and no person shall, after such striking of a bell, delay or hinder the passage of the car.

That’s a point to me: my city built its subway and streetcars before anybody dreamed of having automobiles… and it’s still there today.

The Magic of Imagination

JK Rowling (which she herself has said is to be pronounced “rolling, like ‘rolling pin'”) gave the Commencement address at Harvard this year. Now you can watch online.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

That part’s funny, but watch the whole thing.  This is the construction and utilization of language that makes English worth listening to.

(And yes, this is a point to Boston.)

Balletomane or Marketing Dartboard? Choose!

Dear Boston Ballet,

You keep sending me postcards inviting me to upcoming performances – Romeo and Juliet, Next Generation, and Swan Lake so far this year.  “Buy your ticket today,” you encourage me.  That’s so thoughtful!  You assume since I’ve attended performances in the past I might again in the future, and remind me in case I’ve forgotten to get tickets.

However,  you have failed to consider that people who have attended performances in the past often do again in the future.  That’s right: the very foundation of your marketing campaign is also its demise.  I already have tickets to all the performances you’re encouraging me to attend.  You could save paper by putting these ads on the backs of the tickets themselves, so after they arrive I can be reminded to buy them.

Or, you could take the time when compiling your mailing list to remove the names of people who already have tickets to the things you’re advertising.  This will keep you from looking stupid.

Your Patron

It’s Time for Your Public Humiliation

Trains on the Green Line (as elsewhere) occasionally run express between two stops to help close gaps in service.  They announce this ad nauseam for the benefit of clueless passengers.  “This train will run express to BU Central.  BU Central will be the next stop for this train.  The first stop we’ll make is BU Central.  If you need a stop before BU Central, get off now.  Express to BU Central.”  (Substituting wherever it is, exactly, we’re expressing to.)

Then about half the time someone will ring to request one of the stops in between.  Conductors usually ignore this, though a few have yelled, “I said we’re going express.”

Today, our motorman just quietly deadpanned, “Will the passenger from out of town come to the front, please.”

Drum Solo

I have a confession: I hate drum solos.  Sure, they start out exciting and cool, with lots of exciting rhythms building on each other.  Invariably, though, the drummer gets either tired or just confused and starts banging things at random, so I tune out and start wishing someone would start playing other instruments again.

So when Eddie from Ohio (Eddie Hartness) launched into a drum solo last night, I was skeptical.  I’m pleased to say I not only enjoyed this solo, but indeed liked it so much I’ve now set out to start listening to more of Mr. From Ohio’s solos on purpose.

Drummers everywhere, take a note: this is how it should be done!

Well *I* Sure Don’t Know

Ira Glass: “From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. To explain the idea for this week’s radio show I need to tell you about this date one of the producers of our show, Jane Feltes, went on recently.”

Jane Feltes: “He would use these arguments like, ‘He went to BU.’ I don’t know what… is that Boston University?”

Ira Glass: “Yeah.”

Jane Feltes: “Is that a good school?”

Ira Glass: “I don’t know.”

Jane Feltes: “I don’t know either.”

Thou Shalt Not Close

The Boston Globe reported yesterday on what city services would be closed in observing New Year’s Day.

Retail stores: Open at owner’s discretion.

Liquor stores: Open at owner’s discretion.

Supermarkets: Open.

Convenience stores: Open at owner’s discretion.”

This implies supermarkets are absolutely open, regardless of their owners’ preferences. This, in turn, implies there’s a law mandating this, since only a law can keep a business owner from closing his doors pretty much any day he wants.

So what’s the law, then?