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The Boston Marathon's exercise in boredom

The Boston Marathon is a cultural icon. If you live in New York, you go to Times Square on New Year's Day. If you live in Atlantic City, then you go see the Miss America Pageant. If you live in Pasadena, then you go see the Rose Bowl. And, seeing as I live by Boston, I decided to see what the fuss was about for the Boston Marathon.

I had to wake up at nine in the morning last Monday. This in itself was trauma enough for me, but the Monday was also a vacation day. "This had better be worth it," I muttered to myself. After a "hearty" breakfast at Lobdell, I trundled down to Copley, where the marathon was to finish. I saw that a set of bleachers had been erected next to the finish line, and I said to myself "Gee. How nice of the city of Boston to provide bleachers for us. That way, people who flew in from all over the continent to see the marathon in person will be assured of a good place to sit. Once again, thanks Boston!" I was seated for all of 10 seconds when a man sporting an official "Boston Marathon 1991" blazer shoved his walkie-talkie into my face and barked: "Beat it, kid. This section is reserved." By then, the race was two long hours from starting, and already the other side of the street was becoming packed with spectators.

I crossed the street and began my Quest for a Place to Stand. It had to be close enough to the street, so that I could see the finish line. So, for the next half hour, I wiggled and squirmed my way to the front of the line, as if I was playing a Machiavellian game of hide-and-seek. Take one step forward. Wait five minutes. Ah! A hole has opened up to my left. But the guy next to me saw it, too. Feint right! Now, go for it. Got it! Wait a few seconds. Nudge the lady ahead of me sideways, and put my feet between hers. Good! Now, lurch forward. . . .

Eventually, I had reached the front, but it was terribly anti-climatic. Directly in front of me, blocking my view to the street, was a line of flags representing all the countries that this year's runners came from. I could not see a thing. However, from time to time, the flags would flutter in the breeze, revealing a window onto the street and the bleachers opposite me.

In one of these rare views, I was able to see the type of person who was allowed to sit in the bleachers. All of them wore pink and orange badges, and most wore a high-and-mighty look. I guessed that they were high-ranking community members that the city of Boston wanted to honor. For example, there may have been a throng of CEOs from Boston banks, assorted social climbers, and the kid who raised the most money for Muscular Dystrophy. While I waited for the race to start, I noticed that someone had installed a Diamond Vision screen, like the ones used in professional baseball games. With such a screen, we the audience could watch what was happening, even though we were only 10 feet away from the finish line. But soon, I saw my own scowling face plastered on the screen. And then, unbidden, a change came over me. Looking back, I owe it to the agency of an ancestral memory that commanded: "Someone is looking at you. Act stupid!" And I did. I waved my arms at the screen, and displayed a vapid grin. Everyone around me was doing the same. Nobody could resist the urge. Nobody.

Eventually, though, the novelty of the Diamond Vision screen wore thin. It would have been slightly more interesting if they could show "Marathon Bloopers" on the screen. You know: In the background there would be the ubiquitous "kooky" music of cymbals crashing and horns blaring, with the occasional trumpet blaring "Wah wah wah wahhhhh." On the monitor we would see joggers bumping into each other, joggers tripping and falling into sewer gratings, and cars colliding with joggers. But there was no such luck, so I resigned myself to hours of waiting. As I glanced around, I came to the conclusion that this event was special in a way. Only at the Boston Marathon was the number of port-a-potties per square kilometer greater than the number of cameras per square kilometer. Remarkable!

An hour later, the temperature had fallen to 40@#F and it had begun to rain. To keep myself amused, I reflected on the origins of the marathon. At first, nobody ran it for fun. A Greek courier first ran the 26 miles between Athens and Marathon to deliver a war dispatch. Upon arriving, it is rumored, he fell to the floor, literally dropping dead.

But within another hour, the race began. I think the managers of the race had this in mind. That is why they had a commentator come and give a "play by play" for the marathon. Every so often, he would announce a quasi-interesting tidbit of information about some jogger or another. This was not difficult, considering that over 9000 people competed. At one time, I remember the commentator describing, in effect, the tactical advantages to running slowly. Yeah, right.

Finally, after two more hours of mind-numbing tedium and finger-numbing cold, the first runner approached the finish line. Suddenly, the entire crowd began to writhe about. It seemed that everyone in the back was jockeying for a position in the front. This was ludicrous, because the flags would block their view anyway. Nonetheless, I would not yield. Hands would fly forward, grasping for a position on the railing, by which the owners of the hands could reel themselves forward. I batted them off. A tiny girl crawled between my legs, but I squeezed them and refused to let her in front of me. True, it sounds cruel and ruthless, but after all, it was survival of the fittest. It was a form of social Darwinism. And before I knew it, the first runner had crossed the line. What was his name? Nobody knew. Nobody cared. We would forget his name in a day or two, anyway.

Tempted as I was, I would not go home after that. During the five hours I was rooted to my spot, I had ample opportunity to contemplate the changing world. "How wonderful," I thought, "that a foreigner could win the Boston Marathon! How wonderful that foreigners own Rockefeller Center, and most major television stations! How wonderful that foreigners and Americans are coming to depend on the United Nations! How wonderful that world unity is all that much closer!" And so, my mind cluttered with this sophomoric idealism, I vowed to speak with the runner from Portugal. I chose him because the Portuguese flag was blocking my view of the finish line.

One and a half hours later, he crossed the line, and stumbled over to pick up his flag. Full of enthusiasm for the changing world order, I cried out, jokingly, "Hey! What took you so long?"

With a grimace, he spat at the ground and said: "Ah, f--k off."


Jason Merkoski is a freshman who will watch the Boston Marathon on TV next year, if at all.