Archive for May, 2008

The womens start to shakin, and the mens they start to fight.

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , on May 21, 2008 by trevorgregg

Music – Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

“Wake up, Drew.”

My cousin, 19, is curled up in a white plastic chair out on the concrete patio behind the bar. It’s almost 3 AM. We’re out in the no man’s land of SOMA, somewhere out past 15th and Utah.

“We need to talk about Sunday.”

The bateria plays on inside the building, and the ground shakes in time with the people dancing. A group of Hondurans sit at a table across from us, smoking cheap cigarettes and murmuring in Spanish. A girl whose name I can’t remember, dressed in a full-on peacock feather head-dress, is passed out behind a pile of drums.

Drew shakes herself awake, and I hand her another Pacifico. My buddy Sapo pops his head out the nearby door, a martini in each hand. He’s half naked.

“YOU GUYS SEEN MY SHIRT?” We stare at him for a moment, silent. He goes back inside. That’s 3 AM at a Carnaval pre-party for ya.

“Yeah OK, what’s up?” Drew asks.

She’s mature for her age, and worldly despite her small-town Idaho upbringing. She’s smart, resourceful, and ruthlessly sarcastic. Of course. She is my cousin, after all. Still, I worry that she’s woefully unprepared for the harsh reality of the day to come. Hell, we all are.

I take a deep breath.

“Listen, Bay to Breakers is a fucking monster. It’s a living creature that devours the weak and destroys the timid. It has no heart and it has no eyes.”

“You’re drunk.” She says.

“Don’t let that detract from the wisdom of my words, Drew. This is serious. B2B is unlike anything you’ve ever seen or can even conceive of. It’s beautiful and horrible and will fucking break you if you turn your back on it.”

“Ok.” She nods.

“Some rules. Never, ever let go of your cell phone. Ever. Keep it on you at all times. Never leave the group by yourself. It’s unbelievably easy to get lost in a crowd of 100,000 moving people. Don’t pee in front of cops. Don’t take drinks from strangers.”

“Ok. Can do.”

“Good. Also don’t talk to boys or do drugs. And carry this ten-inch serrated hunting knife with you. Just in case.”

“Ok.” She takes the knife cautiously, holding it with two fingers, like it’s a dead, distasteful thing.

“And for Christ’s sake stay close to me. If anything happens to you, your mom will nail me to a tree in Montana and leave me for the grizzlies.”

She nods.

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“This is gonna be the greatest day of your life.”

———

Six AM Sunday and I’ve been awake all night, waiting for my alarm to go off. It’s so foggy outside I can’t see the next building over, in the twilight. I put on my costume and start packing stuff up, running up and down the hallway, unable to contain myself.

“WAKE THE HELL UP!” I shout, clapping and skipping around the apartment in my boardshorts. “WE’VE GOT A RACE TO DRINK.”

Shak and Drew appear at their respective doorways, bleary-eyed, confused by all the noise.

“WOOOOO.” I wave my hands around.
“WOOOOOOOOOO. Let’s go load up the float.” They ignore me and lurch to the kitchen in search of sustenance. They don’t understand.

Bay to Breakers is everything that is good about San Francisco. All the filth, the hypocrisy, the high rent, the white people, Critical Mass… B2B cancels all that bullshit out in one fell swoop. It’s a frenzied and glorious celebration of life and youth in San Francisco. It’s the polar opposite of retarded, campy, low-class shit like Burning Man, and Christmas. The weasel fuckers in charge of this town have thus-far ruined everything from Halloween to tailgating at the baseball game.

But not this.

It’s a perfect, out of control, seven mile long disaster area and I love it.

“PUT YOUR GAME FACES ON. WE’RE MAKING IT TO THE BEACH THIS YEAR.”

———

“and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”- Nietzsche

We stand around our float at the starting line, just after seven. We wait at the heart of it all. The roar of fifty thousand revellers is deafening, consuming, cleansing. Drew is wide-eyed, the rest of us feign nonchalance. Everything is in place. We’ve dragged our wheeled table up to the edge of the starting line. Mahesh and I play beirut against two girls dressed as boat captains, and wait for the gunshot. There are so many people. Bodies a thousand deep in every direction as far as the eye can see. Fifty Brazilians dressed in hazmat suits, their backpack pesticide spray tanks filled with tequila, dance by in a huge congo line.

Fuck yes.

A girl in a Richard Nixon mask, wearing a huge glossy pair of mylar wings, runs up and high-fives me. I look up to the gray sky, to where the skyscrapers disappear in the foggy shroud.

The gun goes off.

The race begins.

——–

Our party becomes a tempest. All the excitement and the anticipation becomes kinetic, and we surge forward, pressed up into the thousands ahead of us by the tens of thousands behind us.

“What’s with the tortillas?!” I hear Drew scream over the din. The sky is white with them. Several are caught in Mahesh’s afro.

“Tradition!”

I snatch one out of the air before it hits our triangle of beer cups, and toss it to Drew.

“Throw it!”

She lets it rip, and it sails off over the human sea.

“Well?” Somebody asks her. “Are you having fun yet?”

Mahesh and I keep playing as the table moves forward. Beirut on the move is damn near impossible, for the record. Two more boat girls dance ahead of us, blowing whistles and hussling the slow and confused out of our way. On the sides of the table, ten people shove our float forward with braced poles, like galley slaves in some ancient Norse ship. We creep forward, riding the slow wave of utter chaos around us.

Mahesh sinks the last cup. Everyone is cheering. Lilley and Ryan are manning the kegs, blasting beer into cup after cup. Somewhere up ahead a faux-lifeguard tower blasts techno music. Ten or so people dressed up as Mario Karts dash by, weaving their way through and around the slow floats.

Up ahead, the sea parts for a few yards. Two stone-faced, dead-eyed white men hold signs, standing fast and silent against the tide of humanity.

“MY GOD WHAT GREAT COSTUMES!” I shriek, running up to them. “YOU GUYS LOOK JUST LIKE REAL JESUS FREAKS COME TO HATE ON OUR FUN.” They say nothing, don’t even blink. Twenty naked girls form a ring around them, holding hands and dancing in circles.

I wonder what goes through their minds. They hold their signs, proclaiming the wrath of their ancient and vengeful god against us base sinners.

I toss my camera to a boat girl, and give my best shit-eating grin and double thumbs up, standing between the two zealots. The flash goes off. I lean in to the closer of the two fanatics. I whisper in his ear. He won’t look at me.

“Welcome to Babylon, motherfucker. We’re having an orgy and mass suicide at 31st and Balboa. I hope you can make it.”

Our float surges past, and I leap headlong on to the table, laughing like a jackal.

I see Drew and Lilley waving to a crowd of people in blue tights and capes, standing around fake voting booths. Superdelegates. Haha.

A girl stumbles by, carried by two teenagers in togas. She’s bleeding profusely from the face.

We push forward.

Ten minutes later, we reach the end of the first block.

———

Our float, including the two kegs, weighs upwards of five hundred pounds, but we find it surprisingly easy to plow forward through the chaos. It’s a beast, its plywood skin tattooed blue and yellow. Four by fours for bones, iron for muscle and beer for blood. It is strong. It is unstoppable. We are invincible.

With five of us on each side, the beast moves forward seemingly under its own power. We all touch it so lightly, yet it manifests such decisive, almost supernatural motion, like the guide on a ouija board.

The ground is a swamp of filth and spilled alcohol. We’re ankle deep in it, mashed tortillas and piss. We power onward, passing a flaming wreck of overturned shopping carts. A boat, an honest to god boat on a trailer, follows close behind us, pulled by three gargantuan weightlifters in rapelling harnesses. Two girls in bikinis dance on the sun deck.

We press forward, ever forward through the tempest. I hold up my cup for a screaming cheers with everyone around me, and friend and stranger alike, joins in.

We are unstoppable. We are immortal. We push onward, across Third street.

———

Disaster.

I am near to weeping. Fuck, how could this happen.

We cross Fifth at a quarter of our previous speed. We’ve shredded a tire. Our horse has gone lame. Lilley pries the opposite tire off, to level us out.

Fuck. FUCK. The old wheels we used for the rear tires, stolen from some ancient landscaping trailer, dissolved in the acidic, grimey bog of the race. After five damn blocks.

Now it’s just a fucking countdown. We’re riding on the rims, flimsy aluminum rims. We’ve got a centimeter, literally, of ground clearance. For now.

GOD FUCKING SHIT. CROM.

“CROM.” I scream, arms raised.

“CROM WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME IN MY HOUR NEED.”

“Are you ok?” A boat girl asks. I shake my head. We are supremely fucked, and we’re not even a quarter of the way to the end. Our float limps onward.

Deep breath, Trevor.

Sack up.

I grab Alcorn and Maneesh, pulling them aside from the body of our group.

“Listen, guys. We are fucked. Those fucking rims are gonna wear down in like two blocks, at the outside. We’re already scraping on every bump bigger than a pimple on a baby’s ass. We need to do something.”

“What do we do? We don’t have tools, or spare wheels.”

“We need something else to rest it on.” I say. “We need one of those fucking… roller… things you ride on to get under cars, to change your oil and shit. Or a fucking skateboard. I’d give my left nut for a skateboard right now.”

“I think all the auto parts stores around here are gonna be closed. It’s Sunday, and it’s B2B.” Maneesh says. “I’ll start calling them just in case.”

“Good man.”

“I’ll keep these guys pushing as far as I can.” Alcorn says.

“Grace under pressure, dudes. We can get past this.”

Suddenly there’s a shriek of grinding metal and wood, and the float swerves off towards a curb, crashing into a mailbox.

We’re dead in the water.

“Trevor, you better come look at this.”

———

“Well we’re double fucked now.”

The right wheel, what’s left of it, has a plastic syringe jammed between the wheel and the chassis. It won’t budge.

Deep breath. Everyone’s looking to me. You built the thing, their eyes say. You fix it.

Fucking shit fuck argh.

“Alright. Anybody have anything we can pry with?”

Ryan hands me a carabiner from his keychain. Mahesh, huge afro and all, is bent down over the wheel, car keys in hand. I hunker down with him.

“Hold up dude, this isn’t just some fucking trash here, this is a syringe. I don’t know about touching this thing.” I say.

“The needle part’s broken off.”

“Yeah.” We sit there and stare at it for a second.

“Fuck it, who wants to live forever?” I jam my hand into the wheel and start trying to get ahold of the disgusting syringe. Mahesh starts prying at it with his car keys while I work on it with Ryan’s carabiner.

Ten minutes later and the thing is halfway out, and Mahesh’s car key is folded in half. He shrugs it off like it’s no big deal, grabs a beer, and starts dancing with a bunch of girls dressed like Baywatch babes.

What a guy.

I keep prying at the thing, using all my inebriated strength. They say you get stronger in times of desperation. Moms lifting semi trucks off of their toddlers and shit, after a car wreck. Well it better fucking be true. Cuz this sombitch does not want to come out…

“Why are you guys stopped?” A girl dressed as a slutty Little Bo Peep tabs me on the shoulder. I look up, sweating and furious, my hands covered in unmentionable filth and disease.
“What are you dooooooooooing?” She asks.
I stare at her for a second, my hands wrapped around a used syringe and the axel of a broken down float. Fifty thousand people march around us, elated and hollering.

I can feel the earth turning beneath me. I can sense the twisting orbits of the galaxy around me. It’s an almost religious moment.

“Bitch what’s it look like I’m doing? I’m fucking rethinking my fucking life choices. I’m fucking thinking about how the fuck I ended up prying a god damn used syringe out of a tire under a five hundred pound float in the middle of this fucking unbelievable bullshit chaos. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU doing?!”

She leans down and kisses me on the top of the head.

“Good luck!”

What the fuck. Fucking bay to breakers.

I turn back and, using every ounce of strength I have, wrench the fucking syringe out of the wheel, collapsing in a heap in the gutter.

“Got it.”

———–

We hit Sixth street with a little luck and a lot of pushing. Mahesh and Ganesh, our two big ass Indians, strong as god damn draft horses, push from the back. The rear of the float is grinding on the pavement now. Our rims are gone.

“This fucking wing-and-a-prayer shit is not gonna work up Hayes Hill.” I tell Alcorn and Lilley. “We need a solution, or this heavy bitch is getting left on Van Ness, kegs and all.”

Maneesh runs up waving a cell phone. “Dude, there’s a Sports Authority at Thirteenth and Folsom. Maybe they have skateboards.”

“Are they open?” It’s now about 9:45.
“I fucking hope so. I fucking hope so.”

Maneesh, Drew and I set off at a dead run for Sports Authority.

———-

The employees open the door right as we arrive, and we skid through the entry way. Beer spills out of our red solo cups, which we set down next to the cash register.

“Please fucking tell me you sell skateboards.” Drew says to the cashier. I realize suddenly that the man the cashier’s talking to, the man we just cut in front of and interrupted in all our beer-soaked glory, is a cop. He stares at me, and I stare at him.

“We sure do. End of aisle six.”

“HALLELUJAH!” Maneesh high-fives the pig. We collect our beers and run off through the store. The cop just shakes his head.

Ten minutes and a hundred and twenty bucks later we’re sprinting across Market with four skateboards. Though we’re several blocks off from the main vein of the race, already the roar makes your ears hurt.

“WHERE ARE YOU GUYS.” Maneesh is screaming into his phone. “GOUGH AND WHAT? WHAT SIDE OF THE STREET.” We hit the edge of the crowd at a sprint, shoving and cursing and elbowing our way forward. It’s chaos, utter fucking chaos.

———

We round the corner onto Hayes just in time to find our float scraping along the side of a thrashed Integra. Mahesh and Ganesh, panting from their efforts, have manhandled our quarter-ton float almost a half mile by this point. They stand tall and imperious, though vaguely ridiculous in their basketball jersey and Mardis Gras beads, amidst the crowd of shorter white people.

“I can see Mahesh’s fro!” I shout, and we worm our way through the teeming hordes.

“ALRIGHT MOTHERFUCKERS!” I shout. A cheer goes up. “LIFT!” Grunting and shaking, Mahesh and Ganesh lift the rear end up off the pavement while Drew and I hastily jam the boards under the rear axels.

“Is this gonna work?” Somebody asks me.

“Fuck if I know. We’re about to find out.”

——-

“PUSH.” Somebody yells.

The float creaks, groans. The skateboards tremble under the strain. There are people on all sides of the table. My shoes slide backwards on the piss-slick asphalt.

“PUSH.”

We push.

The float lurches forward. We’re moving.

“FUCK AND YES.” Everyone’s leaping and hugging and whooping. We’re mobile again.

“THANK YOU CROM.” I shout. “I SHALL NOT FORGET THIS.”

“Who the fuck is Crom?”

——

We come around the last corner and the Hill stands before us.

“Oh my god.” I hear Drew say. “Look at that.”

The first half of the race is dead flat. You plow your way along the base of a manmade canyon, of garages and hotels and seedy bars. You can see the ten thousand or so people around you, but nothing beyond. There’s no real perspective.

When you hit the base of that hill, though. You can look up and see just how massive this shit is. A mile of people stretches off to the horizon. A MILE of people, packed sardine tight, up to the peak of the hill. Every color, every shape imaginable. So much vibrant, omni-directional motion can make you sea-sick if you watch it for too long. Your optic nerves burn with the sheer unbelievable scale of it all.

“Look at that.”

“Well the easy part’s over. Now we really need to start pushing.” A girl in a cowboy hat comes by and fills all our beers up.

“Let’s get this motherfucker up the hill.”

I look down at the wobbling, quivering skateboard and pray a little, under my breath.

——-

We crest the hill at top speed. No problem. I think we even caught air, for a second there.

No fucking problem.

The group’s energy and excitement has returned ten-fold now that we’re moving again, and everyone pushes with such giddy abandon that the once-intimidating hill flies by. People we didn’t even know, people we’d never seen before and will never see again ran up to help us push, grinning and laughing. To see such varied people, who would never make eye contact with you or hold open a door for you on a regular day, laboring by your side for no purpose other than general kindness and merriment… well, that’s a beautiful thing folks.

If Bay to Breakers is about anything, it’s about getting fucked up. But if it’s about any TWO things, it’s about getting fucked up and brotherly love.

I run into several friends, people I haven’t seen in years, at the top of the hill. Kevin, from the dorms. The other Kevin, from high school. Peter’s sister, Katie. The partying is redoubled at the top of the hill. After all, the hard part’s over. It’s all down hill from here.

Shak reappears.

“Where the hell did you go?” Drew asks.

“I went… to find a bathroom.”

“Bullfuckingshit!” I yell. “You took off so you wouldn’t have to push, don’t lie.” I laugh and give him a hug. “Lazy ass motherfucker.”

He shrugs and grins. He can’t deny it. We play some flipcup together against some guys dressed as Waldo.

——-

The downhill slope is a little tricky. Our float is fucking heavy. Inertia becomes our enemy. Well not our enemy, I guess, more the enemy of anyone too slow to get out of our way. We’re plowing fools down left and right.

“NO BRAKES.” I’m shouting, unheeded. “NO BRAKES.”

One of the boat girls tries desperately to clear a path for our out of control beirut table, shoving and hollering fruitlessly.

Alcorn and I hold the rear poles of the table, my shoes and his flipflops gliding ineffectually along the greasy asphalt. We might as well be waterskiing.

“MOVE OR DIE.” I yell.

Several people, drunk and unawares, caught a quarter-ton table in the small of the back that day. And that’s some unpleasant shit to say the least.

After a block I gave up trying to slow the monster down. It paid me no heed anyway. Let the thing kill people, whatever. Can’t make an omelette, and all that.

“Next year I’m building a god damn cattleguard on to the front. A big rebar bastard that’ll just scoop all these people right the hell out of the way.”

“Or shatter their ankles and leave them crying, bloody in the gutter.”

“Or that.”

I grabbed one of the spare skateboards and latched on to the back of the thing, whizzing down towards the Popeye’s at ludicrous speed.

——-

Around the turn on to Fell, things get out of hand. It’s like this every B2B, but this year seemed particularly insane. Driven mad by their drive up the hill, and drunk with the glory of being half-way through the race, people go a little whacko. On Divis, you’re close enough to the projects that a lot of Questionable Motherfuckers show up, and two ninety degree turns in one block are surprisingly difficult for fifty thousand drunks to navigate.

We were far behind the crest of the wave by this point. The delays with the wheels had put us far in the rear of the main race, back with the idiots and the drunkards who’d lost track of their groups and were stumbling along aimlessly, like costumed zombies.

The spearhead of the race was far down on Fell by this point, heading into the park, and here we were, mired in the back with the ditched retards and the abandoned floats.

“We need to speed this up. We need to get back with the main crowd, man.” I said to no one in particular. Moaning, disheveled guys with shredded costumes collapsed in the streets around us, pissing themselves. Outside of Popeyes, two cops tazered a guy in a little girl’s bumblebee costume.

He flailed around on the ground, saying with surprising calm and coherence, “I pissed on my tutu. Oh no. I pissed on my tutu.”

Alcorn rallied the troops and we shoved onward, faster and faster in hope of outrunning the awful wake around us.

——–

Fell street is where things really start to fall apart. Block after block of house parties, people dancing in their yards or passing out in the panhandle. Shopping carts are ditched, empty kegs tossed aside, drunk friends abandoned. A park ranger, an old lady with a goofy Smokey the Bear-looking khaki hat, yells ineffectually at the hundreds of people pissing on the eucalyptus trees. So much for enforcement.

That’s what happens when the city puts out ten portapotties every two miles. Talk about poor planning. It’s foul, but after four years of this you get a little inured. The sight and the smell doesn’t faze me.

We trudge ahead, plenty inebriated ourselves. Mahesh is out of control, dancing and leaping wildly. His afro slides down over his eyes. One of the boat chicks is in a fake wrestling ring float, taunting all comers. She dropkicks some fat guy who climbs up the side to take her photo. Ranjit and Nicola play flipcup with two naked dudes, one of which looks disturbingly like Karl Rove.

“WHERE’S DREW.” I glance around wildly, every twenty yards or so.

“Still here.” She waves. She stays close to the float, avoiding the crazies.

“Stick close, this is when shit gets a little insane. We’ll be safer once we get in to the park.”

——–

We run aground at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park. The skateboard slips out from beneath the chassis and our float grinds to an abrupt, crunching halt.

“Break time, apparently.” I wander around a bit, looking for Claire and Hillary’s group. They’re supposed to be around here somewhere.

“Anybody seen a whole bunch of Richard Simmonses?” I ask passersby. They all shake their heads. When I get back to the float, two orange-skinned Oompa Loompas are negotiating for beer from our kegs. They want to fill up their empty Jaeger bottles. Alcorn’s trying to get ten bucks a piece out of them.

I lay down in the grass, and close my eyes. I listen to the mayhem. Breaking glass, shouting. We’re never gonna catch the core. We’re too far back. Around me, people collapse in the gutters and in the bushes. I look over and see a guy dressed as a ninja turtle taking a dump inside a collapsed Rock Star Energy Drink tent. I give him a thumbs up, and he nods politely.

Back at the turn on to Fell, next to Popeye’s, some drunks had plowed down the fence, and without the barrier about half the race had blindly continued on Hayes. They ended up far off the race route, and now I see several of the disoriented groups dragging their floats through the grass, cross country from the other side of the park, seeking the main route.

“Fuck. No way are we making the beach.” I tell Drew.

The sun goes back behind the clouds.

It starts getting cold.

——

I get up to go play flipcup with Shak. The rest of the group is milling around, resting, drinking. The boat girls are lost, as is Ryan. Haven’t seen that dude in like three miles. Attrition is high after Hayes, and if you’re lost it’s damn hard to get found again.

A tall, six four at least, meatheaded dude stands drunkenly next to our float on Shak’s side. We set up the cups, ignoring him. Suddenly everything goes batshit.

Shak’s shoving the huge guy, cussing him out. “FUCK YOU MAN. GET THE FUCK OFF. FUCK OFF.” He shouts and shoves the guy, who collapses on the pavement before standing back up.

Those of us that are friends with Shak often forget that, underneath his genial and kindly teddy-bear demeanor, he’s one big fucking muscle, capable of insane feats of strength and destruction if provoked.

“WHOA WHOA WHOA.” I remember shouting, leaping up on to the table to try and get them apart. Shak was literally enraged, and this guy was gonna get ripped the fuck in half. I looked into Shak’s eyes, and saw this idiot’s death. Holy shit. The guy was big, but even if he wasn’t blackout drunk he wouldn’t stand a chance against Shak.

Shak was going to kill this guy.

“WHAT the fuck man.” I grab Shak by his shoulders. As I do, I realize what was going on. The drunk fucker was pissing on our float, right under the table and on to the kegs. Probably on to Shak, too.

Suddenly our whole group has the guy surrounded. Too drunk to speak, let alone to fight back, he swings blindly a couple times. Lilley and Alcorn shove him back on to the grass, and I keep myself between him and Shak.

Everyone’s shouting. It’s a melee. A big guy tromps out of the crowd to support the falling drunk. He pumps his fists. “Let’s at least make it fair.”

Alcorn shouts “HE FUCKING PISSED ON OUR KEGS.” The chivalrous big guy, our enemy’s temporary ally, looks at his stumbling drunk compatriot.

“Fuck that shit, that ain’t cool. You’re on your own.” He wanders off into the crowd.

The drunk takes another swing, and Alcorn, almost a foot shorter, jumps up and slaps him across the face. Regina, running in out of nowhere, kicks him in the balls so hard he lifts an inch up into the air.

Still, he doesn’t even blink.

“Wow.” Shak says, “If he didn’t feel that he is fucking wasted.”

Yelling and shoving, we drive the guy away into the bushes. Cooler heads prevail, lucky for the fucking moron.

I grab Drew and a couple beers.

“Listen, we’re getting the hell out. This shit’s getting too crazy. Get ready to make a run for it.” I snag Shak, who is shaking, startled no doubt by the extremely rare and dangerous loss of his temper. “C’mon brother. Fuck that guy, it’s time to peace out before the police show up. They start teargassing the rear of the race at like 12:30. We’ve got to get to Haight before they bring out the riot cops.” He nods, drunk and dazed.

We help the others get the float moving again. I shake hands with those continuing on.

As we cross Oak, I take Drew by the arm, and point.

The drunk dude, his head cracked and bleeding, lies unconscious next to a dumpster.

“Looks like he pissed on somebody a little less forgiving.”

We run off through the corpses and piles of burning trash. We must escape.

First we stop for pizza, though.

——-

With traffic a snarled disaster across the city and the buses packed to the brim with the remnants of the race, we’re forced to head cross-country back to my apartment, almost five miles. Hopping fences and climbing fire escapes, we work our way north up Masonic and east on Geary, hoping to avoid the police sweeps.

Clambering across a roof of one of the USF buildings, we stop for a second. Shak wobbles, much drunker than I had previously realized.

Looking back towards the park, I can see the line of smoke above the trees, and hear the screams and cries of the racers. They sound like the damned. Sirens and gunfire sound in the distance.

I look at Drew.

“Hell of a party, huh?”

——-

Epilogue:

The bulk of the group made it to 30th and Fulton three hours later, where I picked up the float, battered and bruised but not too much worse for wear. I’m told Mahesh and Ganesh made out with at least six girls a piece somewhere near the deYoung.

Regina disappeared around 21st, cursing the whole affair and threatening to “move the fuck out of this stupid state.”

She hasn’t been seen since.

Ryan, the girl in the Eagles jersey, and Kevin from the dorms are also still MIA, and presumed dead, or perhaps captured by white slavers.

The float was left on Lilley’s lawn in the Presidio, like a big ass blue monument, or tomb. It stands there to this day, because it’s too fucking heavy to move.

Alcorn woke up behind a Barnes and Noble in Pacifica three days later, with EAST COAST RULES tattooed on his stomach. Ranjit denies all knowledge of this, although snickers like a guilty bastard every time it’s brought up.

I managed to get Drew on her flight back to Idaho by doing 95 across the bridge and running several red lights. I got Shak on to CalTrain, where he promptly passed out and missed his stop by a half hour.

On the ride home from the airport, the sun setting, two teenagers tossed a huge length of metal pipe and an old car bumper onto 880 from a pedestrian overpass. It missed me by about three feet.

I was too burned out to care, although upon reflection, that was pretty fucked up.

-T.

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/trevorgregg/BayToBreakers

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But you already know.

Posted in Blog with tags , , , on May 7, 2008 by trevorgregg

Music – Bill Withers – I Can’t Write Left-Handed

You know the bastards are getting to you when you dream about them.  I see them in my nightmares.  All the veiled threats, the acidic letters full of implied consequence.  Late night phone calls, even.  The fuckers hound me.  The bill collectors and the spies and the rest of the fucking ruthless weasel horde.  I feel them closing in.  I can hear them scraping at the door.

I try not to let them get to me.  Once they’re in your head, they’ve won.  But I dream about them nonetheless, and in my subconscious the subtle evils of day life take on monstrous, unholy proportions.  I curse and spit at them, distorted and mutain, in vain while I sleep.

Shak shakes me awake. I’m asleep on an unfamiliar floor.

“Time to go.”

The clock says 4:54 AM.

I think for a moment about all the shitbags that have manifested themselves in the last few weeks. I think about how they’re all out to get me.

I stand up.

“Time to go indeed.”

——

An hour later we’re doing 95 south, out of San Jose like a shot.  The sun’s coming up.  We’ve somehow crammed a half-ton of gear into Orlando’s Nissan, and every time we hit a bump thicker than the painted lines between lanes, I can hear the tires grate on the wheel wells.

I sit silently in the back, tucked in between the coolers and the firewood.

What the fuck am I doing here. It’s six AM on a Friday.  I’ve got real life problems to deal with here, man.  I don’t belong in this car, off to some epic weirdo freakout in the middle of god damn nowhere. Fucking Wildflower. Twenty-five thousand masochists and their varied retainers gathered at Lake San Antonio for one of the strangest, most nightmarishly unbelievable spectacles in modern sport. And me.

I hate god damn triathletes.

I pull my hat brim down over my eyes and try to sleep.

——-

Ten thousand are already there, camped.  They’ve been trickling in for weeks, practicing the course, looking for an edge.

We find a rare spot on an overlook and set up camp, about two miles out from the starting line and a mile and a half from Beach City.  Our bleary-eyed 5AM pack-a-thon has proved to be a poor idea.  All we have to survive on for the next three days are hotdogs, Nutri-Grain bars, and cherries.  That’s it.  That, and 400 cans of Coors Light.

The tents are up by 9 AM.  Shak’s off being personable and talking to our neighbors, Orlando’s working on his bike.

I sit at the picnic table and look around for a while. I stack some wood, then sit back down.  My phone says 9:10.

Fuck it, must be time to start drinking.

———

Somebody brought a K-mart special sun shade… gazebo… thing… that we decide to assemble.

Turns out the thing is the most complicated freestanding structure ever seen, and takes all three of us the better part of an hour to get it put together.  We swagger up to the little box all cocky with our big money educations and our engineering brains.  Ten minutes later Orlando is attacking one girder piece with a hatchet, I’ve got my graphing calculator out and am on the phone with a Korean friend trying to translate the blueprints, and Shak’s curled up fetal under the picnic table, moaning like an autistic.

We ended up using half a roll of heavy duty packaging tape and twenty yards of spare rope to get the fucker to stand up.

Stupid triathlon.

——

The camp is at capacity by 11 AM and only 1/3 of the athletes have arrived.  The overflow camps fill up quick, and by 3 PM Friday, every piece of flat ground for ten miles, designated spot or not, has a tent or a bicycle on it.

They run by in packs of two or three, reconnoitering the course.  They zoom by on their bikes, wrapped down over the handlebars like prisoners on the rack.

They stop and talk to each other endlessly about breathing techniques and toe cages and fucking carbo loading.

The guys next to us are doing the half Iron Man course.  A mile swim, sixty miles on a bike, and thirteen miles on foot.

Where the hell do these freaks come from?

———-

By Friday night the rest of Shak’s buddies have shown up.  More NASA people, a couple of their respective girlfriends whose names I don’t bother to remember… Millan is there, sort of.  He’s having some kind of marathon conversation with his girlfriend in Chicago, and he wanders around the campground endlessly looking for a stronger cell phone signal.

Several times I spot him climbing low oak branches, or standing on the roof of his Acura, phone held high, like some hairy Spanish statue of liberty.

We hang around playing guitar, those of us who aren’t racing drink beer.  I wander the campgrounds a while, and head over to the starting line.  The tension is a hideous, palpable thing.  Not the giddy, anticipatory feeling before a football or hockey game.  Not here.

I can smell an ugly doom on the wind.

Everyone is sizing everyone else up.  Everything is calculated, every sip of water, every nibble of Powerbar, every contemptuous glance at a competitor.

I stumble around the festival area with a beer in hand, not so much for its effects but as a symbol of separateness.  I’m not One of Them.  I walk through the booths in my flipflops, idly picking through all the fucking triathlon junk.  I watch for a friendly face in the crowd, but no luck.  The college kids are too young.  The athletes are too weird.

I take fifteen cans of peach/mango energy drink free samples and walk back to camp as the sun sets.

The music over at Beach City starts up around 10PM, and I can hear the distant echoes of their giant party well into the night.

—–

Saturday. Race day #1.

The athletes are all up and around by 5.  I can hear them bustling around, talking in strained voices.  I watch our neighbors out the window of my tent.  They’re eating ten-egg omelets and potatoes, drinking weird apothecary-style concoctions and popping all manner of unidentifiable capsules.

There are five or six of them, all early-thirties white guys from Coeur d’Alene and Irvine, prime triathlon demographic.  I watch them medicate, and stretch, and eat their huge, huge meals.  The things these fuckers do to their bodies…  Not the type of drug abuse I’m familiar with, to say the least.  Between the six of them they’ve got every kind of fucking unguent, powder, and illegal pill you can think of.  The tall one shaves his legs under a faucet and rubs prescription strength topical anaesthetic on his soon-to-be blistered feet.  Two of them lay out on the picnic table while a third injects minuscule amounts of cobra venom into their knees, so their legs won’t feel fatigue.  Their medicine cabinet would make Barry Bonds blush.

“YOU CRAZY FUCKERS.” I shout, flopping around in my sleeping bag aggressively, a big pissed off red grub.  They can’t hear me over their blaring techno.  Undoubtedly they read, in Nutjob Multisport Monthly or some shit, that annoying trance music played before sunrise can improve your biking performance.

“I HOPE YOU HAVE ANEURYSMS.”

I jam my head back down in my sleeping bag, hands over my ears.

——

By six, the athletes have cleared the campground.  All is quiet, except for Orlando’s cousin’s diesel-generatoresque snoring. I walk around a bit, and try to wake a few of the other NASA folks up.

“Race is starting, dudes. You guys wanna go see it?”
“Mufflemufflemoan.”
“DAVE. WAKE THE HELL UP. LET’S GO WATCH THE RACE.”
Snore.

I open up a C-, and drink it while I watch the sun come up.  I head down to the boat shuttle alone, hoping to catch a ride with some late athletes over to the starting area.

—–

Crossing the lake on the rusted, trundling boat shuttle, the event begins to take shape.  Last time I was here I was somewhat… preoccupied, and unable to fully appreciate the madness of Wildflower.

Words do no justice to the sheer gargantuan scope of this fucking weirdness.

Twenty five THOUSAND people run this course.  Thousands of people stretched across hundreds of miles of terrain.  They let them out into the swim course fifty at a time, every five minutes, punctuated with a gun shot.  Already I see a half-mile long strip of thrashing swimmers, hundreds and hundreds of them, stretching out across the lake, back towards the huge cattle chute thing they release them from.

The other passengers on the boat, a husband and wife relay team, ask me what race I’m running.

“Olympic course, tomorrow.” I lie, grinning.  “You guys want some beers?” I dig a couple out of my backpack.

They leer at me, wide-eyed and wary, like I’d just offered them severed heads.

The rest of the trip is quiet.

——–

Our boat crashes into the dock, the pilot cursing and howling.  The seven Cal Poly volunteers, in their little yellow volunteer tshirts, have failed to catch the boat properly.  Three of them are passed out, feet dangling in the water.  Four of them are obviously still drunk from the night before.

“Sorry bro!” One shouts, wobbling on drunken legs.
“You god damn kids!” The pilot shouts, waving his fist.  “My god damn eight year old son can catch this boat by himself.  Wake up and do your jobs!”
“Screw you, gramps.” One of the prone, passed out kids lifts his head long enough to say. Red faced and furious, the old man grabs a long wooden oar, with intent.

I leap off the back of the boat, on to the aluminum dock.   I can’t deal with this kind of craziness so early in the morning.  Watching some old lakerat beat a half-drunk nineteen year old to death with an oar, fuck that.  I take off up the hill.

Above the dock is the transition area.  Fifteen thousand bikes, racked up on endless iron bars.  Already the first waves, finished with their two mile swim, are sprinting up the ramp, peeling off their wetsuits on the run.

I pick my way through the crowds, up onto the hill.  I don’t know exactly what time Shak’s heat starts.  Nine-ish.  I watch for them, but the starting line is chaos.  Thousands and thousands of neoprene-clad people, identifiable only by the color of their heat-specific swim caps, mill around at the waters edge.

Five minutes.

BANG.

Another fifty are off into the water.

BANG.

The crowds roar.  Cowbells and shrieking spectators.

BANG.

Utter chaos.

——

I fight my way down to the fence near the exit ramp, sliding on my ass down a dusty cliff and almost bowling over a bunch of wild-eyed Christian Athlete Association supporters.

“HI THERE!” One says as I dust myself off.  “MY DAD’S IN THE NEXT HEAT!  WE’RE SO EXCITED.”
“I can see that.”
“PRAISE JESUS.  What heat are you watching?”
“Men’s Mountain Bike, under 29s.”
“PRAISE JESUS I HOPE YOUR GUYS WIN!”
“YEAH ME TOO.” I shout back at her.  “TEAM ‘GAYS FOR SATAN‘ HAS NEVER TAKEN FIRST PLACE, THIS WOULD BE A GREAT VICTORY!”

She stares at me for a long moment, gauging my seriousness. Then she begins to laugh maniacally.

“HAHA I LIKE YOU YOU’RE FUNNY. PRAISE JESUS.”

Fucking triathlons.

——

Millan comes out of the water first, at a dead run.  I pick him out of the steady stream of incoming athletes, somehow, and immediately begin shrieking my head off.

“RUN YOU BASTARD RUN! GOGOGO MILLAN AAAAAAUGHAHG.”

As a spectator, it’s important to give 110%.

Orlando and Shak aren’t far behind, and I roar at them as well.  They both come out gasping, but smiling.

“RUN YOU CRAZY FUCKERS.  RUN LIKE YOU MEAN IT. THERE’S BEER AT THE FINISH LINE. AAAAUGHGHHGGHG!”

I look over at the Christians next to me.

“IF YOU LOSE TO THE JESUS PEOPLE WE ARE NOT FRIENDS.”

Seconds later they’re lost in the teeming hordes at the bike racks.  I climb back up the cliff, grabbing handfuls of dirt and shrub roots. Good thing I wore my all terrain flipflops.

——

The bike portion of the race is the most time consuming.  I watch the bike chute for a while.  It’s total fucking insanity.  People kicking at each other, swerving, cutting each other off.  The fast people trying to avoid the slow people, and vice-versa.  Collisions are commonplace.

I watch a twelve-year-old whip past two professional level, spandex-clad bastards who get tangled on the first turn.  They’re cursing each other in Swedish or some shit while they pry their $15,000, carbon-fiber bikes apart.  The twelve year old flips them the bird and hauls ass off up the hill.

Up on the lawn I run into Drew, a guy I knew from school and capoeira.

“Motherfucker! How’s life, dude?” I ask him.

He’s got a volunteer shirt on, but doesn’t appear to actually be doing anything.  No surprise there.

“Good man, I graduated. Just coming back for this thing.”

We talk a bit, sitting out on the lawn with the college kids.  A bunch of the volunteers are waiting around the beer truck, frustrated.  Doesn’t open till 10 apparently. I try to avoid them.  A sober volunteer is a dangerous volunteer.

An hour later or so, we end up at the finish line waiting for Shak and Orlando to come in.  Millan’s been done for twenty minutes, speedy as hell.  I’m convinced he was just that anxious to get back on the phone with his girlfriend.

Finally, I see Shak come trucking down the last stretch.  Out of nowhere, I see one of the other NASA people vault the fence with a huge red funnel in hand.

“No way.” says Drew.  “They’re not…”

Staggering and gasping for air, Shak grabs the end of the funnel and BAM, sucks down two beers.  Drew throws up his arms in triumph.

“HE DID IT. HE BEERBONGED DURING THE RACE.”

Suddenly Drew and I are both shouting, high-fiving Shak as he jogs by over the finish line.

I look in his eyes for a moment and know that willpower alone is holding that beer down.

He comes out of the finish area, and suddenly we’re all cheering and jumping around.  We’re spraying Coors Light everywhere, and screaming like devils.  For a few moments, we’re much younger than our years.

“WOOOOOO FUCKER YES!”

That says it all, man.

Woo, fucker. Yes.

——

Saturday night and the shit really starts getting crazy.  The short coursers and the professionals are all done with the race.  There are fifteen thousand or so Olympic course runners left for tomorrow, and they all get to bed early, trying in vain to tune out the orgiastic, no-holds-barred partying of the competitors who have finished their races.

Beach City, the little tent ghetto they set up on the lake shore for the ‘volunteers’, achieves new heights of hedonistic revelry.  Naked Poly people sprint through our camp on their way back to the college area, bags of Franzia wine in hand.

I can hear the roar of their party from over the distant ridge as the sun goes down.

One of our neighbors, who I was later told once overdosed on PCP and single-handedly took on the entire UC Davis wrestling team in a brawl, is hanging out in our camp.  His father, a lean black man in his late forties, is there as well.  Seeing him the day before, the father that is, I didn’t realize he was a competitor.  Now, with his shirt off, he looks like some skinny African god, a statue carved out of onyx.

“Nobody that age should be that ripped.” I say to Orlando.

“I know. Ridiculous.”

“It’s not natural.  It’s godless, is what it is.”

I walk in on their conversation in time to hear the father say:

“You know, Lil Wayne is a genius.”

The camp goes silent, and I get wide-eyed. Orlando looks at me, and mouths ‘Did he just say that?’

I set my beer down and introduce myself to him.

“You know, sir, I have no idea what the fuck you guys were talking about or the context in which that remark was made, but I’d like to cheers you for it.  A more sublime truth I’ve never heard spoken.”

Lil Wayne is a genius.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Out alone in the middle of the damn wilderness with a bunch of the craziest bipeds on god’s green earth, and I’m sitting here listening to a fifty year old black dude tell me that Lil Wayne is a genius.

What can I say, you know?

Fucking triathletes, man.

——

Shak waits for some chick he knows to show up, and we all get progressively wilder.  Two days of hot dogs, energy gels, and shitty beer has made us crazy.  I had a half-pound of creatine and a chocolate powerbar for lunch, and no dinner, so it’s not long before I’m howling at the moon and threatening to set fire to our neighbor’s RV.  Drunk as much on their own triumph as on Orlando’s gallon jug of pre-mixed margaritas, the three racers dance around the fire like mad savages.

The other folks drink a bottle of wine one of our neighbors gave us as a sort of peace offering, huddling back in their captain’s chairs, terrified by these dangerous and wild freaks they’ve camped with.

“WE HAVE TO GET TO BEACH CITY BY MIDNIGHT OR WE’RE FUCKED.” I shout. Shak, who’s just finished wrestling the hatchet away from Orlando who was threating to ‘Chop off Millan’s god damn ear if he didn’t put the stupid phone down’, rushes up to me.

“QUIET you fool.” He hisses.  “We can’t drag all these people with us to Beach City.  These people are my co-workers.”

I grab him by the shoulders and stare at him a long moment.

“Shit brother, you’re right. Jesus. I didn’t even think about that.” We huddle down conspiratorially and discuss the plan.

“Millan won’t go, he’s on the phone.  Aaron and Chris are stuck here, their girls will NOT be down to hike two miles in the dark.”  Shak says. I nod.

“Don’t worry. Just follow my lead. Fuck these people, we’re going rogue.”  I get everyone up and we shotgun three beers a piece. That should slow them down considerably.  Next, I subtly slink off into the shadows, filling up Shak’s bag with a twentyfour pack of Keystone Ice.  I put on my black jacket, and start darkening my face with axel grease from the bikes.  Shak’s girl finally arrives, so he’s off talking to her.

“Hey.”
I jump up, startled.
“JESUS christ.  Oh hi, Dave.”

My face is black, and I’m holding a huge backpack full of beer.  We look at each other for a moment.

“What are you up to?” He asks.
“Just…you know.  Gonna go to the bathroom, real quick. You know.”
“Right.”  He glares at me.  “Wherever you’re going, I’m coming.”
Dave you clever motherfucker.  You sat there all quiet and balding, all the while making sure to stay sober enough to follow us to the real party.  Tricksy bastard.  I’ve underestimated you.
“Ok.  Well get your shit together, we leave in half an hour.”

Five minutes later I’m dragging Shak and his girl bodily out across the fields towards the ridge.
“Run! they’ll see us!” I hiss.
Three faces come bobbing up out of the darkness.  Dave, and some other fucker named Elvis, and Orlando.  Dave glares at me.
“Half an hour, huh?”
I shrug.
“Let’s get this fucking fiasco on the road.”
We move silently through the camps.  All the fires are out, the athletes resting up for the run the next day.
We head west into the night.

——

Thirty minutes later we’re lost as fuck. The maze of campgrounds and fire roads between us and BC, easily navigable by day, is an innavigable labyrinth of deadends and cliff faces at night, especially when impaired.

Amanda and Elvis give up and turn back.

“Fuck that.” Shak whispers.  “They were just slowing us down anyway.”

We stop at yet another fork in the road and drink a quick beer.  Dave wanders off into the bushes to piss. I grab Shak and Lando.

“GO. Fucking RUN, you scum.” WHAM, I’m off like a rocket.

Ten minutes later, collapsed spread eagle on the dirt road, Dave catches up to us, obviously pissed.  I see his scowling face outlined in the starry sky above me.

“Very funny, assholes.”

I wheeze, and wave my hand nonchalantly.

“Goddamn… Keystone’s too heavy… can’t run…”

“Get the fuck up and let’s go to this party.”

—–

The hike is brutal.  We stumble through endless brambles and weeds.  The road, when there is a road, is a dusty, ragged-ass path of gravel and rubble.  Orlando cuts his leg badly on a limestone abuttment we’re forced to climb.

He flashes his light down on his leg, showing the bleeding gash.

“Ouch, that sucks man.” Shak says.
“You OK?” Dave asks.

“THERE’S NOTHING MORE WE CAN DO we better just leave him behind.” I shout.  I hand Orlando a beer.  “MAY THIS KEYSTONE ICE EASE YOUR PASSING TO THE NEXT LIFE. Let’s head out bo…”
“Hold the fuck on Trevor, Jesus.” Orlando stands up. “I just needed to rest for a second.”
“Oh.”

We continue on.

——

We come around the final ridge.  In the distance I can see the lights of Beach City, squinting my inebriated eyeballs.  It’s a glorious sight. Maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s all within our grasp.  Youth.  Joy.  Revelry.  Salvation.

I let out a whoop and sprint off down the hill, the heavy load of cans rattling in my bag.

Suddenly they’re all around us.  Blinding lights, everywhere.  Pickets.  Narcs.

“YOU GUYS HAVE VOLUNTEER WRISTBANDS?!” I hear someone yell.

“Mine fell off.” says Shak.  I look around, Dave and Orlando are still up above the tree line, out of sight.
“Mine… also… fell off.” I say.
“You guys can’t come through here without volunteer wristbands.”
“NO.” I say.
“We’re athletes, just trying to get back to the festival area…”
The little pimplyfaced motherfucker looks at Shak disdainfully.
“Can’t come this way.”
“MOTHERFUCKER.” I shout.  I head straight for BC at a dead run, convinced I can outrun the weasel fuckers even with a bag full of beer.  I make it as far as the first bend when I run full tilt into the grill of a ranger jeep.

“HEY.” I hear the ranger shout.
“SCREW OFF, PINE SWINE.” I holler, and scramble off up the hill into the darkness.  I find Shak huddled behind a rotting oak stump.  The lights of the volunteers are scanning the tree line, and the ranger’s spotlight sweeps the edge of the lake.

“Fucking shit ausdufhsglsdgklj.” I hold my head in my hands, near to weeping.  “We were so close.”

“Yeah man that’s lame.” Shak says.  “The stupid redshirts, that’s the problem.  The volunteers in the red shirts are the douchebags, the supervisors.  They’re the fuckwads in charge of the other volunteers, the lowlife nerd bastards that tell you to go to bed when it’s only 3:30 AM.” I moan.  He continues.  “The only reason they’re involved in all this shit is so they feel like they have some kind of authority over the ‘cool’ kids.  Everyone worth a shit is off at BC making out with a 22 year old econ major, while these haters just wait around the edges hoping to ruin somebody’s night.”

Fucking despicable.  Unbelievable.

Below, I see Orlando and Dave make a break for it as the ranger pulls away.  The fascist redshirts, riled up and on full alert after our poor attempt, run them down quickly.  Words are exchanged.  I can see Dave, timid, quiet, 32 year old Dave, kicking dust at them and making a big fuss.

“FUCK YES DAVE YOU TELL THOSE BASTARDS.” I yell down the slope.

Shak and I climb up the ridge back to the fire road.  The moon has set, so it’s nearly pitch dark now.

“Well hell man, this sucks.” I say.  We drink another Keystone.  “Worst day of my life.”

Shak starts laughing.  I start laughing.  We’re overcome, crippled with the kind laughter you can only experience when you’ve hiked two miles, drunk off your ass, in the middle of the night in the fucking wilderness only to not make it to your party.

I wheeze, squeezing my stomach, trying to stop the convulsing laughter.

“Hahaha. Jesus.  Best worst day of my life, man.” I tell Shak.  He highfives me.
“Seriously. Best worst day ever.”
“Let’s go down to the lake and swim over.  The beer bag will float and we can carry our clothes over our heads.”
“We can use little bamboo snorkels. Like ninjas.”
“EXACTLY DUDE LET’S DO IT.”
“Nah man, I’m going back.”
Yeah.
“Yeah. I’ll catch you up in a bit.”
Shak heads off into the darkness, and I lay down.

A half mile below, I see the bright, beautiful tent city.  I can hear the jubilation of its denizens booming out across the black water.

Fuck it, we tried.

I lay back on dusty road, and pass out for a while.

——

Five AM Sunday morning.

Rage Against the Machine booms out across the campsite.  I hear our neighbors packing.  The roads close at seven, for the race, so people are hustling to get out before the gates lock.

Jesus christ my head hurts.

I put on my glasses and watch the silhouettes of bugs crawl across the nylon roof of my tent.

——

Three hours later, I’m slumped down in a chair reading (i) Ham on Rye (i).  The rest of the crew have headed off to watch the start of the Olympic run.  The sun’s up and it’s getting hot already.  Every so often a pack of runners flies by up the road.  There’s an aid station at the turn near our site, where volunteers hand out gatorade and water, and blast James Brown. I give them the courtesy clap.

——-

Shak and I end up at the festival area around 1pm.  Walking around we see scattered volunteers passed out in the bushes.  One girl, a smallish, obviously under-21 co-ed, is curled up around a case of Red Stripe between two Port-o-potties.  I see two dudes in neon pink shorts puking their guts out into a trash can, their volunteer shirts wrapped around their heads like turbans.

The race is winding down.  Most of the athletes have finished or are on their last leg.  The only remaining runners are the slow ones, the 50 year old Team in Training women.  They’re the ones I really don’t understand.

They lumber along, walking or jogging, exhausted.  The spectators are all gone, off to the camps and the beer trucks.  The aid stations are abandoned.

The brutality of the triathlon is visited upon these women ten fold.  They’re the ones who need the support the most, and get it the least.

I give them the thumbs up as they drag by.

Good for you, ladies. You’re all damn crazy, but good for you.

Shak and I walk around the lawns and the booths for a while. We see some more Poly people, and Drew steals us volunteer lunches.  It’s the first real food I’ve had in 36 hours.  I wash it down with two more energy drinks and a Coors.

I come around a corner and bust out laughing.  The lawn in front of the stage looks, literally, like a mass grave.  A thousand Cal Poly volunteers, broken and exhausted, hungover and heat-stricken, are passed out on the lawn.  Three days of non-stop partying and no sleep have laid waste to the poor bastards.  Three sunburned girls in bikinis share a towel, looking at a digital camera. I can hear them trying to reconstruct their night’s escapades from half-memories and blurry photos. A few red shirts pick their way among them, grabbing an unlucky few at random for trash duty.

“OH GOD.” I grab Shak’s shoulder.
“What?”
“Nostalgia attack! It’s a big one!”

Seeing all these pathetic, destroyed kids… man I remember when I was pathetic and destroyed.  I remember seeing Amos fall off a volunteer golfcart at twenty MPH without spilling his glass of white port and lemon juice. I remember Quint laying down on some girl he didn’t even know, then convincing her they had hooked up the night before.  I remember not remembering a damn thing.

Deep breath.

“Ok. It’s passed.”

We sit down on the grass and listen to two ‘senior athletes’, one 39, one 44, talk about their respective recoveries from hip surgery.  Years of remorseless self-discipline and four hours of training a day have left their bodies in shambles before middle age.

“You see this, man? This is why I limit my exercise.  They’ve wrecked themselves with this shit.  It’s as bad as heroine, and if you add up entrance fees and special food and god damn bike derailers it costs about the same.”

Another lady comes up on stage.  Her face is gaunt, her body drained of all excess moisture and fat.  She’s whip lean, and looks at least 36 though she’s only 25.  This shit takes its toll on men, but its even worse on women.

“Blech.  See that man? Poor girl needs a glass of red wine and a Netflix subscription, but all she can think about is her next race. TAKE A YEAR OFF SWEETHEART. Psychos, man.”

“They’re passionate about this stuff, man.  We can’t all be as removed as you.”

“That’s true.  I’m passionate about being dispassionate.”

We listened a while longer, and I gave away a few beers to the moaning, half-dead kids around us.

——-

“Jesus christ look at this one.”  Orlando points to the dashboard of his car.  I lean over the seat to see the big tri-horned green bug thing marching across the vinyl.  We’re stuck in traffic, dead stopped a mile from the park gates behind thousands of other people trying to get back out to the freeway.

“Holy shit look at this one. Fucker’s got little… crab claws… and shit…”

There are bugs all over the inside of the car.  Nobody knows where they came from.

“Wow, here’s a big blue bastard right here… this is some fucking Pan’s Labyrinth shit.  Hand me the hatchet. I’m gonna do battle with this one.”

Thousands upon thousands of triathletes, lined up along the backroads and campgrounds, all popping painkillers and strapping on icepacks.  Miles upon miles of Subarus and Priuses and Winnebagos, with bikes strapped to the back.  A river of freaks.

I’ll bet you can see it from space.

“I’ll never understand these people.” I say.  “I don’t think I even want to.”

“You should try it next year. Do a little training, get in shape, buy a bike…”

“Maybe I will.”

I look at Shak for a minute.

“Right.”

-T.