Guess what, District of Columbia, staid old home of the nation's heritage? Yesterday morning you slept right through a little history of your own. Yesterday, they gave the very first D.C. Marathon, and except for the participants themselves, most of you stayed home.
The 716 marathon men and women from all walks (run?) of life and all parts of the country began their 26.2-mile trek through the nation's capital at the Mall, and continued to the fringes of Georgetown -- 22nd and P streets, NW -- where a crowd of 12 lined the streets one-deep.
Officer David Gravel of the harbor patrol, who had been dispatched to 22nd and O streets to stop traffic -- perhaps a lone car cruising to an early Palm Sunday service -- speculated that 8:16 a.m. was perchance "too early to get up and watch a bunch of people run through the street."
He may have been right.
Svea Paabo and Jim Laskey arrived 10 minutes ahead of the first runner, but still got there in plenty of time to cheer on their friend and colleague Dan Conway. The twosome dutifully applauded most of the runners who passed, carefully taking note of all the "firsts" -- first runner, first woman, first of any discernable minority group. The lack of spectators puzzled them.
"This reminds me of the sound of one hand clapping," Laskey said of the lackluster cheering squad. "I mean, where is everybody? In New York, they line the streets at dawn, but this town, I just don't know. . ."
He was soon joined by a man in a tuxedo who had stumbled out of a nearby townhouse, clutching a bottle of Heineken tucked inside a paper bag, to "inquire of the police officer here as to what the hell is going on." Informed that he was watching the city's first marathon, he decided to stay a little longer. Pointing to the canvas purse slung across his shoulder, he offered a beer to the reporter standing next to him, but his hospitality did not include giving his name.
"I may be a little drunk, kid, but I'm not stupid."
And so they went, along a course designed to show them the District's diversity of life-styles and inhabitants, its monuments to great minds and great hardship. Up Wisconsin Avenue, and around Vice President Bush's home at Observatory Circle they ran, wending their way through Cleveland Park and into Adams-Morgan, Washington's answer to Greenwich Village. But even there things were remarkably ordinary.
Amy Stone of New York City cheered everyone from her vantage point at 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW. She said that watching a marathon was "one of the most thrilling things to do in New York on a Sunday."
"No wonder it's so cheap to fly up there," then," said someone who overheard her comment. Undaunted, she kept right on yelling, paying particular attention to the women entrants. They seemed to appreciate her support.
"You could do it, too," one runner called as she turned onto Columbia Road.
"I bet you they'll lose a pound or two today," an elderly camera-toting man said. "Say, are there very many girls running in this thing?"
By the time the runners reached the Brookland/Catholic University area, their course was half run. Past the garden apartments and detached middle-income homes on Brentwood Road, they ran, some taking time to wave to little children whose noses poked through the fencing around the Brentwood Village housing development. Across the street, people gathered on their front porches, applauding and offering water, wet towels and oranges.
A threesome of middle-aged women bearing a good luck banner for runners Kip Smith and Joe Samuels often stepped into the street to run briefly with particularly bedraggled-looking marathoners, begging them not to give up. Nearby, Steve Johnson of Takoma Park clutched a handful of orange sections as he waited for Tracy Hodge to pass by. "The way you'll know him," Johnson said, "is by his hat. He's got this Marine Corps Marathon hat that he refuses to wash. Says it brings him luck."
Down Benning Road toward Southeast Washington, the marathon pack began to thin. A police officer threatened to arrest a cabbie following closely on the heels of a man who looked about ready to drop.
"I was going to give him a free ride."
"Get that damned cab out of here, or I'll see you get a free ride," the officer said.
As the runners crossed the Anacostia River and headed toward Southeast, the streets were quiet. On the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, near U Street, Mary Esther Sinclair was taking three barbecued chickens to a neighbor's house. She said she had prepared the chickens for the joggers, and was disappointed when her husband told her "that they were serious about this running and couldn't waste time eating. I thought they wanted to see the city."
So she and some friends were going to drive up to the Capitol and eat the chicken there.
Those runners who made it to Anacostia were waved on by a few church-goers and several groups of teen-agers.
"If we ran down Martin Luther King like that, some cop would swear we'd just stolen something," one teen-aged boy joked to another.
"Man," his friend replied, "if you was the one running, it probably would be true."
On to trendy Capitol Hill, where kamikaze joggers routinely defy the laws of traffic and nature, running at all hours of the day and night unfazed by speeding cars and cursing motorists. You'd expect a cheering throng?
You'd expect wrong. Two or three here, a handful there.
Apathy turned out to be one of the things the District's patchwork quilt of neighborhoods had in common. Many Washingtonians were still sleeping in Northwest Washington's fashionable condos and town houses, sleeping in Northeast, sleeping near corners that brave people would think twice about visiting later in the day.
The signs of life and vitality were most noticeable at the finish line on the Mall near the Smithsonian as the victor neared.
Shouts of "Here he comes," turned into rousing cheers as Will Albers of Fairfax crossed the finish line, and the groggy crowd on the sidelines suddenly snapped awake.
"Daddy didn't win," a teary-eyed 7-year-old Gabrielle Ribaud said to her mother, Therese, as hordes of unfamiliar men swept by the tiny little girl with two red braids and a "go daddy" banner.
"Honey," her mother calmly explained, "this is a different kind of contest. Everyone who finishes wins."