William H. Rumsey, I'm ashamed of you.
Here you are the director of the District of Columbia Department of Recreation and one of the few native Washingtonians who made it to the top of local government in this half-free city.And as soon as the District begins contemplating its own marathon, what do you do?
You propose a "nation's capital" run focused on national historical monuments that the tourists come to see -- "the Capitol, the Monument, the Smithsonian," you say.
Thanks a helluva lot, Bill. That's what we really need now that everyone's talking about statehood, full voting representation and home-town pride: a colonial marathon for America's last colony! Every runner could have a tricornered hat instead of a T-shirt.
William H. Rumsey, shame on you.
Maybe I'm biased about this. I should say that from the start.
I've lived in Southeast Washington for four years. I pay my property taxes and my water bills here, give to the United Way and United Black Fund, and I still buy most of my gasoline in the city -- in spite of the mayor's 6 percent tax.
And I've run my marathon -- 3 hours, 33 minutes and 22 seconds for 978th place in the Maryland Marathon last year, for the record. I've run nearly 2,000 miles in the past two years -- that's almost 2 million strides, and 70 percent of the time my training flats have slapped down on the streets, sidewalks, parkways and dirt trails of the District of Columbia.
I'm not an ideological purist, Bill. I like the wood plank bridges and rustic river view on the Mount Vernon bike trail; the Sunday morning solitude of Suitland Parkway near Silver Hill; the country/city/country landscape of a 15-mile jaunt down the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Penn-Mar Shopping Center in Forestville to the Capitol and back. f
My runner's diaries won't let me tell a lie. The mountain trails of Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley captivated me. I did Central Park four mornings in a row with such a runner's high that I was oblivious to what the horses left behind. I jogged along the banks of the Mississippi River at sunrise when I should have been spying on mayor-to-be Marion Barry's breakfast partners at the Democratic Mid-term Convention in 1978, breathed new life in 100 miles of salt water air at Martha's Vineyard and, with my wife and son, ran the banks of the Charles River where Bill Rodgers trains in Boston.
If that means I've been a backslider and haven't kept the faith, Bill, all right. I'll give back to Barbara Lett-Simmons the "Free D.C." button she pinned on my lapel at the Democratic National Convention.
But I'm not gonna run in any colonial marathon you organize in this town.
No way. Take me through the neighborhoods that the pope didn't see. Run me past the landmarks that the transients at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue never visit. That's the real Washington, isn't it, Bill? Why run the District of Columbia marathon in the federal enclave?
I ran the last half of the Marine Corps marathon last year. It goes past all the monuments, and it's a monumental bore. The course is flat and too remote to attract cheering crowds. You can hit the wall from boredom just as easily as from fatigue. Leave that notion to the leathernecks, the tourists and all the commuters who don't want a non-resident income tax here.
Take a lesson from the New York Marathon, which winds through all five boroughs of that city. Children hand out orange slices on Harlem streets while Gladys Knight holds forth from the speakers in the record stores. Hasidic rabbis stop to gaze in Greenpoint. You get to see the South Bronx without Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or Patricia Roberts Harris, and only a little time is spent on the sidewalks of the Manhattan that the tourists come to see. t
Take me through all four quadrants in this city of neighborhoods, Bill. Let me run past the red and blue and yellow and green renovated townhouses on Capitol Hill, the brownstones of Michigan Park, the bungalows in Brookland and the estates on Reservoir Road.
You want a Heartbreak Hill? There's loads of them in Anacostia, including one where Frederick Douglass made his home. The one on Montana Avenue in Northeast is a killer. Or send me up the slow incline on Suitland Road that runs in front of the mayor's house. I'll wave to Effi and little Marion Christopher on the porch, and if I pull a muscle, maybe the mayor will let bygones be bygones and give me a ride to the finish.
Take me down 16th Street, Bill, so I can read the signs on dozens of churches in half a dozen languages instead of the numbers on the back of the runner in front of me I'll never catch. Run me along Florida Avenue and U Street; there's a lot of history there.
Route me across the campuses of Howard, American, Georgetown and Gallaudet. Let me hear the choirs and the Sunday morning preaching as I glide past the churches of Shaw. I want to throw my crumpled Gatorade cup in the driveway as I run past Bob Woodward's Georgetown home.
Let me rest on the wooded slopes of Fort Dupont Park, and cheer as a mob of 5,000 runners breaks up the drug traffic on 14th Street, if only for a while. I can see the monuments in Maryland, Virginia and Washington if you whip me through the parking lot outside the Panorama Room on Morris Road SE.
They'll be hanging from the rafters when I coast by townhouses and condos in Southwest. I know I'll get a second wind if I pace myself to the crackle and thunder of conga drums on Columbia Road, and the crowd will cheer me on in Spanish.
Remind me of what hasn't happened yet on H Street NE, Bill. I've run that before -- and a couple of street folks yelled, "Right on." Then let me end sprinting down Pennsylvania Avenue to a finish at city hall, or maybe down Benning Road to RFK Stadium -- it's closer to D.C. General, and I may need a little help.
No, that's not a course, just a reminder that the grass is greenest right here. And pardon me, Bill, for waving my red-and-white flag, but I live in this town by choice.
Don't give me a colonial marathon, Bill; make it a hometown run. You and the mayor can meet me at the 26-mile marker and we'll run the last 385 yards together.