Readers, I would like to tell the tale of how I ran the New York City Marathon. I would like to do this without boasting, and shirk the baleful demon of exaggeration, but demons track me even into the darkest labyrinths. I may be the only person in history to have run the Marathon against his will.
First, my infinite wisdom. I was on a flight from Fort Lauderdale, arriving at LaGuardia at 3:30 pm. Then, I had scheduled a rehearsal to begin at 5 pm at Klavierhaus, located at 58th and 7th. Perhaps, in retrospect, this seems the naïve sin of an optimist, like one of Quixote’s unforgivable fantasies; and yet, and yet … I had hope in my heart, and tunes of timeliness running through my head. When, in fact, my flight touched down 10 minutes early, I extracted my carryon from the overhead bin with a little fillip of joy and the schadenfreude of undeserved fortune.
With the knowing evil of a regular traveler, I skipped around a large taxi queue and found another “secret taxi stand” just moments away with no line at all. So long, suckers. My driver groaned under the weight of my Samsonite TravelPro but we were off, westward ho!
As we drove past the Jackson Hole Diner, I began to hear ominous Arabic chatter from the front seat. The numbers 66, 85, 97, 106, 116 (curiously, in English) figured prominently in these intercepted transmissions and seemed eerily to coincide with possible exits from FDR drive. A certain hopelessness colored these Bluetoothed snippets and I sensed something and then on the rickety gray arch of the Triboro the truth emerged, as if from the bent exhaust pipe of fate. Marathon. Aside from driving, perhaps, to Vermont or Ottawa or Altoona and then U-turning at some Cracker Barrel on a distant interstate, there seemed to be very little chance of actually transporting ourselves from where we were to my apartment on the Upper West Side. I prayed for quantum anomalies.
Indeed, though we had departed LaGuardia at 3:32, at 4:30 we were still pretty heavily mired in FDR brakelights. Melismatic sighs wafted from the front seat. Kafkesque signs read “NO CROSSTOWN WEST OF 1ST AVENUE” and there seemed no chance of exiting the FDR ever, ever, and I imagined myself at the tip of Manhattan having no recourse but to drive into the harbor like Thelma and Louise and composing my hurried, lyrical epitaph on my laptop which I would toss out the window just before we drove off the Battery seawall, hoping that someone at the Genius Bar would find it and understand.
This dramatic suicide proved unnecessary: we were able to exit at 97th street. For a time, progress was made. But then the transverse at 97th was suddenly closed, and a loop-de-loop took us some aggravating time while I glowered at healthy joggers, saying “yes, run, run, you *&(&*()#$” which amused my driver considerably. A second crossing was attempted and completed at 85th Street (4:43), though it was pretty unbelievably slow which made me even more charming a passenger than I had hitherto been.
My apartment: 4:51. I bid fond adieu to my driver, with whom I had spent more time than most of my friends lately, I ran in, punched elevator buttons as if to destroy them, dropped my bag in the midst of the living room with an emphatic thump, put on a nice wool sweater and a heavy corduroy blazer and reversed course out the door feeling like a mild success. The subway would take me and I would not be too late. Indeed, the subway came right on time, which was, in retrospect, a cruel, false joy. Then, at 79th Street, while immersed in my book, I began to notice the conductor was announcing something. Something horrible. I despise weekend service changes to the depths of my soul. This one was nigh unbearable: this train was going to skip directly from 72 to 42 and there was absolutely nothing to be done.
Heartless obstacle! A great conundrum assailed. Get off at 72nd and walk to 58th or stay on and brave the transfer? You New Yorkers, you know what I am talking about, what pain these decisions can involve, what uncertainty lurks in the mathematics of minutes while you tremble above the abyss of MTA hell. 5 minutes went by in the station while I wrestled with this. Meanwhile, marathoners came onto the train in droves and lorded their accomplishments around and I have to admit I was somewhat pleased when a girl tried to get a seat for her boyfriend by saying “he just ran the Marathon,” and the person sitting there replied “I don’t give a *&() what he did.”
But why, you might ask, were we waiting in the station?
“We are stopped here because of a medical emergency on board. Please be patient.”
With that, I snapped. 5:08. I felt it was no longer tenable to remain on the subway with medical emergencies and transfers and God Knows what else. I headed up to the street, where a frantic twilit mob sought cabs. Hands outstretched, anxious faces, Zabar’s shopping bags and foil marathon capes every which way. You have to run, I told myself, it’s all up to you now, no one will help you, you’re screwed. No man is an island, my foot.
And so if you were passing along Broadway between 79th and 58th yesterday you may have seen a maniacal man with a messenger bag sprinting along, heedless and perturbed. I ran for my life. I passed Barney’s at 76th and thought NO TIME FOR BARNEY’S and I passed Grom and I thought NO TIME FOR GELATO and all of these places seemed like heavenly pastures past which I must run furiously, not knowing why.
Miraculously I saw a cab at 73rd, and threw my hand out: it pulled over! Can you imagine my relief? My heart sang for joy. But, I was just getting into it when a pregnant woman holding a baby came up to me. She clutched her child and her face was Pieta and some dim moral fiber stirred in the back of my pancreas and told me that it was not right to take a cab from a pregnant woman carrying a baby. It’s true that proximity to a baby in the plane had slightly lessened my love for babies (which is not in any case infinite) but when she moaned “Can I please take it?” I melted and left the yellow vehicle to her …
And on I ran, ran, ran. My wool sweater and corduroy coat and black leather boots seemed like excellent wardrobe choices now, let me tell you, and as my T-shirt began to drip with sweat which I could feel cold and clammy dripping down my back at the traffic lights near Lincoln Center, I asked the Lord what I had done wrong, besides all the obvious things, which we really didn’t need to discuss. As I neared Columbus Circle, the crowd thickened, it was truly ridiculous, milling and grazing out-of-towners, and my previous moral qualms lessened. I wouldn’t say I exactly pushed a child out of my way, but I did lift her urgently to a more convenient location. I walked/ran viciously and with no pity. I murmured unpleasantries. 5:22 at Columbus Circle, a policeman blocked my path. “Medical emergency,” he said. I saw people 15 feet away walking towards my destination … I begged, I threw out a puppydog glance, “man I’m so late, I just have to get there,” and he said “no exceptions” and I gestured as if to cross anyway and he said very firmly “you take another step I’ll take you in,” and I thought that though I loved the Trout Quintet I really didn’t want to get arrested for it. This last obstacle seemed truly unspeakable, comical, outrageous, like certain drag queens in Miami. My mood hit rock bottom and I took the Lord’s name in vain and around I went, zigzagging towards the Time Warner building and ignoring police telling me to walk on the sidewalks and saying “what the hell are you doing?” and finally, breathless, arrived to see my colleagues all lined up, smiling that unhappy waiting smile.
But I had done it. I ran 26 blocks (several diversions towards the end) in 22 minutes with Macbook Pro on my shoulder and tales of ETA Hoffman etc. etc… I know this is not particularly speedy but isn’t the point that I finished? A block is arguably somewhat less than a mile, but the 26 is indisputable. I took a deep breath, tried to play the first arpeggio of the Trout, and missed all the notes but one. Which of my mishaps had been the hidden true note, how I wish I knew.