Sunday, November 05, 2006

Your goodwill ambassadors to the world

One of the nice things about the New York Marathon is watching people show off their home countries. You feel like New York is the center of the world after all, not merely an unholy nexus of trust fund babies and self-loathing young professionals.

Nice people in a physical condition superior to my own go running. They wear shirts with their names scribbled on. For those who come from abroad, many choose to wear a shirt that highlights their nation of origin. They look something like this:

Italian Viking, as depicted in Newington's photostream.

Flop and I planted ourselves on the course. We went to Central Park, near the end of the marathon, to watch for our friend Danielle. She was running, and we found a perfect view. Thousands of nice people line the perimeter of the race to cheer friends and strangers. When a man in a Bob shirt runs past, you cheer for Bob. When a lady named Nancy runs past, you whoop and holler, "Go Nancy!" This is what the fans look like:

Marathon fans, as depicted in tommy.lan's photostream.

Flop and I developed a hierarchy of encouragement. At the top of the list was people wearing the T-shirts of Big 10 colleges. When a Michigan shirt appeared in the crowd, a runner heard the standard Go Blues and Go Michigans, shouted with the kind of enthusiasm that I usually save when for Michigan Stadium when the defense is about to pummel some poor bastard on third-and-long.

We saw Wisconsin runners, a couple with Iowa shirts, and Minnesota. They were greeted with love.

"What do we do about Ohio State?" Flop asked.

"I think on a day like today, we root for Ohio State runners regardless," I said.

It wouldn't be that simple. "Hey Buckeyes! Go Buckeyes! Have fun in Pasadena!" I shouted. "You're going to be 11 and 1 after November 18!"

The first couple of Buckeye runners ignored us. The Michigan alumni in New York are manifest. They are ubiquitous. The Buckeye runners had probably encountered enthusiasts less gentlemanly than us.

On the third and final Buckeye, I got creative. "Go Buckeye! You're almost done. LaMarr Woodley called and he sends his regards!"

This got the reaction I wanted: a smile and a wave.

We rooted for a MAC school -- "Hey Bowling Green! Go Bowling Green!" -- which was met with surprise and appreciation. Flop asked whether we should cheer basketball schools too. "No fucking way," I said. The Duke alumni received no encouragement.

When cheering in English, I found Flop to be a somewhat difficult fan. He adopted the intonation of an angry gym coach bullying the fat kid to cross the finish line. "Let's go, Barbara. Let's go!"

"Dude, don't yell at Barbara like that," I said. "She needs encouraging."

"What, that didn't sound encouraging?"

"No, you sound like you're chastising her for showing insufficient go. Barbara doesn't need to be yelled at by the likes of you for not having enough go."

But in foreign languages, Flop was a one-man United Nations.

Who knew that Flop was a man of the world? A dude who can't comb his hair to save his life is somehow able to inspire foreigners in their native tongues, no matter what the dialect. He apparently knows every flag and every language, from Albanian to Uzbek.

Flop went wild for Frenchmen and the Swiss. He greeted Hungarians in Hungarian. When dudes came by with Mexican logos, he spoke fluent Spanish and pronounced Mexico as Meh-hee-ko.

Japanese runners were inspired in fluent Japanese and gesticulation that appeared to be an invitation to Sumo Wrestle. He shouted in Hindi and held an impromptu Diwali celebration. When a troupe of Peruvians ran past, he terraced a hill in Central Park for agricultural purposes -- it was a gesture to pay his respect to the Incas. He celebrated in Korean and whipped up a batch of Kimchi. When Canadians ran past, he sang O, Canada! in both French and English, with apparent mastery. He presented Australians with bloomin' onions. He waxed Brazilians, who thanked him in Portugese.

When he broke out the Hungarian, elderly ladies next to us turned around and stared in awe. "That's the only Hungarian I know," he said, then chanted, "Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi oi oi!"

Unable to compete with that kind of enthusiasm, I became discouraged. I yelled things like, "Hey, Danielle, where are you?" She's a marathon veteran, but I worried that something happened -- that maybe she ran out of steam or even was injured. Flop and I stood for more than an hour and long past the time she was scheduled to hit this spot in the race.

We got news that Danielle had already finished. She ran right past, but we missed her.

"If we saw her, I wanted to yell, 'Janice Rossi is a whore!'" I said. "That's her favorite line from Goodfellas. She would've heard that for sure."


jaime said...

I, too, missed my marathon person. But yelling at / cheering on the runners is very much fun. I have a fire escape on 1st avenue, and it's the one day of the year my apartment feels like prime real estate.

theverbald said...

you could have pointed out to the ohio state runners that they had already been beaten by the michigan runners, and that said performance would match the end of the football season. But they should keep going because quitter's never win.

Or you could ask them if Maurice Clarrett taught them to run, and does that mean there were officers behind them?

Bunny said...

Great piece -- THIS is why we love New York!

Crunk Raconteur said...

I dunno about all this (note: "terraced a hill in Central Park for agricultural purposes"!!! outstanding!)...

After all, Flop is the guy who was shocked that there weren't any kangaroos in Austria...

CrimeNotes said...

Jaime and Bunny -- I've never appreciated the marathon so much until this year. It's only the second time I've gone out to watch. When I used to live close to the route, I stupidly was annoyed by the inconvenience. It's a great event.

Crunk -- this is why Flop's multilingual finesse was so shocking. It's like he's a reverse Borat -- confused domestically but at home with the world.

Verbald -- Good tips for next year. "Hey Buckeyes, there are Michigan runners ahead of you!" is a pretty good cheer. Or maybe, "Where's your sweatervest, dude?"