Monday, April 16, 2018

The Zulu Road-Runners. (A repost.)

No time to write today. I'm up in Boston, away from work, watching my eldest daughter run the Boston Marathon. As a tribute to her, a short post from long ago.

The Zulu Road Runners.

When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to spend my summers in a camp for boys in New Hampshire where we could play baseball virtually all day and swim when we were not playing ball.

These were long summer days, far away from the strife that was afflicting America: the Vietnam war, kids taking over college campuses, riots in the cities, drugs virtually everywhere and runaway crime. We spent the summer hearing instead of police sirens, the shooop! of ball into leather and the splash of brave divers in the lake. It was enforced innocence, these days. Where the world was far away. None of us kids knew how lucky we were.

That said, reality often encroached. One of my baseball coaches was a Mickey Mantle-esq figure named Nelson Chase. Chase received a phone call at camp--a rarity in these pre-cellular days. His best friend was killed in Southeast Asia. It was hard to see a coach you idolized crying like a baby. Another coach was Tom Nadeau, who had been a sergeant in Vietnam. Nadeau was like a Doonsebury character, wearing his fatigue shirt with the sleeves cut off to show his biceps over his baseball uniform. Nadeau chewed us teenagers out and exercised us like we were in his platoon. "What's it to you, Tom Nadeau?" he trained us to say. Another coach was a drug-addled pitcher named Andre who had a fastball to die for. He had returned from Vietnam and didn't last at camp long enough--his drug-addled-ness caught up with him--for me to learn his last name.

These encounters with the real world real-world-ized us. We became rebellious, long-haired, surly. In other words, teenagers. Getting away with murder became our reason for being.

There was a small town about four miles away from the camp. There was a grocery store, an ice cream stand and girls in the town, which made it a place we wanted to escape to. Except camp never took us there. We were a self-contained community with no reason to escape from the friendly confines.

Bobby Goldsmith a sinewy outfielder had the idea. "Let's run to town" he posed. "If they think we are doing it for exercise, they'll let us go." So about six of us formed a running club, "The Zulu Road Runners." We began running to and fro around the campus. Running in a pack everywhere we went. We magic markered our t-shirts to read Zulu Road Runners. At the time, we didn't understand that the name of our group might be regarded as offensive. It just seemed to us a tribute to a people with extraordinary distance-running skills.

Eventually, we went to camp authorities and said we needed longer distances to run. We somehow got permission to run to town and back. Which we did, about three times a week. Though sometimes we hitched back instead, the six of us piled in the back of a compliant pickup truck.

We'd get to town and buy a soda or some candy bars. We never met any girls. The main point however was that we beat the system.

We got out.

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