We caught the six-o-five to Philly. For
the entire ride, the conductor groused about the way the train had
three extra cars for him to tend by himself and that next weekend,
thanks to Race for the Cure, it would be the same story.
Mainly, he was ignored: Despite the
hour, everyone was in a festive mood.
We were headed to the Broad Street Run,
a ten mile race with an expected forty thousand runners and countless
I hate the city.
I hate crowds.
I hate noise.
I hate traffic and sirens and the white
pavement that seems to cover everything.
Most of all I hate having to worry
about my children getting hurt.
"Do you think I should withdraw,
Mom?" My eldest asked just after the Boston bombings.
I wanted to tell her yes; wanted to say
that she should just stay at home, safe beneath the covers. Instead I
told her this: When we give into our fears, those trying to scare us
And so we went, scared, yes, but
It was cool day, but sunny. Puffy white
clouds lazily watched the city wake. While we waited for the race to
begin, my other children and I wandered through Chinatown, looking at
duck feet and pig snouts, mung beans and noodles. There was chicken
there, too, whole chickens plucked and pink, resting on yellow
polystyrene and wrapped up in a layer of plastic. And black chicken,
too, which we puzzled over before asking an employee who spoke no
We entered another store. Near the
back, a worker in a blue apron counted out live crabs, transferring
them from one tall basket to another with long silver tongs. Thick
slabs of fish, still wearing pink scales and immense tails stared at
the ceiling. A man ran a hose over a duck, eye sockets empty, neck
curled around its featherless body, legs extended as if in flight.
Frogs as big as my hand, blue-green and beady-eyed awaited their doom
in a ten-gallon tank. The floor was wet with melting ice and fish
scales and runoff from the duck. Behind the display glass were cod
and tilapia, clams and scallops and shrimp.
I wanted to stay here forever, watching
the employees at work, watching the customers come in to buy a pound
of salmon or a bag of mussels gathered up in a yellow mesh bag. But the race had already started.
We positioned ourselves with hundreds
of other spectators near City Hall, the halfway point of the race
where Broad curves to the right. The first runners--the best
runners--were already streaming past, snapping photos, asking us to
cheer even louder than we were.
To my right, the line of approaching
runners filled Broad as far as I could see.
We saw runners--males and females--in
tutus. Runners in Superman shirts. Runners wearing red socks in
support of Boston. There were old runners, young runners, runners of
all shapes and sizes and colors. From the sidewalk, spectators held
signs and extended their hands for high-fives, strangers touching
strangers in gestures of goodwill.
We saw runners from the six-o-five
train; runners carrying American flags on three-foot poles; runners
wearing rabbit hats in honor of Orthodox Easter. And we saw, too,
runners wearing sombreros and painted-on mustaches for Cinco de Mayo.
Music blasted across speakers: Sweet
Caroline; Gimmie Three Steps; a song by Ted Nugent.
We saw my daughter and cheered. She
looked great and I was glad, so glad, that she'd decided not
to pull from the race. She waved and then she was past.
We didn't want the camaraderie to end.
We decided to walk with the racers, to see what they saw as they ran
A runner ran off course and into a
store, running out again a few moments later to rejoin the race
with a bottle of water and a bag of food. A homeless man sang along
to the oldies a band was playing, one hand over his heart, eyes
closed. Another man pumped a frilly red umbrella in the air.
Volunteers held out water and Gatorade which the runners drank
quickly before smashing the cups beneath their feet.
As we reached mile seven, the runners
thinned. Only stragglers remained. A little girl in a white dress
held out a plate of oranges to a woman, obviously exhausted. A man
played a plastic horn, his dog at his feet. Cheerleaders jumped and
twirled while children played tag in the middle of the street.
Six people grasped hands and formed a
bridge under which these last runners could pass. And each one did.
Patients stood outside the hospital,
cheering on the runners. Singers gathered on the steps of the Baptist
church, singing gospel music and swaying slightly.
People yelled encouragements: "Almost
there" and "You can do it" and I loved the fact that
these last runners were celebrated just as much as the ones who had
already finished and were heading back towards us, medals around
At that moment, I loved the city.
I loved the crowds and the noise.
I loved forty thousand runners and
hundreds of spectators.
I loved the police and the firemen and
the volunteers handing out drinks.
I loved the boys drinking margaritas
from green Silo cups.
I loved the girl hitching a ride back
to the starting line in a delivery bike.
I loved Chinatown and City Hall.
But most of all, I loved the fact that
that day, Philadelphia was truly a city of love--love and support in
a city of strangers.
Kelly Garriott Waite on Google+
Labels: Creative non-fiction, essay