Choosing to run rather than drive the bus

In April of 2000 a relationship began. A runner fell in love with a city.

Back in the summer of 1989, after doing some hiking in the Green Mountains, my cousin and I took in a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park. It was my first look at the city, but only a five hour stop over. I could feel the “thunderbolt” coming, but I had not quite fallen in love (yet).

Having raced bicycles most of my youth, I transitioned to running in 1998 at the age of 39. Richmond was my second marathon and qualified me for Boston. I had intended and expected to better the time requirement. However, once I qualified I did not take this accomplishment for granted, and was thrilled about running Boston the following spring. And really excited when told of the reception I would receive at Wellesley College!

picking up # for 1st Corral
Picking up my number for first corral

My wife’s niece, Melissa, met me at Logan on Saturday. She commented I looked like a runner, that I “fit the mold.” It felt good to hear that for the first time, especially in Beantown.

The next day, I stopped by Fenway Park. I had soured on baseball after the 1994 strike cancelled the World Series. I met a scalper with a Boston accent who claimed the seat he was hawking was so close to the field I would be able to smell the “pine tah.” That day, hearing the roar of the Fenway faithful, made me forgive baseball. Thanks, Boston. [I did not purchase that scalper’s ticket, going to the JFK Library instead, but I made up for it by attending Sunday games before the marathon in 2002, 2005, and 2008.]

Scarfing down pasta in a restaurant in Somerville the night before the marathon, a customer pointed over to me and said “that guy is a runner, he’s carbo loading.” I overheard a nurse lamenting she would not be able to see the marathon because she had to work. All this while, I was reading about the next day’s marathon in the Boston Globe. I wished I could freeze that moment: I might run Boston again, but the first date would be unique, that I knew.

Patriots Day, April 17, 2000

Our bus loaded up at the Boston Common. The rather portly driver jokingly stood up as if he could not operate a school bus, and asked “Does anyone know how to drive a bus?” I replied “No, can you run a marathon?” He took his seat behind the wheel and off we went to Hopkinton. In route I listened to one of my new CDs. Every now and then when I hear this music, I realize one of the most powerful things about music: Music brings you back. In this case, it brings me back to one of the highlights of my life.

Hopkinton. High Noon. Let’s Go!

Red Sox Nation lines the course. What crowds.

Natick. Home of Doug “The Magic” Flutie

Did I kiss one of the Wellesley girls? Does a runner have two legs?

“Hahtbreak Hill” not such a heartbreaker (but then I am used to the hills, living in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains).

“GO EAGLES” brings a roar from the Boston College loyal.

A high five from a Boston Policeman on Mass Ave.

Runner # 6721 loves the Citgo sign.

Kenmore Square. I can almost smell the “pine tah.”

Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. The best part.

The Finish Line. “Wicked Pissah.” When can I do this again?

Fenway Bleacher Bum
Fenway Park bleacher bum

ESPN 2 aired the Boston Marathon in 2001. I watched and longed to go back. Past time to set up a “next date” with my now beloved city…

Sunday April 14, 2002: The Red Sox lose to the Yankees. That evening, my brother and I were walking down Newberry Street. We noticed a connoisseur ice cream store called “Emack & Bolio’s.” The name rang a bell with my brother Joe who asked me if I remembered our mom’s cousin Bob Rook. I did. He indeed was the owner. We went inside and got his number. I called him and, thanks to a personalized sign he made, we reunited the next day (although very briefly) along the race route. A brief history: Back in the 70s, Bob Rook, a self-styled “hippie lawyer,” started E&B as a place Boston musicians could go after their gigs to mellow out and satisfy their munchies. At the time, Boston Blue Laws Clubs closed at midnight. What a bummer! So Bob rented a basement in the Coolidge Corner section of Brookline, bought a commercial ice cream machine, and invited his rock star friends to hang out after their gigs, eating homemade ice cream with outrageous flavors (creatively inspired by the lawyers and the rock ‘n rollers) and playing acoustic music ’til the wee hours of the morning. The rock ‘n rollers loved the ice cream and the vibe. The basement ice cream hangout needed a name. Two homeless gentlemen for whom the hippie lawyers did pro bono work asked that the ice cream shop be named after them. The name had good karma: Emack & Bolio’s. An ice cream legend was born! [Music groups Bob has worked closely with over the years include Aerosmith, Boston, The Cars, U2, James Brown and Al Green.]

Monday, April 15, 2002

A tough day for me but I finish.

I see my mom’s cousin in Brookline; after about 40 years.

The Red Sox beat the Yankees.

When can I do this again?

Kenmore Square
Kenmore Square – Becoming a fan favorite of Red Sox Nation

In 2005 I got it right. I wore a Boston Red Sox T-shirt with the sleeves cut off.

Fenway Park
Fenway and the Citgo sign

Got “The Nation” behind me, not to mention plenty of scoring updates on the day’s game from along the marathon route. I wore the “T” again in 2008. I’ll wear it the next time.

In 2013 the heartbreak was not in Newton at the 21 mile mark but rather a few yards from the finish. It is a struggle to comprehend someone terrorizing this race. My heart goes out to all participants and those who suffered and continue to overcome hurdles. It is difficult for me to reconcile the feelings of joy I had in 2000 (and other years) with bombs and blood on Boylston.
Billy the night before Boston
I feel connected to Boston. The relationship I feel is strong. “Boston Strong,” if the chowderheads allow me the liberty. I owe it to them to return and run again.

Thanks, Boston.

Billy Pearlman
Roanoke, Virginia
April 17, 2000
Age – 41
Bib #6721