Seeing the school buses begin their seasonal journeys again brings memories of my school days of long, long, long ago (I should have stopped with one long, you get the picture), when this time of year brought excitement and joy to the hearts of – our parents. Oh, some things never change.
It was my sophomore year at Whiteoak High School, and while seeking ways to impress the girls, some demonized thought came over me to join the track team. I had played some basketball, but not very well, the basket weaving class was full, and with very limited knowledge — OK, no knowledge of what would be required of me, I said OK when I was told there was room for one more on the track team.
I went out and bought a gym bag, tennis shoes the track coach recommended (after all, comfort is important to me), and I was ready to track, or for track, or, whatever it was I was going to be “asked” to do.
Some special arrangements had to be made since I wasn’t old enough for a driver’s license, and my mother didn’t drive, so I had to line up a ride home, since practice was after school hours. I had arranged to catch a ride with one of the other track members who had a license and a car. All set.
I’ll never forget the anticipation that first day of practice. It was all I could do to concentrate on academics that day (made myself laugh on that one, sorry), knowing that whatever fun things we would be doing in track practice would surely be the beginning to girls, girls, girls. I could see them following me around the halls of the school every day with little hearts circling their heads and feeling so fortunate just to be permitted to walk close to me. It was going to be so cool. Although, I had never seen it happen to the real track stars at our school. But, I had never really noticed them either.
That afternoon the buses departed and time came for practice. The moment of truth had arrived. What would we be doing? Are you gathering that I had practically no sense for the obvious? You can not imagine how my heart sank when the coach told me that I would be running. Running? Why would I be running? He then explained to me that this is what track was all about. And it was a good thing to be the quickest in doing it.
“Hey, this isn’t what I signed up for”, I exclaimed. He then assured me that I had. I resigned from the team on the spot, and told him I had no interest in running, and he indicated that was up to me.
I was so upset. “They can’t make me run,” I said to myself as I walked away hearing laughter dying down as I put distance between myself and the team. Just then, the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have a ride home, and I lived 15 miles away. It was a good thing I bought (my mother did, I had no job) new tennis shoes, because it was going to be a long walk.
All I could think was how silly they were to believe they could make me run. I am not a runner. Regardless, the task I had now was to walk the long journey home. Irony then set in, for not more than 50 feet from the Mowrystown corporation sign, the very first house had a huge German Shepard, and he thought I was dinner. The chase began. I should have stayed at track practice, because, as it turned out, I was pretty good at it. I outran that dog, and then came the next house that also had a dog — a mean dog who greatly disliked sweaty teenagers walking on the highway in front of his home, and the chase was on again.
To bring a merciful end to a long, laborious story, every house between Mowrystown and Belfast had a dog, and every dog thought I had a steak tied to my seat, because they chased me all the way home. Finally, 500 feet from my driveway, a neighbor came to my rescue and drove his truck between me and an ensuing blood thirsty hound. I dove into the back of his truck, and he carted me the last few feet home, for which I was truly grateful.
As it turned out, I was a pretty good runner, and might have run a lot less, had I remained on the team that day. Just for future reference, if you ever see me running, call the police, because someone is chasing me. Because, at least voluntarily, you can’t make me run.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. He can be heard Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon on 88.7 WOBO-FM, and can be reached at [email protected]