Take it somewhere else.

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Published in the Austin American-Statesman

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The runners are coming. Time to break out the earplugs.

My house sits on the route of every Marathon, 10K, and Walk To Save The Salamanders held in our health-conscious city. My bedroom window is four yards away from the sidewalk where supporters gather to shout encouragement; my driveway spends much of the Spring blocked by traffic cones and sawhorses, which transform my car into an expensive lawn ornament. I hate runners.

Don't get me wrong: I support their right to bear a futile grudge against the aging process. But I also have a right to watch every episode of "24" back to back and collapse at 5:30 am, knowing that my paranoiac dreams will not be interrupted by a seventeen-year-old shrieking "You can do it, Dad!"

Or by an air horn. You know those little canisters of compressed air that sports fans buy so their enthusiasm can be heard above the Astrodome's din? Imagine one blasting "toot-toot!, tooooooot!" 20 feet from your head at six o'clock on a particularly hung-over morning. After half an hour of this, you'd think the traffic cop would be more understanding when he saw you approaching the perpetrator with a brick in your hand just for show.

Isn't he the same policeman who's supposed to stand in the middle of Sixth Street with a sound meter? Isn't there a law against shattering eardrums in a part of town where people aren't paying to have their eardrums shattered?

Instead of begging the city for equal enforcement of the noise ordinance, my usual solution is to run a very loud window-unit air conditioner, which drowns out all but the most egregious cries of support or agony. But even in Texas, people tend to look at you funny if you run your AC in February.

So I'm supposed to endure this semi-regular loss of my car and shut-eye as a matter of civic duty. But if it's only right and fair to shut down traffic for one self-destructive minority, why don't we occasionally do it on a Saturday night, allowing only inebriated bar-hoppers to travel? I can see the sponsorships now: The Drunken Dell 10K, The Motorola Motor-Skills Challenge, The Hope-You-Know-Jenna's-Lawyer-A-Thon.

I know, I know: Runners aren't really masochists, they're doing something that's good for them. Of course they are. We bacon-loving masses look at runners and say the same things Republicans say about the pierced, tattooed kids who sell them their Celine Dion CDs: Do they think that looks cool? How much must you hate your life to do that to yourself?

We say the same things SUV owners say when those militant bicyclists tie up Lamar Boulevard at rush hour: I'd support them in principle, but this is the wrong way to make their point. That goes double for me and runners, except for the supporting-them part.

I can get behind folks who decide to run a single Marathon just because they like the idea of picking some horrific, undoable challenge and then beating it -- like learning Japanese or reading an entire issue of McSweeny's. But convincing yourself that running from here to Pflugerville is fun? No man for whom chafed nipples are a concern can be said to enjoy his life.

So runners of the world, I mock you! You, with your silly wind shorts. You, with your hundred-dollar sweatshop running shoes. You, who add months to the end of your lives by wasting so many perfectly wonderful hours in the middle.

(Right now some skinny, bearded Luddite is firing up his letter to the editor: "I'll have you know that I've completed fourteen marathons wearing the same $25 canvas sneakers!" Go hug a tree, fella -- we all know you still wear those things because their stench makes you feel righteous.)

I do have a good friend who's a runner. He's a decent, smart man without a shred of vanity, so I know he doesn't do it because he's afraid of looking flabby in a swimsuit. I don't know why he does it, and we have an unspoken agreement that I won't interrogate him if he doesn't lecture me about drinking a pot and a half of coffee at one sitting.

But secretly I know that his Spartan side conceals a more hedonistic one, that he was less of a grown-up before he had those two adorable kids: When he struggles by my front porch as the sun breaks on a crisp Sunday morning, and he hears my air conditioner rumbling peacefully even though it's forty degrees outside, and he remembers that I invited him over to watch all four "Alien" movies the night before, he's rooting for me to sleep undisturbed until well past noon, oblivious to the people torturing themselves outside my window.

[from the Austin American-Statesman, Feb. 2003]


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