50 Years of Running: Pirates in spirit

Illustration by Christopher Cudworth

On a cold January night in 1982, one of my running buddies showed up to have a few beers, talk about training, and shoot the bull about life in general. But that evening, I had a surprise to share with him. We both loved the new music by Rickie Lee Jones, especially her new album Pirates. Her music celebrated an unleashed life where urban friends shared life and love. In some respects, that was the life that my two running buddies and I were living.

When he arrived at the coach house, I casually walked into a nearby room and emerged wearing a black hat that I’d picked up somewhere. The stereo receiver was already on, and the turntable arm was poised to play. So I dropped the switch and placed the needle on the track titled “Woody and Dutch On a Slow Train to Peking.” If you’ve never heard it, you should listen to it. Right now.

The song begins with snapping fingers reminiscent of a 50s scene where poets read their work in concert with the jazz or blues music to come. Then Rickie’s voice calls the scene to order, followed by a thunking bass, as if a part of someone’s brain fell out on the floor. She greets her friends, and asks, “Hey Bones, what are you doing back in town…?”

“Man…” he replies, “I didn’t even know what city I was in…”

The delectable fervor of her voice spouts lyrics that slide and slap at topics only the artfully unhinged fully understand…with references to two of the top record labels of all time…

Pick it up on the night train
Down on the corner of rhythm and blues
Where I have met all of my boys since
Back in ’52
Bringing ’em Stax and Sun
’cause I think that Cleveland forgot
And Memphis forgot
Where they were coming from
Do ya like it? Do ya like it like that?
Do you like rapping the fat scat?

See, my running buddies and I shared the nightlife, and we met women who revolved around the same insane vortex of joy and sex and love. At some point, we even slept with the same woman or two. That makes us pirate brothers in some sense.

And truth be told, one of my running buddies is the only man to ever kiss me fat on the lips. He greeted me that way as I entered a party one night, looking a bit somber. He looked in my face and knew that I was feeling all uptight and shit, so he broke the barrier and kissed me fat on the mouth. That broke the entire room into laughter. He still mentions that moment with pride decades later.

So let’s get back to Rickie Lee Jones and her rabble of pirate friends…

Woody and Dutch dance in the cell of fourteen
Like a pill they do it all night
White-walls, find and greased back
Every Saturday night
Leaning in the scenery
Picking up the kids
At the next door neighbors’
“Yeah I know what you did
Yeah I got a room you can stay in
If you promise you won’t make so much noise”
“No I won’t”
“No I don’t!”

We never made a promise not to make so much noise. Not to each other, nor to anyone. We hollered and bellowed into the night, pissing on street corners if it suited the moment and telling each other to have another beer until there was no more beer left.

Then we woke up in the morning and pulled on our running shit or strapped on a set of cross country skis in the winter months and pushed ourselves to exhaustion. Then we met up the next time and did it all over again.

MJ got nothing on me

So the night one of those running buddies showed up I was going to put on a show, just for him. When the music picked up I started to dance, fast and furious. I was always a good dancer. The first night that I met some newfound cross country buddies in St. Charles, we went to the high school dance at the Powder Keg and I laid down my own code. Fearless and casually insane, I danced wildly, sporting braces and wire-rimmed glasses, and a mop of thick hair. The girls took notice. The boys too.

Whatever. The spell only lasts as long as the music plays, and the yin is always equal to the yang.

The music lifted me the night that my buddy sat in my house sipping a beer and watching me dance with steps fast and unrehearsed. The two of us had history. We ran in high school together, in college too. Here we were, a couple years removed from all that school stuff and trying to figure out what it meant to live in the real world. We had our differences, but in the end, we were honest with each other. That’s why I danced with no apologies or fears that he’d judge me, think me odd, or fear that I was queer or anything of that sort. We all know that was the culture of the day, but whose job was it to judge, really? Was it ever?

They were reaching to get to
They was a rapping the flat scat
Diamond dialectos of points and taps
Between the chicken and the back
They drew themselves a be-bop
Midnight map
They said “do you got a map the next joint?”
“Do you got a map the next joint?”

We didn’t know what came next in life. The economy was turning into shit like so many times before and so many times to come. Inflation was taking hold in 1982, yet Reagan was busy busting unions, playing tough guy with the USSR, and acting like he actually knew what he was doing. Some people seemed to worship that approach, but my buddy and I saw through the selfish instincts that conservatives conceal behind claims of higher principles to avoid actually being responsible for what happens to other people.

So I danced to Woody and Dutch with my black hat as a prop. My buddy sat there laughing and cheering me on because who the hell else would dance for a buddy on a night when the cold winds blew outside and the headlines scraped at the window like the black branches of everlasting fear?

Yes, we often drew ourselves a be-bop midnight map and asked, “do you got a map to the next joint?” We followed that map both night and day, going for long runs without a course in mind, arriving home so beat and blasted by the wind or the cold or the heat that our goodbyes were typically short and resigned. “See you next time…”

Do you have a map to the next joint? We’re still following maps to the next joint. The loose map of self-invention has led me all kinds of places. At times, I didn’t even know what city I was in. We’ll get to that fact in the next few chapters of this story.

As Rickie Lee Jones once said, we were Pirates, stealing from one night to the next. Finding women that lived by the same loose code of honor. Hoping to find love in between.

Joey live on the edge of the corner
Of living on the run
I like to ride in the middle
I’m just tryin’ to have some fun
Until the Pirates come
And take me

And I won’t need a pilot
Got a pirate who might sail
Somewhere I heard far away
You answer me
So I’m holding on
To your rainbow sleeves

These days, we look back on those urgent, wild times and marvel at our own dancing. Not because we’ve quit, or because we got old, but because we’ve never tired of it. We’ve stuck together all these years, my running ‘buddy boys’ and I. We’ve stayed pirates till the end, these days riding bikes in the wind more than we run, all while holding strong to women that seem to get us, for better or worse.

Well, goodbye boys,
Oh my buddy boys,
Oh my sad-eyed Sinatras
It’s a cold globe around the sea
You keep the shirt that I bought ya
And I know you’ll get the chance to make it
And nothin’s gonna stop you
You just reach right out and take it
You say – So long, lonely Avenue
So long lonely avenue

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
This entry was posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, alcohol, anxiety, competition, cross country, cycling, cycling the midwest, running and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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