Broadway Duchess…darling if you only knew…Half as much as, everybody thinks you do
“I Got the News,” by Steely Dan, from the album Aja
During my nightly runs in the City of Geneva where I lived, I’d often glance at the eastern sky where the orange glow of sodium vapor lights rose from the streets of Chicago and bounced off the low clouds. Driving home from a date with one of the women I met that year, I mentioned the appearance of that light pollution to her. “Look,” I pointed out the window. “The lights of Chicago turn the sky orange.”
She stared out the window for a moment and said. “No way,” she told me. “That can’t happen.” No matter how I explained the phenomena of light pollution, she could not believe that the glow from streetlights could reach all the way to the clouds.
She reminded me of a woman I met in college. I was walking back to the dorms along with my RA and his beautifully doe-eyed girlfriend Lois. She was pretty beyond belief, and I often wished that she was my girlfriend, not his. But that evening she looked up at the sky and asked, “What are those?” My friend Steve turned his head to follow her gaze and said, “What, those clouds?”
“There’s clouds at night?” she asked, incredulously. I nearly burst out laughing, but Steve gave me a sharp glance before kindly informing her, “Yes, Lois. There are clouds at night.”
Fear of looking dumb
Up to that point in life––as a freshman in college––I’d always thought that most women were smarter than me. I thought they somehow knew things that I didn’t know. In many ways, that was pretty true. In other ways, my attitude was a form of self-protection. I feared looking dumb in front of women. And yet, it gradually became evident to me that there were women who were just as stupid as my male friends, and me.
For example, during a 20-mile run in college, one of the top women runners on our squad stopped to go to the bathroom in a roadside ditch and wiped her private parts with poison ivy. The infection spread across her entire body from the inside out. She was covered in rashes so intense she had to run with bandages covering her arms. To her credit, she still trained well enough to finish third in the Chicago Marathon.
Another female teammate in college ran great during her freshman year. Then she decided to go vegetarian without knowing what she was really doing. From then on, she could not sustain the performance levels she’d attained before. Neither of those women was dumb, per se. But they had done dumb or stupid things.
Smarter than me
That perspective only made me appreciate my new love interest Linda even more. She was an intelligent, often insightful person. The more we hung out together, the more our conversations became rich and rewarding. We’d become an item.
She also supported my interests in every way, even coming to watch me race in the Elgin 10-mile held on Memorial Day. The weather was muggy, and the race was hilly, but I completed the race in 54:57 for a tenth-place finish.
I also did a stupid thing the night before the race. Hungry and out of time toward evening, we pulled into a Long John Silvers restaurant for dinner. I had a fish sandwich in mind, which was healthy. But the fried fish I wound up eating left me feeling thick in the gut that next morning. That hurt my racing effort, and my digestive system was actually messed up for days. I spare you those details even though I wrote about them in my journal. Some of that was the fish. But some of it was also due to a new vitamins regimen I’d adopted to help me stay healthy. I’d gotten so many colds that winter and spring that I’d come to believe I was lacking enough vitamins to stay healthy.
Golden Leg Syndrome
I was also super protective of the energy in my legs before races. Linda teased me a bit about my race preparations in general. I didn’t like to go out to parties or stand around at some social occasion the night before a race. It made my legs feel tired. She branded that “Golden Leg Syndrome.” That ability to make light of precious instincts was something that I grew to love about her. She always had a way of giving snarky, funny names to things like that. They were kind jabs to remind me not to be so self-centered.
But it was hard knowing where to draw the lines. As a man in his early twenties, I was trying to figure out what the whole racing thing still even meant to me, and wrote in my journal: “Bill Rodgers’ favorite psyche-up song, “Into the Mystic,” on the radio. An omen? Why does this racing (nice sax!) have so much significance? Am I also pulling up carrots? To see if they’re growing? I trained tonight. Don’t know how much to push myself. I raced back when (my friend) didn’t. He’s as fast but not as obsessed. Smarter but no more intuitive.”
Part of me was imitating a fictional character in the John Irving book The Hotel New Hampshire, whose wrestling coach once told him, “You’ve got to get obsessed, and stay obsessed.”
Racing days are here again
I piled Linda into the car with me to travel to a race the following weekend in Decorah. We drove up together and camped. That was one of our favorite things to do. But we’d left so late that afternoon that we had to set up our tent in the dark. We finally climbed into our sleeping bags around midnight.
As a result, I only got six hours of sleep, and my performance tailed off as the race went on: 5:00-10:03-15:30-20:46-26:08-31:45. I finished the 10K in 33:00 flat. It was also a progressively hilly course, and the wind hit us hard out in the open spaces. Overall, I saw the race as a positive effort. “Sometimes you’ll have to forgive yourself for losing that drive,” I observed in the journal. “It just means yer too tired. The wind was a-blowin’. Tough mile weather.”
May of ’82 had offered a bit more sanity than usual. I’d gotten out birding a number of times, and on May 8 I was joined by a small team of friends to record 94 species in a single day. Our goal was finding 100 species, and we even happened upon a rare set of unexpected yellow-headed blackbirds at a marsh on Fabyan Parkway. But the day grew warm quickly, and the winds picked up. As a result, we didn’t find some common species. “Missed hairy woodpecker! Red Tail! Kestrel! Marsh hawk! Grebe! Virginia rail! Ah well, good birding with warblers.”
News from above
Then on May 26, I received a visit to my office at Van Kampen Merrit. The big boss himself, Robert Van Kampen, stepped in to have a talk. “I have some news,” he told me. “We’re thinking of moving you out to Philly,” he said. “That’s where the rest of the marketing team works. We think it would be best if you joined them.”
Though I’d been working just over a year in the job, I’d already visited the Philly office several times. The first time out I was so nervous and distracted that I actually got on the wrong plane and wound up going to Washington, D.C. rather than the scheduled Philly flight. As we made the approach to DC, the pilot came on to announce our arrival in Washington, and I panicked. Turning to the flight attendant, I cried out, “I’m supposed to be flying to Philly!” They quickly arranged for me to catch the next flight, but I had to call and let the office know I’d be delayed a bit.
Informing Linda that I might be transferred to Philly did not go over well. We’d definitely solidified our relationship by that time, despite my occasional dalliances. So she was immediately depressed by the prospect of my departure. I was faced with a tough decision. Stay in Illinois and risk losing my job, or go to Philly and see how it all works out?
I was trying to be positive and wrote in the journal: “Is this another fresh start?” There were mixed feelings, and I went back and forth about it. “How many times do you have to tell yourself? Quit acting like you’ve already left. Quit assuming those Easterners are going to gobble you up. Quit looking at the Midwest clouds like they’re a vanquished girlfriend. Nothing’s for certain, and when it is you’ll be ready. Until then, enjoy life, run hard, race well, paint as if your life depended on it. Last night’s run a silent one on a sunlit misty road on Johnson’s Mound. Tonight the thunderheads rose high and mighty.”
I played a weekly round of golf with fellow Van Kampen employees. “Shot a 43 after 7-5-7, then 4-4-5-4-4-3. Birdied nine, just relaxed and hit on. Lot’s of cussin’. Employees aren’t happy. Lots of talk about Philly. I hope it’s half as good as I’ve made it in my mind. Who knows?”
Broadway Duchess on the line
Adding to my mental algorithms was a phone call from my recently married college ex-girlfriend. She’d written several times in the previous months, and I’d sent short notes back. She clearly had some things to settle with me, perhaps centered around why I had seemed to give up so easily on keeping her. But this call came out of the blue, and we talked for a bit. After hanging up, I wrote in my journal: “I sure loved that girl. Still do, parts of her. She sounded good, even cute. I’m sure I sounded confident on the phone. She would have run my life though. She’s headstrong. So am I, but I give in to love. I gave in to what I thought her wishes were. I thought there was someone else. That someone else was me. Get some sleep. You’ve got to be strong tomorrow, and tomorrow.”
But in late June, I had decisions to make about the near future and whether to move to Philadelphia or not. A combined momentum of fear and motivation was carrying me forward. “Good day,” I wrote on June 22. “Got a contact for apartments in Philadelphia. Saw a freckled breast, got a hug (tho guilt–ridden) from Sue, a heart tug from Linda, and a schedule to visit.”
Racing from the heart
On June 26, I raced the first-ever Community Classic 10K in Geneva. I was determined to win and defend my home turf. The course started on Third Street, looped east on State over the Fox River, then jumped on an all-new bike path for a shot down an old railroad bed 2.5 miles south to Batavia. The bike path had just opened that week with fresh black asphalt and piles of half-graded gravel on both sides. There was a small gap of gravel where the path was not fully connected. I hopped over it, and that’s where I took the lead and raced off alone down to Batavia.
On the way back up the west side, the trail follows another railroad bed with a slight incline for a mile. Then the course veers left to Route 31 and makes a sharper climb to the top of a hill next to the Fabyan Villa. By then, I had built a minute lead and knew that I’d earned the win. I cruised in at 32:37. Years later, a coach from St. Charles measured the course and discovered it was a bit long. 200 meters long, to be exact.
But I was happy that day to have run a time in the mid 32:00 range and win by a good margin. At the finish line, I clapped my hands while wearing a HAWAII singlet that I’d purchased in Oahu the previous December. It felt good to win.
I got the news
But a new reality was kicking in. And, on July 3rd that following week, I committed to moving out east to the Philadelphia office. I talked about it with Linda, and we considered whether she should move out east with me. “Let’s see if this works out first,” I told her. Wise move, it would turn out.
I’d be moving that August, and noted: “Linda is bumming fast. Stares and hangs her head. I don’t know what to do. She’s followed my every request.”
Then I received yet another missive from the college ex-girlfriend arrived. I made another note in the journal: “She sent another letter. I still feel right in not marrying her.” And quoting the Elton John song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” I wrote: ” ‘I remember those east-end nights…altar bound, hypnotized, sweet freedom whispered in my ear, you’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly…fly away…high away…bye bye.”