First, before the beginning of the Bay to Breakers race 100 years ago, came a time when the City was a kinder, warmer more civilized place to run on a Sunday morning in mid-May. However, on this particular day, two souls, dressed appropriately in conventional running clothes, boarded the Bart train enroute to San Francisco, accompanied by a gentleman in a strange costume of green. He was wearing a tall green top hat perched rakishly upon his head, and attached to the front of his shirt was an enormous bow of green with large white polka dots. More travelers joined them along the way, and this elf-like man engaged them all in spirited conversation. Yes, he would be running in the race for the fourth time. He was sorry to have missed the year before, but he had had a 4-way by-pass. He ws obviously having a good time.
Runners from Kenya and Morocco were frequent winners of the 7 1/2 mile distance which meandered through parts of the downtown area, and then up into residential neighborhoods before entering into the welcome, cool shelter of Golden Gate Park. The Hyde Street hill, encountered about midway through the race, can be grueling on a hot day. On this day, the three companions entered the milling throng, to be engulfed by hordes of other strangely dressed dogged individuals. They were running both individually and in groups of two or more. All were named according to the type of costumes they wore. There was a group of 5-6 salmon running backwards. They depicted salmon swimming upstream. There were lots of timid souls dressed in ordinary clothes, or in Halloween type costume. Several mummies wrapped not too securely in gauze, began unwinding it as the day became hotter. People dressed as open books. as cavemen, and as animals ran past. Several very naked people named the “Camping Bares” ran alongside, and gave an opportun ity for conversation. They laughingly admitted they would be arrested for running sans clothes in San Diego, so here they were in San Francisco, the city which welcomes all with an open mind. One man was wearing a small backpack with clothes to put on when they arrived at the ocean, in order to hop a bus back to sanity.
People were stationed along the parade route offering water for parched throats, and a certain number of runners carried something a bit stronger to help them along their way. Through the years, the race has acquired a much deserved reputation for public drunkeness, but mounted policemen patrol and keep a close watch. Paper cups and sandwich wrappers were tossed decoratively along the way, with little regard as to who was on the clean-up committee.
Two delicate old ladies, each holding an end of a little satin ribbon, and wearing nothing but large silk squares tied at the neck and flowing freely out the back, were dressed in nothing but wrinkles and their running shoes, bravely persisted until the end, and burst the finish line still together. They were thin to the point of anorexia, yet gave off an aura of great determination. In the middle of the park, in a clearing surrounded by large shade trees reminiscent of Sherwood Forest, a TV group was interviewing race participants, and the little green man veered off the course, dancing merrily into the middle of the impromptu stage. He never stopped tapdancing as the interviewer laughingly asked him who he represented. ” I am an escaped River Dancer!’ and my name is Kelly Kennan and I’m 76 years old”, he called out, while dancing in the approved Irish manner with arms stiffly at his sides. After a brief interview, he cheerfully danced his way back into the race.
Seven and one half miles is not a long or difficult race for a serious runner, and those looking for record times were finished and long gone when the merry-makers crossed the finish line sometime around 2 p.m. The race finishes on the Great Highway, beside the Pacific ocean, which on this day was dressed in its blue shining best reiterating the myth that California is the land of warmth and sunshine. A welcome cold beer was awaiting the three tired and footsore friends at a c0lorful restaurant overlooking the water. After a brief respite, they boarded the first of two busses taking them back to the Bart train and home to a hot bath.
“BALK” original painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen