Tuesday, July 12, 2005

“another emotional flyover”

That’s how a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch described the flyover of two F-16 fighter jets during the post-race party on Sunday. And I agree. I was fighting back tears and my husband says he was, too. But why? In her anti-fascist pamphlet Three Guineas (1938), Woolf wrote:
Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilization,’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies, and why should we take part in them? Where in short is it leading us…?

Even as I was moved, I thought about this sentiment. I hear the national anthem as a huge flag is slowly raised on the brewery’s brick wall; overhead, a crane suspends a new GM car, honoring the new sponsorship of the race; the men who’ve just raised the flags set off some fireworks as Nik and the Nice Guys break into John Mellencamp’s “R-O-C-K in the USA.” The F-16s appear from nowhere 38,000 people, a quarter of whom are sweaty from having just run over nine miles, raise plastic glasses of free beer in salute. And this moves me to tears. Why? Is it just the heat and beer?

I hate this war. I worried it was a mistake when it began and now I am sure it was one. I hate war; I am more of a pacifist every day. I feel wrenching sorrow that more terrorist violence has struck, now in London, and in Tavistock Square, where a bust of Virginia Woolf accompanies another of Gandhi, where the Woolf’s lived until they lost their home to a German bomb in WWII.

So what moves me is not the power and threat of violence. But I am moved by the noise and power of the planes. By the idea that pilots high above, with skills I’ll never possess, fly over a huge, happy peaceful, motley gathering in salute, that they flip and turn and flick their lights. I am moved by the goofiness of it all, the joy. I am proud to live in a country that can make cool airplanes even though I hate the martial impulse that drove the ingenuity. And, American that I am, I am touched (I don’t know what the right word is for this) by the capitalism of it all: the car on a crane, the common odd marriage of something that seems to have no profit potential (running down a road) and the effort to capitalize. And, though this wrecks whatever shreds of liberal credibility I may still have, I am impressed—just impressed—by the wealth—the literal wealth but also the wealth of human energy and dedication.

On Friday before the race we went down to pick up our registration packets in the rain. Our nephew (age 3) was running a little quarter-mile race on Saturday. Registration for that was first-come, first-served, and opened at noon. We arrived at 11:58 and were 633rd in line for 2,000 slots. Thousands of people were wandering the muddy grass of the Masonic Home, picking up their packets and getting ready for the race. “It’s a fascist dream, a communist dream, all these people eager to get in line to show their fitness,” remarked my husband. We laughed, but that’s not quite right. Everyone has their own idea of the race: winning, beating a friend or their own time from last year; everyone has even their own outfit, their own crazy homemade t-shirt honoring or celebrating some little fact about them and their group (I ran in a "Running with Jim" t-shirt, emblazoned with a photo of my father-in-law in 2000--deeply not-me, but to do otherwise would have been churlish); everyone has their own way of running. It’s a friendly, crazy, chaotic mess. That’s another part of what moves me. I rarely enjoy being in a big crowd, but the Boilermaker is such a time.

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