As I stood there, cheering on the participants of Oakland's first marathon in thirty years, I had occasion to speak to many of our neighbors, and holler at countless weary athletes as they made their way toward the halfway point of the race. "Keep it up," was one of my fallback bits, as well as "fresh legs guys, it's all downhill from here." At some point, I veered toward the more postmodern comments, such as "I'm the guy at the corner of every race that tells you to keep going," and "if you keep running, you might catch them!" Periodically my wife and I were joined by spectators who were looking for someone they knew, or who just wanted to see a little bit of the spectacle.
One young man rolled up on his motorcycle, and sauntered down to the corner, smoking a cigarette. "I guess I should put this out if I'm gonna watch them run," he said sheepishly as he dropped his butt on the ground and turned it under a heel.
"Good idea," I agreed.
"I just started smoking," he confessed to my wife and I for no apparent reason other than the simple contrast between his actions and those of the sweaty throng in front of him.
My wife then asked the obvious question: "Why did you start?"
And that's where this guy's self-awareness stopped. His only reply was a mild shrug and then he returned to staring at the stream of humanity parading in front of him.
"Superhumans!" my wife enthused, "You're all amazing!"
Our young smoker friend watched with us for another twenty minutes or so, then moved on up the sidewalk where he told us he was meeting a friend. Not a runner. Maybe another smoker. It really wasn't any of our business, but then again, we didn't need to know about his new habit, either.
After he was gone, I had occasion to marvel at the cardiovascular systems of all the athletes pouring past us, and wondered how many of them had a cigarette in their past. Of all the things I have sniffed, eaten, drank, or otherwise ingested, I have never smoked a cigarette. I suppose I was properly brainwashed about the evils of tar and nicotine back in grade school and I was terrified of winding up with a pair of shriveled black bags for lungs.
So I returned to my original purpose for that morning: bellering at those more fit or at least more brave than myself. "Keep it up," I reiterated, using all that lung power with which I was so blessed.