|THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE RACE BET (LAPIN)|
(As with all my stories, this story is loosely based on actual events.
Lapin. For those who are Francais-adroit, the very utterance of the word is likely to simultaneously inspire a wide spectrum of feelings. Fear; dread; admiration; awe - these are some emotions that are most easily expressed in words, but there are many others that simple words cannot give life to. For those who are Francais-gauche, let me translate the word: the English word that best fits "lapin" is "rabbit". (Apparently there is also a word, "lapin", in English that means castrated rabbit. For poetic reasons and for the self-esteem of one of the protagonists of this story, let's ignore this inconsequential detail.)
The reason for this language lesson is background. Lapin is the nickname for Eric Grammond, the man/child whose 160 oz frame perfectly fits the profile of the fearsome hare. As consultants on travel in the Bay Area, Eric and Rostom Aghanian are roommates during the week. As is normal for this type of this relationship forged by corporate necessity, they have always kept things civil. But one could sense that there was a deep competitiveness between them that was barely kept in check. The thinnest of veneers held their aggressions at bay. Then, one day, this civility was shattered when Rostom challenged Eric to a foot race. Eric responded with, "Allons-y, Americain Gras".
If Eric is the Lapin, one has to wonder what Rostom would be. He too does have a nickname, but it only applies when he is imbibing the sweet nectar of his beloved winery: Jarvis. And while the turtle is the allegorical complement to the rabbit, it does not work either - Rostom does not fit the profile. The best animal representation that I can think of is the athletic, sure-footed (but not swift-footed) sheep, or "Mouton", for our frog-leg-eating friends out there.
Now Eric's attitude to this challenge was quite in-line with both the hare of the fairytale and with the stereotype of his countrymen: boastful and arrogant. He went on and on about how Rostom has no chance. Lapin claimed that his raison d'etre is to run, what with his wiry frame, protruding pointy ears, long legs, and bushy white tail. Mouton had been training though, running 3 or 4 times a week for the last two months. Could the studious sheep beat the speedy rabbit in a foot race? Could he join his cousin the turtle (OK, very distant cousin) in one of the greatest upsets in animal racing history?
The scene for the place of decision: San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge. It is a 1.5 mile trek across this national treasure and full of moving obstacles in the form of other animals walking and running across the bridge. This day, like most days here, is breezy and chilly. Chris Kesik and I are with Eric and Rostom at the starting line. I tell Eric and Rostom the rules while Chris records the event with his video camera.
Finally, with the sun descending, casting it's last golden rays on the famed reddish steel Colossus, the race begins with the words, "Ready, set, GO!" They take off from the starting line. Immediately noticeable is Lapin's furry little paws swinging side to side. At first, I think that this awkward looking motion is the result of bad form; but on further observation, I decide that it is an offensive maneuver, meant to clip Rostom in the ribs if he tries to pass him. Vicious - as you would expect from a rabbit. The first thing that Chris noted about the start is its pace - it is not the fastest one imaginable. I am thinking that this steady gait should play into the hooves of the Mouton.
Now that the contestants are off, Chris and I have a race of our own now. We have to get back to the car, drive across, and establish a finish line before Eric or Rostom get there. As I drive the car across the bridge, Chris tapes the trek, and as we pass them, we find that Eric is ahead of Rostom by about 50 feet. But the race is young, only 2 or 3 minutes old. We think we can hear Eric yell over his shoulder, "You think you can beat me Americain Gras? C'est impossible", but it could have just been the wind.
Further down the bridge, I can see Alcatraz through the bridge's rust colored walkway fence. Reflecting on the irony of seeing a defunct prison through these bars, I think about how fitting a scene this is for the two participants. No matter who wins, Eric and Rostom have both faced down their doppelganger with this race, finally escaping from the prison of animosity growing between them over the last year; a prison that had left both of them in chilly isolation, very much like the infamous precipitous penitentiary protruding out of the bay.
I also see Angel Island driving over the bridge, but am unable to put this to any literary use and hence quickly forget about it.
Chris and I arrive at the other side and hurry to setup the ligne de fini. Just as we position ourselves, I see a skinny bald-headed pasty-white guy wearing sunglasses and white tube socks pulled up to his knees - it had to be Eric. I tell Chris, but he is unable to pick him up on video - I think Eric might have turned his 2-dimensional body sideways for a bit there. Finally, Chris is able to pick-up the Lapin, arms swinging wildly side-to-side, hopping down the bridge's paved trail, hopping and confident that victory is on its way. This makes think that Mouton is probably near-by, with Lapin ready to elbow him at a moment's notice. I keep looking and looking, but Rostom never comes into view. Lapin's whiskered nose crosses the finish line at a respectable 11:33. He mutters "Bof".
The seconds tick by without sighting Rostom. I begin to fear that even the Mouton's sure feet might have failed him in his attempt to pass the Lapin, causing him to fall over the side. Or worse, maybe the shame of losing to Eric was too great and he decided to toss himself to the chilly damp grave below - this would be worse because I joked earlier that the loser should do that very thing. Finally, though, Rostom is spotted at crest of the bridge. From where we are, it seems that Rostom is walking. But, certainly, this is impossible to believe, the Mouton has more honor than that. After thinking about it further, I've come to the conclusion that the heat coming off of the sidewalk must have blurred our vision and made it appear that he was walking. I have no scientific evidence for this, but it's the only reasonable explanation. When Rostom does cross the finish line, the time is marked at 13:11. After spending a few moments reacquainting his lungs to the sensation of proper oxygenation, he blurts a few questions asking how Eric could run so fast with no training. My answer of "genetics" don't satisfy him and he demands a drug test. After the drug tests are concluded, Eric is officially crowned victorieu, the winner of a $50 purse. I also get $20 from Chris on a side bet.
What did we learn from this? First, Chris learned never bet against a
Frenchman when running, fleeing, or surrendering is involved. Second,
I learned that drama is not necessary for a good story (OK, a mediocre
story). Certainly this story lacked any sort of drama, with the favored
contestant winning handily. But imagine if the hare had beaten the tortoise
- I argue a mediocre story could still be written with only a little exaggeration
and fabrication. There's the accounts of the struggles of the tortoise,
the tales of the previous conquests of the hare, the doubt that plagues
the tortoise's every painfully slow movement, and the almost indescribable
cuddliness of the rabbit. All of these are ingredients for a decent yarn.
And this brings us to the last lesson of this story - "you've gotta
work with ya got." So, I have weaved the best yarn that I could from
the threads of this story.