As difficult as it is to be unemployed, especially from a job I held for so long, I have to admit there are a few things I won’t miss. I’m not going to go into a lot of them right now, but I was reminded this weekend of one thing I definitely won’t miss:
I will not miss Fresno in the least. In the last six years or so, I had to drive to Fresno once, often twice, a year. One of the few things Fresno has going for it is that it’s pretty much in the center of California. Therefore, several state high school championships are held there, the most notable of which are the track and field finals on the first weekend in June and the cross country championship on Thanksgiving weekend in November. I would have been scheduled to cover track there last weekend.
Let’s make this clear: I admire track and cross country athletes very much. As someone who was an awful runner for most of his youth and who has been a non-runner for all of his adulthood, I have an appreciation for people who can run and run well.
This goes even more so for those in Fresno.
Fresno, however, is a challenge not only for those competing, but also for those covering them. The first week of June and the last week of November in Fresno can have some pretty extreme weather.
Consider the past three times I covered events in Fresno: The cross country finals in 2015 were run in 37-degree weather. Since runners generally run in clothes approximating underwear, this was tough on participants and spectators alike. The track finals in 2016 were held in 105-degree weather. Pretty much everyone wanted to be in their underwear that weekend. The most recent cross country finals, in November 2016, were actually very mild. We were lucky because minutes after the final race of the day, the skies opened and a deluge of rain followed everyone home. That was pretty much the beginning of the end of the California drought.
Track and field is tough to cover because it’s such a three-ring circus. Actually, a three-ring circus would be easier. There are always half a dozen things happening at the same time at a track meet.
Cross country is easier to cover, but it’s impossible to see all of it. These are three-mile races over hills and over dales. At Fresno’s Woodward Park (which would really be a beautiful park if it weren’t in Fresno), a reporter can see the start of the race, walk over to a spot close to the one-mile mark, stay there when the runners double back at the two-mile mark, then walk back to a holding area after the finish line.
You can actually see much more of that race than you can at most other cross country meets. At most meets, a runner could be kidnapped along the way and a reporter would never know. It’s the only sport I know where a reporter interviewing a runner literally has to ask, “What happened?” because he really has no idea.
However, the worst thing that happened to me in Fresno was at the cross country meet in 2012. I arrived at Woodward Park the day after Thanksgiving to pick up my credential and get settled at the hotel since the race was early the next morning. I decided, since I really knew very little about the course, to walk it. Three miles would be no problem for me, I figured, since I was walking that distance regularly for exercise. I was doing pretty well when I got to a point where the course crossed a street. You wouldn’t have thought crossing a street would’ve been all that big a deal, but it was.
I tripped and began to fall. It was one of those falls that takes about an hour and a half to complete. You keep thinking you’re going to catch yourself, but you never do. Fortunately, I cleared the asphalt and the curb, still feeling like I was going to catch myself, but I didn’t. I landed in some remarkably soft brown dirt, almost like potting soil, on the other side.
At this point, my body looks like I’m about to slide headfirst into third base. At least I think that what it looked like. I’ve never purposely slid headfirst into anything, much less third base. But the dirt felt so soft, I remember thinking I was going to get through this all right.
Then I could feel my right ring finger start to bend backward as it went underneath my body. It had found a water pipe or something underneath the dirt. I felt a little pain, but still really not that bad.
I started to pick myself up and spit out the enormous amount of dirt that had flown into my mouth. I looked up and saw a woman looking at me, a runner, all dressed in white, backlit by the sun. All she needed was a heavenly chorus. She bent over and asked me, “Are you all right?”
After taking a quick inventory of my body, I said, “I think so.” But then I changed my mind as I raised my right hand up from underneath me. I saw that my ring finger was bent up at the base, closest to my palm.
“Maybe not,” I said to the woman. But when I looked up, she was gone. She had vanished as quickly as she had appeared. Maybe quicker. She had made an angelic appearance and just as quickly an angelic disappearance.
To make a long story even longer, I continued walking and found a couple of coaches from one of our local schools. They looked at it and suggested I find an emergency room.
I got to my car, fired up my GPS and found a hospital right outside the park. Right away, I realized nearly everything in a car is to the right of the steering wheel. So I turned the key with my left hand, released the emergency brake with my left hand, and put the car in gear with my left hand. I was happy to be left-handed since my injury was to my right hand, but I kind of wished I’d been in England, where the steering wheel is on the right.
I had broken bones in my ring finger and pinky. The ER put a cast on my hand halfway up my arm and I finally got to my hotel. The next day, I covered the cross country meet one-handed. Fortunately, I had a jacket with several pockets to put my notebook, pen, recorder and program in. I had runners ask me nearly as many questions about my hand as I asked them about their race.
When it was over, I went back to my car and wrote the story one-handed on my laptop. After the story was filed, I went to a restaurant and ordered fish and chips for dinner, something I could eat one-handed.
Then I drove the 3½ hours home. I knew it was going to be a long trip, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a little caffeine to drink along the way.
I went to a McDonald’s drive-thru to get a nice, large Diet Coke. As soon as I took it from the girl at the window, I knew it was the worst money I’d ever spent. There was no way I could drink it.
The cup holder was on the right side.
I hate Fresno.