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SuperWalk

A smoggy day, in LA town.

At first I thought getting the signatures would be the hardest part. I was 14 years old, in a gang ridden Junior High School (it wasn’t called Middle School yet, and it wasn’t Bancroft) and at 14 I already knew I loathed the idea of work. I could see the Hollywood sign from the play yard (concrete) and always dreamed of being on that hill and away from everybody. It’s funny that I envisioned the air being cleaner up there: 1982, LA, look up smog levels back then in Google and you’ll see that farcity.

Somehow or another my best bud Enrique and I resolved to go on the SuperWalk, the really long walk that area schools did annually for the March of Dimes.  His little brother Ismael and my little sister Mary decided to come along too. We were separately tasked with gathering signatures for this. Many people I could approach I was actually afraid of, but many of my nerdy little friends came through for me. But the gathering itself was distasteful, it felt like work (which it was) with the promise of exercise later (which it definitely was). Why was I doing this again?

We all did all right, getting a smattering of promissory signatures, and validating our entry into the big event. We were all dropped off on the starting line, now, I remember this being 20 miles or so, maybe 22. We were in a nice part of LA for most of it, we walked along Olympic, I remember that, and the coast, definitely that. We were either told up front, or word trickled through the ranks a couple of miles in, that there would be refreshments and a celebrity we would all meet at the end.

Really?! That was awesome, THAT news put a little pep in my step! At this stage the buses passing by were just annoyances, farting what looked like coal dust in my face. We were near the coast, it was a beautiful morning in February of 1982 and we were just out for a little stroll. I was tall and always walked ahead of everybody, just to show what tall people can do, we have a lot of skills, I thought. We spent a lot of time teasing each other and conjecturing about the celebrity, “Michael Jackson?! Harrison Ford?! Pat Benatar?!” Enrique and I wanted it to be Pat Benatar, Enrique also wanted Larry Holmes, we had recently watched him dispatch the latest Great White Hope, Gerry Cooney, on HBO.

At some point a little later I realized that this might be the farthest distance I ever walked, that seemed to make my legs feel a bit tired; no matter, I’m 14, give me a break, I can walk forever. I was getting into it and was actually sad it ever had to end. Everything was pretty. A bus passed, I idly wondered what the fare was.

“Steve Perry? No wait, it’s probably Eddie Van Halen, a local boy!”

I spent as much energy slowing down for people as I did speeding up, when the sound of irritation from my comrades got to a certain level I would just stand there, head bowed in that early-teen-sulk-pose. We all had maps that we consulted, also just following other kids from other Junior High Schools in the Southland kept us on track. I started to realize that the distances we had to go before a turn were getting really long! After a couple of hours we looked forward to a turn, any turn, with the kind of excitement reserved for Christmas morning. It was an unspoken thing that we all believed, that if we just got to that turn we would somehow feel refreshed, renewed, like the lady on that horse in that Tampax commercial.

We turned, it didn’t happen. A bus passed, farted, and I idly wondered whether I had change in my pocket. I had never taken a bus in LA before, or anywhere, and I started to wonder what it would be like.

Now I get tired just looking at this.

The sun tracked across the sky, it got warmer, we all got tired. Ismael sat down for a minute on the sidewalk. That just looked weird. When we ran out of celebrity names to guess (we were down to Elliott Gould and Sigourney Weaver) we started saying to each other “Well, whoever it is, they better kick ass! I’m gonna get an autograph!” We all brought little snacks that we ate early. Newbies. After 10 (or 50) miles another bus passed.

“Hey Enrique, do you think we could get on that bus and they wouldn’t realize it?”

He just glared at me, we didn’t want to get caught. It looked like a great bus, it was new and shiny and I knew it had air conditioning. Everyone on there would probably congratulate us for all the miles we’d walked. We’d have new friends!  I was getting really beat now, by this point I tried to inspire myself by playing the music from “Chariots of Fire” over and over in my head.  But then I remembered the slow motion sequence of them running in the sand and this just made me more tired.  Didn’t they know sand just slows you down?  And in my opinion, if they wanted to more accurately depict speed they shouldn’t slow down the film, they should speed it up like in “Benny Hill.”

“Chariots of Fire” had sand, but wait, I thought, so did we.  We were starting to burn up by now and we were walking along the ocean, probably 15 miles in, I had no concept of the actual distance.  One, or all of us, got the idea that we should just run into the ocean, take a little dip in the water.  With our clothes on, of course. Jeans, wooly looking Kennington shirts, and sneakers on; we waded in.  It was great, whoever thought of this was a genius, I didn’t need to worry about buses now!  We submerged, we cooled off, eyeing our little pile of 8th and 9th Grade trinkets that didn’t make the trip to the water and were lying on the sand.  We got out: awesome!  The rest of this was going to be easy now.  We picked up our stuff and squelched back to the sidewalk, wringing out our limbs like dogs.  After a few steps, I felt a little chafe waaaay up on a leg.

The last part of the SuperWalk was a big one, all of us had sat down at various times, some longer than others. We’d sit down, get up, and dry off a little more.  And chafe, that was starting to hurt.  The high from the ocean dip had worn off and we were starting to think it was a mistake.  Mary and I were snipping at each other, I think I was actually being a little shithead, my legs really hurt and I was getting to where I didn’t want to be there, and as was my wont, I took it out on poor Mary. Enrique and Ismael got along really well, no issues there. We were making good time and the field had stretched out to the point where we hardly passed anyone, and practically nobody passed us.

But it was still kinda cool, we had never done this before and we were getting to see parts of town we’d never seen. A bus passed, I looked at it, and just muttered whatever my 14 year old equivalent of ‘fuck it’ was. Maybe it was ‘fuck it’. Then the chafing, oh the chafing.  There must have been salt in that water, I wish we’d thought of it before.  The salty rubby feeling was getting to all of us and we had affected the walk of a George Romero extra. This just had to end, we even stopped saying “this had better be worth it” and trudged on mutely.  We were starting to stink because we were sweating even as we finished drying off the seawater.

There was some commotion up ahead, hold on, I thought, we’re all getting to the end! I’m all sweaty and I’m hoping I don’t look like crap, the celebrity might laugh at me and tell me to get some exercise. A couple of people handed us water (where were you 10 [or 100] miles ago?). We TRIED to speed up, but the chafing, oh, the chafing; there’s a couple of tables with (not much) food on it and another sign out table with a SuperWalk rep there. Another table with a biker, like a Hell’s Angel and a guy in a suit sitting next to him. We’re looking around, “where’s the celebrity, what, are they going to come out of a cake?!” Enrique and Mary grunted a tired chuckle. Ismael just has his head down, he doesn’t care at this point, just wanted to go home. We arrive, there’s no tape or marked line, we just kind of stopped walking. I shot a couple of nasty looks at those who finished ahead of me and were laughing and sitting down. When I stopped my body felt like it was leaning forward, as if out of habit it wanted to keep going. Whatever.

We noticed there was a sign above the biker guy, hastily put together (even at 14 I was dubious of unprofessional looking signs and what crappiness might be underneath or ahead). Welcome Mercury Recording Artist…”dude what does that say, John Cougar? What the heck is that, is he from the LA Zoo?” Nobody had heard of this guy, and I mean nobody. We all had the same quizzical expressions, but we dutifully queued up to say hello. He didn’t look like he really wanted to be there but at least he seemed rested. I guessed he had to be a musician because of the biker look and the fact that he was signing sleeved 45’s and handing them out to the kids. Our turn came. Though Mary didn’t know who he was she embarrassingly giggled when she said hello and he handed her her free record.

My turn came, then Enrique. We stepped away. We looked at our 45’s. Cougar had dutifully and legibly written his signature on the sleeve. We unsleeved the disks, while slowly and painfully walking away from the celebrity table.

“Hurt So Good, what the hell?! That doesn’t even make any sense!”

I wondered whether he was one of those whips and chains guys, I mean, he was wearing a leather vest – and now this?! With my rapidly waning last bit of energy I frisbeed the disc into one of the large garbage bins provided (just for the this occasion!) by the good people of the SuperWalk. I was really disgusted. I sat in a chair.

“They said there was going to be a celebrity, what the fuck?!”

I’m pretty sure that’s an exact quote. Enrique, Ismael and I were pretty pissed, tired and pissed. Mary thought it was pretty cool because he was cute. She was just 2 years away from her life-changing David Lee Roth obsession.

The discs flew (except Mary’s – she may still have it), we slowly got out of our chairs, we went home and rested, the days passed. The song we had never heard of charted, we all thought that was great. Good for him, we said, a newcomer. It went higher and higher, becoming one of the biggest songs of 1982. That’s when we all felt quite stupid. That is, except for Mary.

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