Oh well, I thought, we'll have a torch. We won't run in total darkness.
Even as we planned, the torch was coming rapidly toward us. Jim Beatty jogged the first mile out of Los Angeles. Through California 16 runners carried the butane-fed torch varying distances. By the Arizona state line, the torch was 15 hours ahead of schedule. (Those fast California tracks, I thought.) Following along day and night was an entourage of station wagons and a Dodge Motor Home, a bus that sleeps eight. AAU officials, Detroit newspapermen and teamsters supplied by Jimmy Hoffa as drivers formed the official party.
In Lubbock, Texas a coed named Mary Coral Rose, a part-time hurdler and full-time beauty, asked to participate. "I don't think the AAU wants women to run," said Wayne Klein, director of the torch relay.
"Well, suppose you just look the other way while I run," drawled Miss Rose. He did and she did.
The torch reached the Mississippi River still ahead of schedule, catching the Illinois relay men, so to speak, flat-footed. So Missouri's runners took the torch 50 miles across the border to Litchfield. Then a group of Southern Illinois University track men ran it to Springfield, still ahead of schedule.
To slow things down, O'Shea, who had driven to St. Louis to supervise the torch's progress through his state, recruited a 250-pound Junior Chamber of Commerce president. "Now when you get the torch, walk!" said Paul. The sight of so large a track man must have unnerved the SIU runner. He ran right on past. Eventually they wrenched the torch from him a mile down the road. At the Illinois Tollway the toll collector was supposed to light a cigar from the torch for photographers. Fortunately, since progress had been slowed enough already, no photographers showed. By the time the torch approached the outskirts of Chicago it was 45 minutes behind schedule.
"Someone took a wrong turn," explained O'Shea. We were standing on the Congress Expressway five miles west of downtown Chicago. A high school runner had gone seven miles out of his way onto Route 83. Like the rats tailing the Pied Piper of Hamlin, the entire entourage followed him.
Ten minutes later the bus—with Olympic Torch Relay printed bravely on both sides—pulled off onto the shoulder where we were standing. Two young men wearing cowboy hats, long beards and dark circles under their eyes emerged. O'Shea introduced them as Wayne Klein, the torch relay director, and Al Blanchard of
The Detroit News
"Interest in the torch has been building," explained Blanchard, sleepy-eyed. "At first no one noticed us. Then cars that passed on the highway would stop and wait for us to go by. It's been an exciting trip. Crossing the desert, one of the runners killed a rattlesnake with a rock. During the night the rattlers crawl out and lie on the hot pavement."
"Oh," I said. I was glad the only hazards in Chicago were drunks and robbers.