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A Road Runner's Bonanza, or, Has Anybody Seen Kelley?
Hal Higdon
September 05, 1966
'Let's spend our vacation in New England,' said the author, whose motives were ulterior. While the family rode the Ferris wheel he would run mad races and win Good Prizes and Top Trophies. He might even meet stiff competition, if spectral Johnny should ever materialize A Road Runner's Bonanza, or, Has Anybody Seen Kelley?
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September 05, 1966

A Road Runner's Bonanza, Or, Has Anybody Seen Kelley?

'Let's spend our vacation in New England,' said the author, whose motives were ulterior. While the family rode the Ferris wheel he would run mad races and win Good Prizes and Top Trophies. He might even meet stiff competition, if spectral Johnny should ever materialize A Road Runner's Bonanza, or, Has Anybody Seen Kelley?

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A band that had been at the Newport Jazz Festival stopped its infernal playing to permit trophies to be presented. Clutching my Joseph Nicpon Memorial Trophy with one hand and David with the other, I wandered through a veritable wonderland of elephants, camels and amusement rides for kids. But we could not stop. The real loot was being dispensed at a beer-and-Polish-sausage party at a nearby firehouse. My mouth watered, not at the Polish sausage but at both the quality and quantity of the merchandise on display: lamps, glassware, ties, shirts, a box of cigars, a can of paint and, best, a combination barbecue grill and rotisserie. Great, only what do you do with a combination barbecue grill and rotisserie when you have to cram half a dozen suitcases, one wife and three small children into one compact sedan? You settle for one of those wrist-watches that people wear on TV commercials when they dive off the rocks at Acapulco. The grill went to second-place finisher Amby Burfoot, who had wisely driven to the race in a station wagon. The box of cigars went to John Hurley, who finished 39th and presumably will never do as well again after smoking up his prize. As far as I know, the can of paint is still standing on the Warren award table. Road runners are not that industrious.

Kevin began to organize running races around our cottage with his younger brother and sister and a blonde 7-year-old girl named Liz, whose family rented the place next door. Theirs was the world's shortest outdoor track, maybe 60 yards around on bumpy grass. One day Kevin announced the first race. "Two laps," he said. Liz beat him.

"Four laps around," he said a few minutes later. Liz won again. "Eight laps," said Kevin, who had discovered the secret of distance runners: if you can't run fast, run far. Liz, who decided to be the starter, had learned a lesson, too: if you can't make the Olympic team, become an official.

The following Wednesday we were back in Salem to help the town celebrate Heritage Days with a 10,000-meter race. I looked at the entry list and the runners in the dressing room and automatically awarded myself the first-place trophy. Somebody mentioned, " Kelley might come." I was past quaking at those foreboding words. But while warming up I noticed Tom Laris and frowned. He frowned back. Had he moved his estimated finish back from first to second, or was he mounting my imaginary head on his trophy room wall?

"Hi, Tom. Looks like you're limping."

"Hi, Hal. I think it's wonderful that you're still able to compete at your age."

At 6:30 more than 100 runners stood shoulder to shoulder in the Salem Common. The starter pointed to a narrow gate 100 yards away. We were to funnel through it. I took one look and jumped the gun. I slid around a peanut stand and through the gate into the lead, then slowed. I did not want the responsibility of the pace. Sapienza, ever present (he had been passing out more blanks), took the lead and held it with the help of George Starkus of the Wachusett Striders until there were two miles to go. Then I spurted and shook everyone loose except Laris.

As we neared the traffic-jammed center of town near the Salem Common I saw my opportunity, cut around the side of a Buick, dodged behind two pedestrians, straight-armed an old lady on crutches and shouted down a car that had tried to swerve in front of me despite the presence of a traffic policeman. I had the lead coming back through the gate. Suddenly I realized that in the near darkness I had no idea which way to go next. An official's shout reoriented me, but by then Laris had the lead, the impetus and the race. I received my second-place trophy to the accompaniment of a barbershop quartet.

"Where did you lose Higdon?" a reporter asked Laris. "One mile out? Two miles?"

"I think it was at the last peanut stand," said Laris.

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