By Jeff Girod
That’s essentially what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to do when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast and six days later he wanted to stage the New York City Marathon through a flooded, water-ravaged, disaster zone.
All week, despite media criticism and public outcry, Bloomberg shook his fist and waved a defiant finger, saying the marathon must go on and muttering nonsensical tripe like, “You can grieve, you can cry and you can laugh all at the same time. That’s what human beings are good at.”
Because yes, when disaster strikes, put on a pair of short shorts and Richard Simmons sweat bands and go for a brisk, 26.2-mile jog.
Then Bloomberg mercifully canceled the marathon less than 36 hours before more than 47,000 runners—about 30,000 from out of town—were scheduled to gallop over the starting line in Staten Island, one of the hardest hit areas of New York, accounting for half of the city’s 41 hurricane fatalities.
For sheer power, Hurricane Sandy ranked second in modern hurricanes, beating even Hurricane Katrina, according to the University of Miami. It killed at least 106 people and cut electricity to 8.5 million homes across 15 states. In New York City alone, more than 40,000 people were forced to leave their damaged homes.
I’ll tell you this, if someone was running a marathon by my house after it was destroyed, his skinny ass would keep right on running—because I would be chasing him with what’s left of my IKEA bookcase.
Bloomberg has been mayor of New York City for 11 years, he’s won two re-elections and to his credit, he’s been effective. As a leader, you don’t get things done by always being popular, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune from being a dumbass sometimes.
Nobody will argue that running a marathon right after a major disaster is dumb. Oh my god, is it dumb. If the argument itself were a marathon, common sense would be a barefoot 90-pound Kenyan with a 26-mile lead over Mayor Bloomberg while he was trying to eat a greasy eggroll through Chinatown tripping over soggy bunny slippers.
But it’s interesting that the mayor of New York, despite political consequence, despite public outcry—despite common sense slamming into his forehead like a splintered 2×4 in a gale-force wind—wanted the marathon to go on as scheduled.
Surely a politician should be sensitive to the victims of a natural disaster. I mean, this hurricane happened in his own city. If you can’t muster a little sympathy for your own kind, when can you?
How many times do we dip our heads and feign a split second’s silence for something that happens half a world away? Or you see a Sally Struthers’ TV commercial of some 8-year-old kicking a can in a piss-stained gutter and yeah, for the length of the commercial maybe you feel sad. Then, boom! Twelve seconds later you’re back watching a re-run of Cheers.
Then maybe the next time you see that same Sally Struthers commercial you realize, hey, Sally hasn’t been that skinny in 15 years, which makes the sad-sack commercial more than a decade old. It also means that poor can-kicking kid is either approaching his ‘30s . . . or he’s dead.
Then boom! Twelve seconds later you’re back watching Cheers!
At heart, we’re all selfish soulless bastards. Sure, we have the capacity for empathy (or is it sympathy, I always get them confused), but our first instinct whenever disaster or tragedy strikes is, “Man, I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.”
And yes, it’s not hard to feel bad for New Yorkers, or anybody else affected by Hurricane Sandy. Calamities caused by nature are always terrifying, whether it’s a hurricane, a tsunami or the “big one” we’re all holding our breaths for here in California.
But it’s also perfectly understandable why Mayor Bloomberg wanted to run his precious marathon 6 days later—because sympathy, or empathy, is a hard emotion to sustain. It’s almost like a marathon of the heart.
Which is a lot easier to train for than a real marathon, and leads to a lot less nipple chafing.
Contact Jeff Girod at firstname.lastname@example.org.