My trip home this weekend allowed for a unique opportunity. Never did I imagine how that opportunity would play out, or what it would lead to, or even that I would have it. But it seems to have inspired a city. Hate, as I've often said here, is a powerful and motivating emotion. The hatred of the masses, against wealth and power and the corruption associated with it, is particularly powerful just now in an economy where the availability of wealth has evaporated to all but a select class. A chance meeting therefore, where I was able to pull together and assimilate a vast sum of clues, in front of a crowd, and use this information to insult a City Manager, a 4x Gold medalist, the head of USA Track & Field, and their wives.....as well as inspire community action....all with 3 little words, is quite an accomplishment. Something that I feel a bit proud of.
For the purpose of this post I'll need to do two things, give a
little background, and deliver to you my personal definition of corruption
(since the world currently, seems to confuse what is legal, with what is right)
Corruption to me, is the use of a position of power to serve a narrower interest
than the scope of that position. So instead of serving everyone you have power
over, you harm most of them to serve yourself and people close to you. Now
most often that is done legally. Most of the US is suffering from an entire
list of horrible things that have been done by businesses, politicians, and
people that were completely legal. The mortgage crisis is a major example of
this. So I want to steer us back to accepting only those things that are right,
and just, and not confuse ourselves with what the privileged class have dictated
to others....is legal.
The background here is that Geneva's former city
manager is also a huge developer. How that should ever be allowed is beyond
me. Throughout the last 10yrs he has been steadily gutting the city services of
our town and moving them out to the highway (where he owned land). Each step
along the way (moving of the post office, consolidation of the school, moving of
the library, etc) I researched and wrote Op Ed pieces to the local paper
outlining why I think this pattern of development is disastrous and showing
urban design studies from Maine, New Hampshire, Portland, St. Paul, etc that
all showed the importance of keeping vital city services centrally located and
accessible via foot traffic. In each case I was dismissed, with venom, as a
fuddy duddy standing in the way of "progress". Now, in the last 3 years as that
pattern of development has been largely seen by the locals as a horrible
failure, and huge mistake....my message, and my ideas, have become a bit
accepted, and in some cases embraced.
That same former city manager,
after moving all of the services to the highway, along with other developers,
built the nations largest indoor track, multiple Olympic sized swimming pools,
and all sorts of indoor athletic facilities. Throughout the construction he
enraged to locals by bringing in cheap, non-local, non-union labor whenever
possible. In those cases where he used local contractors and local
companies....he declared bankruptcy and has never paid them.
leads me to USA Track & Field. Throughout my early years of running,
Boulder Colorado was the home of US distance running. During the early 90's
however that slowly began to change. Runners like Bob Kennedy and Todd Williams
for some reason decided that training at or near their alma maters was a better
fit for them. The often lamented "lost 90's of American Distance Running" where
people chose, instead of living in Boulder, to train on their own lead to a
major downturn in US distance running. A policy adopted by USA T&F where
they decided that their group should emulate the financial and marketing success
of the NBA (in my opinion) was to blame. The purpose of USATF changed from
promoting the sport and supporting its athletes, to making a corporate brand
from which they could extract wealth.
Despite the best attempts of the
bigwigs at USATF, the people of Boulder, and their love of running, running
venues, climate, etc have all combined to still keep the area one of THE places
to live for professional endurance athletes. That, coupled with groups like
Hanson's, the Oregon Project, etc lead to a resurgence in US distance
running.....no thanks to USATF.
So there I was on a miserable Sunday
morning having breakfast at a local restaurant when in hobbles our trio of
wealth gathering (track enthusiasts). Fresh from having won (*cough* stolen)
the USATF contract from Boulder, making Geneva, Ohio the new headquarters of
USATF. Not mind you, due to our wonderful running culture, or our access to
mountain trails, or other running venues, our beautiful training weather, or any
other logical reason to choose Geneva as a place distance athletes would love to
live and train. But instead because our wonderful struggling developer turned
city manager, turned millionaire developer was able to purchase them (ok, you
can call it outbid them). So you have a millionaire ex-city manager who was
willing to sell out the people he was supposed to have "spent his lifetime
promoting and representing" dealing with a USATF president willing to be
influenced more by personal greed than care for the athletes he
represents....all of it legally...and none of it right.
As I was sitting
there with my back to the group, the waitress hustled over to retrieve me.
Excited for an opportunity to meet 4x Olympic gold medalist and 8x World
Champion Michael Johnson I hurried over to their table. It was there that I sat
listening to their dreams and plans, while a crowd slowly gathered, pushing
in...filling the spaces between tables and any empty space available. The city
manager introduced me to Michael who said he'd been hoping to run into me (wow I
thought) because every time he mentions distance running in this town my name
comes up from the locals (wow I thought again).
They then proceed to ask
for my advice. You see...they are bankrupt. The population of distance runners
have been hesitant to come to Geneva, save for their 2 competitions. The
bankruptcy judgements against them are coming due, the amount of use in the form
of memberships from the local community hasn't been what they expected...yada,
yada, yada. How do we get the community to embrace distance running? How do we
make this a destination for distance runners?
I slowly began to
describe my long list of moves that have contributed to a community not
interested in memberships, I told them (my own bitter feelings) for their
removal of the town mural that had Anna Debevec (famous shot puter from the
70's), Brian Anderson (famous MLB pitcher) and myself (skinny guy who looks
great in shorty shorts) and how the removal "to save money" gave children no
recognizable local sports heroes. How not moving the trophy case (that holds
hundreds of my and others high school trophies) to the new school gave children
nothing to marvel at and aspire to. Then I dove into the desirability of the
flat, cloudy, rainy, snow filled winters with zero trails for training and
narrow snow choked roads for running.
After outlining a good bit of
these, I slowly began to feel the tension in the room. Hearing all of these
things, had reminded the locals of their hatred of the entire project. The last
straw, as I later found out, was the promise (after a planned neglect of the
downtown stadium and forced closing by our wonderful city manager during his
tenure) that if the community matched funds they would be granted use of the
facility for high school games, discount memberships for the community, etc.
Which turned out to a 1 year free use by the school to it's athletic fields and
then leases at insanely high rates and 1 free month trial for individuals
followed by zero discount memberships. The crowding of the locals, the sour
looks on their faces, and the hope resting on my shoulders to all involved that
somehow I would have an idea that would bring the running world to Geneva and
save the project.....seemed a bit awkward....and throughout my history I've
proven I have rather a knack for handling awkward.
The best advice I
can give you three? Yes (the crowd leans in) .....GO FUCK YOURSELF!!!
little words, inspired by my recent viewing of the movie Argo, catapulted the
restaurant into a frenzy of cheering, then a firestorm on facebook, and finally
to the founding of a group, to resurrect and refurbish the old stadium (Memorial
Field). Once the facebook page went up, it seemed everyone in the community
jumped in to be involved. In 2 days time we've established a charter, started
application for a non-profit, and received a pledge from Brian Anderson for
$300,000 to help resurrect the field, rebuild part of the grandstands that
youths burned, refurbish the old cinder track, and build a new baseball field,
effectively turning our backs on a failing multi-million dollar project that
didn't have our support in the first place. We don't have the resources to
throw good money and energy after bad. Or throw any money, for that matter,
towards people who don't truly care about our community or the communites they
are charged with supporting.
In less than 48hrs my 3 words seemed to have
done more good for my little town than an entire team of people who's "projects"
were more directed at putting money in their pockets than in helping the
communities they serve. The same thing, you see, is damaging the entire
population as you read. My message to you, is to tell them those 3 words.
Scream them loud. Emulate my little town. Turn back the clock to a time when
Americans didn't look to government to solve their problems for them. To a time
when community groups, and people, working side by side caring for their
communities decided what THEIR community needed, rolled up their sleeves and
built it themselves. Rebuild local government and rely on that, and your
neighbors. Everyone else has a different motive. So when they come to you with
grand plans.....Give them the best......GO FUCK YOURSELF you can muster ;-)