As we bumped and bounced our way along route 90 outside of Boston, people in cars beeped and waved as they passed the long line of yellow school buses. My knees were pressed into the back of the seat in front of me. I remembered buses having a lot more room in them on the way to elementary school.
It was 2017 and the occasion was the running of the 121st Boston Marathon which, until now, takes place on the Massachusetts State holiday of Patriot’s Day each spring.
I paused in my scribbling of this post to re-read my entry from 2017. It seems like yesterday but also seems so long ago. I still naively believed that I had strained an adductor and didn’t realize the seriousness of the injury I ran with. I had no idea that within a year other parts of my twisted, aging body would decide that more marathons were not in my future. As I read, I vividly remember the journey from Hopkinton to Boston. I remember thinking “What an awesome place this is to be. Next time, I’d really like to run well here”. As it turns out it would be my slowest, and last marathon ever. I admit, I had to to pause for a few deep breaths while reading.
Patriot’s Day is this coming Monday (April 20th). There will be no school buses, no crowds, and no tired runners on the T on Monday afternoon. For now, the race has been postponed to September.
The Boston Marathon is not alone. Not a single springtime or early summer event has been spared the wraith of COVID-19. I had be vaguely training for two a few springtime events. I had planned to participate in my first Love Run. It has been postponed to October. I had also entered the Jim Thorpe Running Festival’s half-marathon. Also postponed to the fall but very close to the Love run so I chose to defer to next year. I had planned to participate in my first albeit small adventure race which has been postponed indefinitely.
We are now in the fourth or fifth week of “Stay-at-Home” orders from our Governor. We are existing here at home. So far I am still getting paid and able to work from home. We have plenty of food and, more importantly, toilet paper. On the plus side, we are saving lots of money because, frankly, there is nothing to spend it on. That said, we are definitely missing the little things in life.
I’ve never been a big NFL fan. I wouldn’t care if they never played another game. The same with the NBA and NHL. But I have always been a baseball fan. I have very fond memories of sitting on the back porch in the dark with Mom and Dad listening to the Phillies radio broadcast. We lived out in the country so the only sound aside from the calm voices of Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas were the night time crickets and croaking bullfrogs.
Outside the screened porch, the fireflies were so numerous their glow was like a constant burst of fireworks across the back yard. While these days, baseball season starts too early, goes too late and features way more playoff teams than deserve to be there, I have missed tuning my radio to the static-filled AM hum of the Phillies broadcast. There is no telling when they will be back in action.
Many of those evenings on the back porch followed a day of fishing with my good friend Norman and his son Lewis. “Back in the day” the target of most spring fishing trips was Delaware Bay weak fish. Contrary to their name, weak fish (or sea trout) are not weak. The names comes from their soft mouth. Once upon a time, big tide runner weak fish moved into the bay to spawn every spring. A 10 lb. weak fish slamming your bait and running off with the tide is the stuff angler dreams are made of. Norman and I spent many long winter nights shooting pool and dreaming of spring days and tide runners.
In early May in Fortescue, NJ the line of trucks waiting with boats to launch at Higbee’s marina stretched down around the road all the way through town. It was often said, a person could walk across the bay on the boats during the spring weakfish run. Sadly, that was back before the days of saltwater limits. Both recreational and commercial fishing decimated the weakfish populations. Now the limit is a paltry 1 fish at 13″.
Still, come spring part of my heart turns to the Delaware Bay and fishing. With the effects of climate change, the bay is not the body of water it used to be but it is always changing and full of surprises. The big spring sport now is drum fish. Black drum have always been in the bay but in the days of the easier-to-catch weakfish, only a handful of eccentric anglers focused on drum. They were an odd bunch with odd ideas. Most old drum fisherman felt that you could only catch drum in the dead of night and that you had to be whisper quiet. You see, drum fish get their name because they drum. Really they are expelling air from their air bladder as, presumably, a form of communication but it sounds like someone slamming their foot down on the pedal of a big, bass drum. “BOOM”! Those old fishermen felt that if you can hear the drum fish they can hear you. Dropping a heavy lead weight on deck was liable to get you thrown overboard.
The last few years the drum fish bite in the bay has been superb. Some of the best drum fishing I ever remember. In fact, with not much else happening in the bay that time of year the fishery has attracted so many fisherman I worry that the drum will follow the path of the weak fish. Little is known about these booming giants.
They are a pretty common fish but so was the weak fish. Fortunately, there isn’t a big commercial market for them and there are limits in place. That aside, this rekindled fishery has me anticipating spring trips on the bay each year followed by delicious drum fish parmesan. After spending cold winter days tying snell knots on fresh hooks, I eagerly await the new and full moons in May and the booming of big black drum. Like running and baseball, it seems like spring fishing, at least on the bay, will be another casualty of the current epidemic.
But really these are first-world problems even in the first world. There are people nearby worried about how they will buy food or keep a roof over their head so the inconvenience of not being able to run a race or go fishing pales in comparison. Still, I think it will be a long time before we have gatherings for recreational events again. There are optimists out there that are confident in fall race dates though I think we are in for a much longer fight than that. Nonetheless, I’ll look through some old photos, continue to read some of my old posts and hope for a return to the things we love.
On the bright side (and without a bright side, we are all doomed), next spring the big drum fish will be even bigger if we can’t get after them this May.