October 30, 2009 | Arabic

Working the New York City Marathon

I talk to runners from around the globe.

Today I woke up super early. Too early. So I got out my Pimsleur lessons and started doing one in bed, and within a few minutes I was asleep. Thanks once again to Dr. P.—who I think could be awarded a posthumous medical degree as a sleep specialist—I got a full night’s sleep.

In the afternoon, from 2 to 8 p.m., I volunteered at the New York City Marathon expo at Jacob Javitz. I ended up in the transportation area, meaning transportation to get tens of thousands of runners to Staten Island for the race start. In a city like New York, this is a massive logistical challenge.

You've Got to Cross This to Get to the Marathon

As part of my volunteering, I got to speak Spanish, some German, and a little French, which was the kind of thing I was hoping for (though really, some Russian or Arabic would have been nice, too). It was cute, even though many of the runners who came by were grumpy, often because they had been put on, say, a 5:30 a.m. ferry to Staten Island, where they would have to wait hours for the start. Or alternatively, because they had no transportation at all.

People from non-island, non-crowded places often fail to realize that you can’t just walk to the start here. There is water! There are bridges! Tunnels! Crowds!

I found myself wishing I had already studied Italian—there were tons of Italians, and they didn’t tend to speak English as well as the Germans, who sometimes persisted in talking to me in English even when I addressed them in German.

When I got home, I was pretty exhausted. I didn’t much feel like doing Pimsleur, but I sucked it up and studied anyway.

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