Sunday at the Festival
Last Sunday, Shannon called and wanted to go to the Cincinnati Hispanic Festival at the Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center in Elmwood Place. After a 10-minute detour caused by construction on Paddock Road over I-75 and a very scenic tour of Elmwood Place, we finally arrived.
The festival looked like a smaller version of the Greek Festival on Winton Road. There were over 70 booths of food, drinks, games and sponsors in a space that might have been a little too small to hold that many exhibits and people.
After purchasing our food and beer tickets, we stopped at the ID booth. Working there was a well-endowed young woman wearing a tight leopard print, low-cut top. She reminded me of a discussion Shannon and I recently had. Shannon believes guys should be obvious, not sneaky, when they're checking out women's breasts, whereas I believe that guys should use a little tact. Needless to say, I was easily busted when Shannon turned around to look at me while the woman was looking at her ID.
After we got our surprisingly cheap Budweisers ($2.50), we set out to sample the food. At the Peru booth, we both ordered Ceviche de Pescado, a bowl of very tasty fish and shrimp served with lemon, onions, chili peppers and a hunk of baked sweet potato. I decided to have the Arroz Frijoles Rojos con Carne y Platanos en Tentacion, which was basically red beans and rice with ground beef and a piece of bread cooked in OJ with cinnamon. Shannon then ordered the Elutes, which was an ear of corn with a dollop of sour cream on top. She tried to get me to take a bite, but the thought of corn on the cob with sour cream nearly made me nauseous.
On our way out, Shannon got a Piña Colada and an oversized homemade pastry with a yellowish sugar swirl topping for dessert. She was able to eat only about half, so she handed it to me to finish off while we did a little window-shopping at the Market Place Tents.
While I waited for Shannon to look at silver rings at the La Nirra Sterling booth, I spotted the cute, curly blonde working the AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati booth with whom I'd had an 'eye contact with mutual smile' moment when we were first walking into the festival. She walked over and asked what I was eating.
I told her I had no idea what it was called but it was a pastry with a sugar topping, and I offered her a bite. She said yes and broke off a piece and ate it. After a few moments of friendly flirting, she went off to buy a pastry of her own.
As I watched her walk off, I had one of those 'I came into the conversation at the wrong time' moments when I heard the other woman working the AVOC booth tell a festival visitor, 'Please spread it along to as many people as possible.'
Shannon and I just looked at each other and ran for the exit as soon as possible. Like George on Seinfield, you always leave on a high note.
Turn off the Water
It's not a good sign when you need a hot shower to loosen yourself up the day of the race, but at 6:30 Sunday morning it took that and two Advil to get me moving. The day of the Freedom Challenge, an urban eco competition, dawned dark and rainy and I regretted the day before last-ditch effort of a training run. Do I get points for showing up or do I really have to participate?
Gary Morgan, the event leader who's part of the famous Morgan's Livery family, had requested teams be at Taylor Park at 8 a.m. for safe measure as the race was scheduled to take off at 9. My team needed to meet early so we could make introductions. You see, we not only didn't practice, we didn't know each other. We planned on hooking up at the event after the month long e-mails assured us our team members were busy, not interested in matching outfits and preferred to wing it. I was cool with it since it reminded me of my feelings about college and sorority life.
The parking lot was pretty full when Ed, the team leader, and I pulled up. A car stereo was blasting the song 'Highway to Hell' and the sky was dumping a hideous rain peppered with thunder and the occasional bolt of lightning. Of course, this being the first urban challenge event for Cincinnati, the die-hard athletes were there and pumped. Teams were warming up with jogs up and down the parking lot in matching outfits undaunted by the weather. The women who were more buff than the men daunted me.
Somehow the Hershey candy bars I'd eaten felt inadequate and I wanted a shot of Tequila. At least the rain was warm and the air muggy enough that my legs weren't freezing, and so what if my sweatshirt was beginning to hang on me with the weight of the rain? I have guts. I can do this, even though I seldom run between races.
Gary started getting us organized and assured us the weather would not affect the event. In fact, it was beginning to seem like part of the adventure. Hell, if I got up at 6:30, we might as we go through with it. That is, if the rest of our team showed up.
John stumbled over with his game face on, and I introduced him to Mike, who appeared at the same moment. John had met Ed the day before for a pre-race day run with me. Of course, I'd met John once before at the Cincinnati food chain, but he said he ran and I believed him. Mike is an ex-boyfriend who's a three-time Iron Man participant and has competed in local cycling events for years. He and Ed were introduced and agreed that the competition was tough, with tons of familiar faces from the local triathlon scene. Now where were our last two teammates?
Finally Gail and Michelle found us huddled under a tree trying to follow Gary's briefing of where the race would take us. All I could think about was the refrain of 'Highway to Hell.'
Minutes ticked by and we were told to grab our life jackets, paddles and get our river rafts in a line-up. We were given the No. 6 slot since we registered sixth, and Gary assigned us the name Team Edward since we failed to name ourselves.
The first obstacle was negotiating the mud and the fishing line along the riverbank of the Ohio River and the other 14 teams that were full of vim and vigor. The rain had loosened up everybody and the water was warm even though it was murky.
'OK, let's take off our shirts,' I said, thinking that would slow down our competitors. I was willing to try anything. Of course, I was joking, but I swear the babe in the next boat glanced over with a come hither look.
After one hilarious false start when a guy slapped his paddle in the water, the gun told us we were off. Paddling like maniacs and playing bumper boats for the first 100 yards or so, the adrenaline was a rush. We struggled but began to gel as Team Edward. Upstream was tough until we realized downstream to the assigned cones wasn't much easier.
Docking with four boats behind us, we took off for Sawyer Point to start the 5K run. Mike and Gail left the four of us in their wake and we settled into a pace that lasted until the steps. Oh, my God, were there steps. The route was up to Mount Adams via the steps by Montgomery Inn Boathouse and across Columbia Parkway up to the Monastery. We continued up to the Celestial and uphill to Playhouse in the Park. I began to fantasize about downhill.
We practically rolled downhill as the rain and leaves made the descent treacherous, but, alas, we could see Mike and Gail waiting for us at the obstacle course. We were still in race mode though my body was screaming, 'STOP!' Mike gave me a leg up on the 8-ft. wall and I promptly slid off the side falling in a heap. The team came to my aid, but I had a wall to scale and a war injury for the upcoming week.
Amazingly we made it over the wall, through the tires and under the damn tape that was wound back and forth. Did I ever say I want to join the Marines, because this was beginning to feel like boot camp.
Our raft was full of water for the row back to Newport, but Team Edward was soaking wet with mud on our faces and ready for the battle. We even managed to laugh. As we dragged our raft up the bank sliding backwards in the mud, we vowed to do it again next year. Our 10th place finish would assure us a No. 10 slot on the take-off for the second annual Freedom Challenge.
We grabbed the flag and scaled the last set of stairs to the Newport Levee finish line. Our time was 1 hour and 6 minutes. We didn't win the trip to the eco camp in Costa Rica, but we were proud of our effort.
Someone finally turned off the water and the rain stopped. We took pictures, shared war stories and parted friends. Our bodies were exhausted and running shoes were ruined, but what a way to start the day. Now where was that shot of Tequila?
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