Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Whatever Happened to Mary Kay Place?

If you happen to be in the greater New Brunswick area (is there a "lesser" New Brunswick area and even if there is not may we screw with my pal Jack Sanders just a bit and tell him that it exists but refuse to tell him where exactly it is located) on Saturday morning, then by all means take up a spot along the street in the vicinity of the College Avenue Gymnasium. When I was but a boy I recall getting to tag along with my big brother Bill as he matriculated his way through Rutgers University. While my favorite place was the library - as much because the newspapers were secured in big wooden newspaper sticks that appeared readily adaptable to use by the librarian in case some miscreant thought "Quiet Please!" was an idle threat as it was because of all the cool stuff he taught me to read in there - I also liked the College Avenue Gym. In the era before 10,000+ on-campus "arenas" for the conducting of games of college basketball, collegiate hoopsters toiled in Dutch ovens such as "the Barn", which was the nom de guerre affectionately affixed to it by the couple of thousand screaming fans who filled it when Rutgers played its home basketball games there.

The "Barn" ceded the spotlight to the RAC a few decades ago, but it has not been consigned to the University's scrap heap of historical phenomena. It serves annually as the staging area for "The Big Chill". The Big Chill is a 5K run/walk that is the by-product of the good works of the people from RU's faculty and staff and their comrades in karma from New Brunswick's Recreation Department. Unlike most other 5K races, there is not a fee charged for entry. Passage into the field requires but two things: (1) timely registration (because it is a great time and a lot of people sign up to participate); and (2) a new, unwrapped toy for a child between the ages of 3 to 14. Last year, the only thing that took me longer than the time I spent on the course completing the race was the time I spent in the toy department at Target the night before picking out what I was going to donate.

This year's edition will take place on Saturday morning. Appropriately for an event with its moniker and with an ice-skating polar bear as its mascot, the weather forecast is for temperatures below freezing and a sky full of bright - but mostly cosmetic - sunshine. The Mercury level is not what warms you on Big Chill Day. It is the reaction of the little ones who are the recipients of the toys and the other presents that are donated. You need not bring a ruler with you to measure their smiles as long as you are familiar with the distance from ear-to-ear. I was lucky enough last year to have my sister Jill drag me along with her (it seems as if my entire life has been spent with one older sib or another dragging me to New Brunswick) to run in it for the first time. And now, like the good karma-seeking junkie I am - I am hooked.

Saturday morning I shall be there with bells on - and lest you think I am kidding I intend to wear the entirely absurd chapeau given out by one of the sponsors at the Jingle Bell Run in Metuchen on Sunday morning - being one of the multitude who is getting better than I am giving simply by showing up. It is after all billed as "A Charity Race to Help Kids" that places neither a definition nor an age restriction on its intended recipients.

I love any event in which I am indeed the target audience.


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