The Peachtree Road Race ended at its rightful finish line today — Piedmont Park.
It was wonderful to be able to see the thousands of runners and walkers return to Atlanta’s common ground as they picked up their T-shirts and accomplished their personal goals for the 6.2 mile (10K) race.
Last year, the Peachtree Road Race was forced to change its route and end several blocks away at 10th and Juniper Street because city officials did not want crowds of people in Piedmont Park because of the drought.
The city’s anti-people policy makes no sense. In a serious drought, the grass most likely is already brown and dead. A public park is just that — a park for the people.
Life does bring its changes. This was my first year in decades as a non-AJC employee. One of the benefits I’ve always had has been a VIP pass from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to go to the Park Tavern for breakfast and then go to the VIP viewing area at the finish line.
But life is all about adjusting and relishing the new experiences.
So this morning I walked over to 10th Street — saw the wheelchair racers roll down the hill to the finish line — and then stopped by the Caribou to get my morning latte.
Fortunately, I found a perch at one of the Fox Five stands along 10th Street where I was able to reconnect with one of the station’s cameramen (or do they call them video journalists these days).
Once again, I was mesmerized by the river of humanity passing by. The Peachtree Road Race is a phenomenon that brings out both the individuality and commonality of us all.
Personalities surface as runners go by. There are those with smiles on their faces, cheering on the crowds, just happy to be alive. There are those who can’t help but grimace through their personal aches and pains. There are the attention-seekers — those running in speedos or wearing outlandish outfits.
And then there are my least favorites — runners who want to make a last-ditch sprint at the finish line — often pushing other runners out of the way just so they can shave a second or two off their time.
For the first thousand runners, that’s okay. But for the other 54,000 runners, let it go. This is a race that’s meant to be fun. Finishing is a valiant victory, and you’ll get your T-shirt either way.
Today’s race was especially nice. The weather was amazingly cool. And unlike warmer years, I didn’t see anyone collapse at the end of the race from heat exhaustion.
I must admit that I do miss Bob Brennan as the finish line announcer. Bob, a former public relations executive for MARTA and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, had a special personal style. He knew many of the runners by name as well as their personal histories — often sharing funny stories as they ran by.
Bob’s longtime companion, Julia Emmons, served as executive director for the Atlanta Track Club and the Peachtree Road Race for 22 years until she retired in 2006.
I saw Julia on Tuesday when I gave a talk to the Midtown Rotary Club. She looked wonderfully relaxed. She said it felt really good to no longer have the stress of putting on one of Atlanta’s signature events.
It was at the Midtown Rotary where I heard the bad news that the city continues to play games with Atlanta’s major events. The Atlanta Dogwood Festival, a fixture for more than seven decades, has been told by city officials that it won’t know until November whether it can return to Piedmont Park in 2010.
What is the city thinking? Festivals and big events need continuity and security to attract sponsors and for planning.
Quit the games city of Atlanta. Let the Peachtree Road Race, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival and other longtime Piedmont Park events return to their traditional home.
After all, isn’t the Piedmont Park Conservancy being allowed to throw a “green concert” on Aug. 15 with Paul McCartney, which could attract a 40,000 to 50,000-person crowd. Is it okay for all those thousands to use the park because they each will pay $80 for a ticket?
Of course not. Piedmont Park is a public park, and it’s time for both the city and the conservancy to quit using it as a private fundraising venue.
That point hit home 55,000 times today as runners crossed the finish line in Piedmont Park.