Sunday, May 19, 2013

Balto, the Iditarod and Centers of the Universe

The more I hang out in crowded areas, the more I understand the world's problems. Many people are oblivious to their surroundings. After spending a Saturday afternoon in a Costco, I understand bad drivers. I see how people drive their carts, like they are alone. They stop in the middle of an aisle and chat with a friend coming the other way oblivious of the fact that they are blocking everyone in a crowded marketplace.

The advent of the cellphone makes this even worse. I was in a crowded movie theater in Manhattan last week.  I had the pleasure of paying $21.00 to see Iron Man III on the IMAX. It was good fun, but on the way out, a few hundred people had to pile out of the theater into the rain via a revolving door. We lined up. In line approaching the exit, the man in front of me approached the door and then stopped to write a text on his phone. Of course, I walk into him and like dominoes, the crowd behind me walk into me. Apparently, he is the center of the universe and we were supposed to have read his mind to avoid hitting him. Next time you see someone do something really stupid in traffic, that almost kills you, it is easier to forgive them when you realize that the person doing it is the center of the universe. Since everything revolves around them, it doesn't matter that the actions of the oblivious few waste our time, cause us harm or even, threaten our lives.

I mention this because while in New York City, staying at a hotel on West 79th Street, I wanted to find the statue of Balto, the heroic sled dog, in Central Park. On Saturday, on my walk to the zoo, I found it. Everything that is right about this city can be found in the Central Park on a Saturday afternoon. It is crowded but manageable, diverse and friendly. You have joggers, runners, walkers and chatters. If you miss your dogs while traveling, the park is where to be. The dog I was looking for was a bronze one, Balto, the famous hero of the Iditarod. I was surprised to find a crowd of people at Balto. Since it is near the children's zoo, apparently it is a favorite spot for picture taking. It is obvious by looking at this gorgeous statue, that the children climbing on it, are destroying it. Bronze holds up fine in the elements of rain, snow and wind, but it does not hold up to the natural oils in the hands of humans. Kids climb on top of the statue for pictures and they touch his ears, his saddle and his mane. You can see the damage in this picture. The bronze has become discolored. So instead of telling their kids "no," they let them climb up on it and contribute to its destruction. This is where the next generation of oblivious citizens come from (the offspring of the Centers of the Universe). In a decade or so, the statue will be without ears or a tail.

Balto, in Central Park, NYC
Who is Balto? In 1925, the diphtheria epidemic hit Nome, Alaska. The only serum in the area was in Anchorage (which wasn't even a city at the time) , 674 miles away during blizzard conditions. With a temperature of −23 °F, the only plane available had a frozen engine. The children of Nome were dying so the people of Anchorage did what they had to do, they crossed the wintry tundra by dog sled. Balto's team (he was the lead dog) was the first team to arrive in 5.5 days in what is now called the "Great Race of Mercy" or the Iditarod. This was worldwide story and Balto was the most famous dog on the planet.

The Iditarod sled dog race is now run annually. They alternate two routes, every other year, tracing the original routes from 1925. A team can have up to 16 dogs with minimum of 12. Siberian huskies are bred to run and seem to love doing it. The dogs that compete get better health care than most Americans with yearly EKG's and veterinarians stationed along the race. The race has changed over the year.  Now you can follow the racer via GPS on

It is too bad not everyone has a little bit more respect for the public artwork and for our history.

No comments: