September 20, 2007

Track tourism

When I'm traveling I like to look for tracks and trails. (By the way, in New Zealand people say "tracks" for paths through the bush/forest/woods, so you have to rely on context to distinguish 400m of rubber from dirt and roots). I call this track tourism. I use tourism ironically, because tourism is mostly about promoting the uniqueness of a place. 400m tracks are all about being precisely the same in the most important way.

Thus, one of the appeals of track tourism is finding something so similar in familiar and unfamiliar places. I've become very familiar with the tracks at Bierman Field in Minneapolis, and the Newtown Park track in Wellington (left). Another appeal of track tourism is a sort of insight into local history and culture. It is the same basic 400m piece of rubber everywhere. You're keeping something constant in statistical terms. The setting and the ownership of a track give some insight into the place of track and field in a community. Norwegian tracks are very open, owned by the city, and there's always a diversity of people there running and walking at various paces. American tracks are often at schools, and even the public schools lock them up some of the time. On the other hand, some American school tracks are open to all comers. In that diversity are some of the diversity and contradictions of American life. All in 400m of red rubber.

When I saw the photo to the right on Matthew Yglesias's site what intrigued me was not the discussion of public schools in Washington, D.C. but the odd shape of the track. I knew such things existed, and that not all tracks have the same dimensions, but take a look at that back straight. It's not parallel with the home straight! To say nothing of the cars parked on the high jump pad. The tracks are not the same everywhere. They do say something about the community.

NB: If you want to see some odd tracks, this webpage on California and Nevada tracks is a labor of obsessive love. I came across it years ago looking for a track before a trip to LA.

Posted by eroberts at September 20, 2007 1:11 AM