Roy Exum: Let’s Run With The Bulls!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Every year in early July, the “Running of the Bulls” is held in in Pamplona, Spain. For many centuries it went unnoticed, with broadband being what it was back when it all started early in the 14th century, but a couple of books written by masterful Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s, soon made the singular event known around the world.

Much more recently, a wine salesman in New Orleans has devised a way to bring the event to the United States. Last Saturday nearly 20,000 people took part in a raucous “Running of the Bulls” in the French Quarter and, if Chattanooga follows his example, we can quickly and easily raise over … say, $200,000 … for the kids at Children’s Hospital, for instance.

What happens in Pamplona, as Hemingway described in both “The Sun Also Rises” and “Death in the Afternoon,” is at 8 a.m. the bulls destined to “co-star” in the afternoon bullfights race through the streets of the city from the corral to the bull ring. There is quite an air of excitement and, over time, hardy young men began to run ahead of the thundering hooves, be it to prove their bravery or their undying love for some girl.

There are strict rules. You have to be over 18 and must run in the same direction of the bulls, as though that needs to be on the list. A runner cannot entice the animals and no one can be under the influence of “the grape,” as it were. Despite this, every year over 200 people are injured, one of the most famous happening just last week when Bill Hillman, a Chicago boxer-turned-author, was gored badly in the leg. (Hillman had written a book, “How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona,” before this month’s surgery.)

Another “first” also happened in Pamplona this year when some deranged runner thought it would be cool to take a “selfie” of himself just ahead of the snorting herd. Spanish police were not amused and the culprit was fined a cool $4,000. Some 15 people have been killed in the last 100 years and, seriously, the 1,250-pound bulls seem to gore a few every year with their huge horns and faster speed.

About eight years ago New Orleans wine merchant Mickey Hanning, who claims he once ran on the cobblestones of Pamplona, spotted a woman at a Marti Gras festival dressed as a bull. Viola! He got some buddies and they met up with members of the Big Easy Rollergirls, a roller derby team, and told the ladies that if they would dress up like Bulls and don their speedy skates, Mickey and his chums would dress in all white with bright red scarfs and matching belts and they would be the runners.

But, wait, cried the girls, what about the horns? With that Mickey pulled out an oversized plastic whiffle ball bat. Yes, each bull gets a whiffle ball bat to go with their speedier skates and, as they approach runners, they can thwack them at will on their fleeing derrieres. While it does seem to take on a bit of an S&M theme, the girls loved it and once a year a lot of thwacking goes on in the Big Easy.

New Orleans has gone nuts over what is now a highly-anticipated and quite hysterical day of the year. Within five years, thousands were getting up before dawn – or staying up all night – to run down Convention Center Boulevard to Poydras Street and then back up Tchoupitoulas Street with the roller girls thwacking everybody they can catch. Last year there were over 18,000 running in fear of getting thwacked. Runners are allowed to shoot harmless cap pistols at the bulls and everybody has fun. The thwacks are not supposed to hurt but the thwackees admit an over-zealous pop does sting for minute or two.

Today there are over 200 bulls on skates, coming from all over the country, and the pre- and post-parties are legendary. This year a runner dressed in her white nurse’s uniform flashed red panties that had a bull motif! Yes, and two guys in red capes wearing white athletic supporters got thwacked a lot. A mock pope dressed in vestments “blessed” the runners and the bulls alike, and a huge pinata, hanging from a tree, showered the runners with green glitter when a bull thwacked it just right. And the thwacking, wow! Thousands got hit because the roller girls are very fast and compete for the most thwacks delved out.

Unlike Pamplona, everybody can – and overwhelmingly does -- drink due to the city’s liberal open container laws. After all, bull ethics decree drinks should not be spilled so runners carrying beverages don’t get thwacked much. New Orleans Times Picayune writer Doug MacCash reported one girl had some sangria (wine) and was telling other runners it had the same essential electrolytes found in some sports beverages. MacCash also noted, “It was a gallon jug.”

Hanning, the funster who founded the New Orleans event, said he doubts other cities can pull it off. “New Orleanians love to dress up. They love to have a great time, especially if they can dress up and drink before 8 o’clock in the morning; that really makes it work. Of course, in any other city you can’t run in the middle of the street with a gallon of sangria strapped on your back.

“It makes everything perfect in New Orleans to have an event like this, and we are lucky to call it home,” he said.

Don’t you wish we could do something as fun as that? And thwacking would be more fun than the way some of us shoot each other. I’m just saying we already have a roller derby team here and we ought to try thwacking instead.

Members of the Big Easy Rollergirls roller-derby team get ready to be the bulls at the annual "Running With The Bulls" celebration in New Orleans, which was patterned after the annual event in Pamplona, Spain. The girls, on their speedy skates, thwack the fleeing runners as 20,000 race through the historical French Quarter every July.
Members of the Big Easy Rollergirls roller-derby team get ready to be the bulls at the annual "Running With The Bulls" celebration in New Orleans, which was patterned after the annual event in Pamplona, Spain. The girls, on their speedy skates, thwack the fleeing runners as 20,000 race through the historical French Quarter every July.

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