Select Page

The great thing about being a geezer is there are moments when you actually existed before history.

Last weekend, Head of the Charles, the world’s largest two-day regatta, with 11,000 American and international athletes in over 1900 boats competing in 61 events, was held on a three mile course (4,800 meters) on the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge Massachusetts.

On that beautiful fall weekend, more than 225,000 people gathered to watch the races either on the banks of a clean water river or shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the six bridges under which the crews travel. The race has increased in participants and prestige since its beginnings in 1965.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I am going to claim credit for something. I’m probably going to brag that I was there at the beginning or something like that but I’m not.

I was there before the beginning!

I was there back when nobody dared gather on the banks or bridges because they might fall in. Back when The Standells recorded “Love that dirty water (down by the river Charles)” in a pop hit in the ’60s. Back when I had decided I liked girls but I really hated school and was discouraged about myself and I was trying out for crew to row on a polluted river.

High School Crew

In the early spring, when I turned fifteen,
My choices were baseball, tennis or crew.
Between Boston and Cambridge I had seen
Rhythmic oars of singles, eights, fours and twos

Beneath the bridges of the Charles River.
I was appointed stroke. I paced the boat.
Like a surgeon’s stitch our sharp blades suture
The shell’s trailing razor cut as each stroke

Drives us through the smooth and glassy water
And leaves no scar. The coxswain pounds out,
On the gunnels, the rhythm of my order.
Tin cans and prophylactics float past the boat.
Our smooth and perfect rhythmic mantra broke
Beneath the bridges, into echoes: “Stroke. Stroke.”

I like these little prehistory events. They show me if I start from before the beginning, rather than in the midst of some turmoil, I can see how much has changed for the better.