I almost died running from the bulls as a naive foreigner
I was going to swat a fly that morning, but I let it live, thinking I could use the karma.
That morning, the clambering of the cathedral bells jarred me out of bed, and into the streets of Pamplona, Spain, where hangover ridden runners made towards the starting point at the end of town. All the festival goers wore different variations of red and white which to me, made them all look like a pack of Marlboro Reds.
Thinking I could use some God in my life, I made over to the nearest Catholic church to receive a blessing before the big run. I lied to the priest about being Catholic, but I think he knew, considering I was an Indian guy who looked about as lost as a writer at a tech convention. He didn’t mind though. The priest did his thing in Latin and forked over a cracker. Hell, had I spoken Spanish, I would have gone to confess.
“Hola padre. Cómo se dice 25 years?”
The streets were chokingly narrow, and with every twist brought more heapings of trash and broken bottles from the prior night’s party. But with a bottle of wine costing two dollars American, who could blame them? Still, the booze-soaked streets caused every step to pull back like Velcro.
In order to get into the waiting pit, you had to hope an eight-foot beam. I reckon it was purposely placed to keep out all those who were too drunk or out of shape to make it over. Inside, the crowd was made up of a couple hundred travelers who like me, were looking for one hell of a rush. You could almost smell the fear, as everyone’s chatter was kept low. Excitement laced with anxiety. “Yea, it’s like your first time getting laid except you might get a horn up your ass,” said Tate, a fellow American I befriended in the waiting pit dubbed Dead Man’s Corner (Interestingly enough, no one has ever died on Dead Man’s Corner).
He was a brawny man, almost as big as those bulls that were puffing and steaming on the other side of the gate. I had approached him for two reasons: I heard him speaking English, and he wore a shirt with Mike Tyson’s face on it and the quote, Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the f****** mouth.
Tate was a 12-year San Fermin veteran and he gave me the rundown. He pointed up to the cameraman positioned above Dead Man’s Corner and said, “When he turns the camera, it means we got 10 seconds until the bulls hit.”
Tate then introduced me to a guy in a plaid coat and the most vicious mutton chops (Correct, he was wearing a full plaid suit to run with the bulls). Where everyone else did some last minute stretches, the guy with the impeccable sense of fashion puffed effortlessly on a cigarette. His name was Peter Milligan, and he's the author of “Bulls Before Breakfast,” a novel that speaks of San Fermin’s history. He offered up stories about foreigners who got way over their head, which is exactly what me — a foreigner who was way over his head — needed to hear.
A sound of the horn signaled 10 minutes to go.
Peter explained the second longest minute is spent waiting for the bulls. “What’s the first?” I asked.
“When you’re running from them,” he explained.
A couple quitters suffered a change of heart and hopped back to safety. Commotion stirred as more and more runners started sprinting. With sight of the bulls, I made a break for it. Time indeed slowed down, a weightless sensation I could only describe as angelic. The experience beat my first kiss in being the most orgasmic 4-seconds of my life ... and then it all went down the drain.
Running from the beasts is like a demented game of bumper cars, everyone’s elbowing people out of there way. In no time, I fell flat on my face. Tate had warned me to crawl to the sidewall immediately if that ever happened, because the one’s who try to get up, get gored.
So there as I was, white flagging it to the side. A quick glance back showed a giant buzz-cut behemoth stomping all four hooves towards me (Later, I enlightened Pete on the most drawn out second in the world, when you’re eye to eye with a marching bull). Simply for kicks, the beast could have trampled me. But it didn’t. That magnificent S.O.B. sidestepped my frozen body and shoveled some other guy aside. He needed a stretcher, but he was okay.
I think back to that moment and wonder, I didn’t beat the bull. He let me live.