Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

Postcard from Buffalo: The Dead Runner’s Toast by Elizabeth Lavis

November 27, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 17
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
Postcard from Buffalo: The Dead Runner’s Toast by Elizabeth Lavis
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Show Notes Transcript

Step into the chilled wind-whip streets of Buffalo in this edition of 'Postcards', as we journey through the city's rich running culture and traditions. In this touching episode, Elizabeth Lavis, a runner herself, tells the tale of the Dead Runners Toast, a revered tradition of the Belle Watling Running Club, one of the oldest running clubs in Buffalo.

This is not just a story about running; it's a heartfelt tribute to community, friendship, and the indomitable spirit of perseverance. We navigate the vibrant history of the Dead Runners Toast, tracing its origin to Buffalo's oldest dive bar, the House O'Quinn. We honor the legacy of the club's founder, Dick Sullivan, delve into the club's high-spirited post-race celebrations, and reflect on the solemnity of the 2021 toast, made even more poignant by Sullivan's absence.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome, fellow wanderers, to a delightful addition to the Global Journeys with Jill Dutton podcast introducing Postcards your passport to bite-sized travel tales. I'm Jill Dutton, your guide in this audio expedition, and I'm thrilled to embark on these journeys with you. In this new segment, postcards, we're flipping through the vibrant pages of travel, offering you quick glimpses into the captivating world that awaits beyond our doorsteps. These audio snapshots are designed to be your pocket-sized companions, perfect for those moments when you yearn for a touch of wanderlust but are short on time. While our traditional full-length episodes will continue to immerse you in the rich narratives of the individuals I've encountered during my travels, postcards steps into the spotlight as a frequent rendezvous with travel essentials brief, insightful and ready to transport you to far-flung corners of the globe. But further ado, welcome to this installment of Postcards. Postcard the Dead Runners Toast by Elizabeth Lavis. The runners at 67 West are a ragtag bunch, half in the bag, half defrosted from their 5 kilometer early morning run through Buffalo's wind-whip streets. If there are two things that Buffaloeans love, it's slathering wing sauce on everything and waking up in the pale, frigid hours of Thanksgiving morning to participate in the longest-running turkey trot in the country. After the race, runners grab a quick beer and a banana at the convention center before heading a few blocks north to Chippewa Street. Buffaloe's former red-light district has been the haunt of the Bell-Wattling Running Club for decades and is home to toast known by some as the Dead Runners Toast. The Dead Runners Toast is a Bell-Wattling Running Club tradition. The Bells are one of the oldest running clubs in Buffalo, if not the oldest. The club was a great way for people to get together and it produced some damn fine runners. In 1978, the Bells sent an elite team to the Boston Marathon, beating a larger running club from Atlanta. Founder Dick Sullivan himself ran 31 Boston Marathons. 67 West has been the unofficial home of the Dead Beat Runners Toast ever since its original spot. The House O'Quinn went through a posh transformation a few years back. The House O'Quinn was Buffalo's oldest dive mar and the Bells' post-turkey trot haunt. According to Bill Donnelly, a long-time Bell and close friend of the late Dick Sullivan, the Bells would congregate at the House O'Quinn for celebratory red eyes, a gnarly brew of tomato sauce and beer after the race. Bill remembers the House O'Quinn as a real hole-in-the-wall kind of place. Rumor has it that there was an autographed picture of Oma Menzin who played Bell-Wattling from Gone, with the Wind appropriately hanging on the wall. The House O'Quinn was also where Dick Sullivan first started the toast back in the 1990s. It's unclear what the catalyst was, but once it started, the Dead Runners Toast became as solidly buffalo-lonian as our ill-placed ice-clogs Skyway and our heartbreaking sports teams. In the words of the late great Dick Sullivan, the goal for next year is not to make the list. In the beginning, the list was just Bells who'd passed on. It's since grown to accompany the running community and long-time volunteers. It's becoming a way to pay homage to the Dead, celebrate the living and honor the long tradition of slogging through the slush and snow on Thanksgiving morning, all to take part in the fellowship that is the Buffalo Running Community. The 2021 Dead Runners Toast was more somber than ever before Dick Sullivan had died and his absence was palpable. The raucous crowd of trodders quieted as Mary Magafin, long-time toast leader, handed out white wax candles with small paper circles affixed to catch the drips. Solomely Mary and Tim Zalasco, one of the youngest Bells, carried on Dick's tradition. Bill Donnelly reflected on the importance of tradition and friendship of the dead runner's toast. Dick Sullivan was a runner who loved traditions, most of which he started himself from posing buffalo runners at the Bell-Wattling Water Tower in Boston to partying on Chippewa Street after the Turkey Trot. He said the tradition that meant the most to Sully and to those who took part in it was remembering and honoring those running friends who have passed away and bygone. Toasts with fewer names. The crowd would murmur, hear, hear and raise their glasses of labets, blue or flying bison. After each name there are quite a few dead runners these days, so Tim and Mary read six or seven before pausing. I recognize some of them. Tom Donnelly, bill's brother, a pillar of the running community and the key organizer of the Turkey Trot, is on the list. Linda Yellum, whose brutal murder at the hands of bike path rapist Altimio Sanchez inspired the Linda Yellum safety run. As another. Finally, dick Sullivan, himself the original Bell runner of marathons, drinker of red eyes and father of a huge segment of the running community, is called out. Afterward Mary and Tim asked if there was anyone that they should add to the list for next year. For Tim Nuzalasco, the toast is an integral part of Thanksgiving tradition camaraderie and love. When I go to something like that I feel like these are some of my closest friends, he said. I almost consider them family. You don't want to forget these old friends. You say their names once a year and it almost brings them back to life again. Hear, hear. Elizabeth Lavas is an author and journalist with bylines and lowly planet trip advisor, american Way, canadian traveler and Huff Post, who has worked and lived on four different continents. Her portfolio includes in-depth interviews and local driven, on-the-ground pieces. These days, you can find her at the intersection of Europe and Asia, exploring the Caucasus Mountains on multi-day treks or planning her next beach vacation. The link to the original article is in the show notes. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton. Until next time, may your travels be filled with endless curiosity, open-hearted encounters and transformative adventures. Safe travels, fellow explorers, and keep wandering.