I grew up in southern New Hampshire and lived there with until I was 32, with side trips to a couple of college towns in New England. I don’t recall a single instance of finding a 400-meter track at a public — or private, now that I think about it — high school closed to the public. I have worked out on tracks in Concord, Hanover and Lebanon, N.H.; Burlington and South Burlington, Vt.; and various places in Massachusetts, always with unfettered access.
In 2002 I moved to Virginia and quickly discovered that it was more common than not to find tracks locked up after dark. I used to work out at William Byrd High School close to my apartment in Roanoke, and I’d invariably have to sneak my colossal frame into the facility by pushing a pair of swinging gates connected by a padlocked chain open far enough to admit me. Sometimes, for variety, I’d lie on my back and slide in under the bottom of the gates. No one ever bothered me, but it’s not an entirely comfortable situation because explaining myself would have been a difficult sell to a law officer: “Sorry, I thought it was only closed to people who couldn’t slither through the cracks.” The same phenomenon was widespread when I lived in Florida, from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton. I used to scale a seven-foot chain-link fence to get onto one very nice track a couple miles from where I lived, and getting out was always harder because there was a big-ass hedge row in the way on the trackward side. Also, I usually had a small, distaff creature with me during these expeditions, and although she was game for the tackling of a de facto obstacle course, I wasn’t interested in seeing her either get hurt or wind up in dutch with the authorities.
I could go into more detail, but my point is that the locked-track phenomenon is endemic to the South. I don’t really understand, with some exceptions, why tracks are locked up like this. Maybe it’s a liability thing. Certainly there’s never anything in there that even the most imaginative crack connoisseur would aim to peddle on the street. Most placed either lock up their hurdled in a shed or chain them all together in such a way as to make theft impossible. And good luck ripping out benches or football goal posts. Or chunks of bleachers. Anyone that much of a miscreant is ultimately just going to set the fucking place on fire anyway, so resistance in this context is futile.
I could make a typical argument about how tax dollars pay for these tracks and so they should be open to the public when they’re not being used for school sports, but I’ll never pay local taxes or if I do it won’t be in a place like Florida, where mediocre running careers go to die quick and unpretentious deaths.
Lest anyone think that this is a function of recent standards and not geography, I was in New Hampshire for much of 2009 and 2010 and nothing had changed from my younger days.
Does anyone else experience the locked-track phenomenon? I understand that in larger cities, tracks are apt to be locked up no matter where in the U.S. they are. But only in a place like Vinton, Virginia would representatives of a small high school next to a couple of farmhouses find reason to keep the place (looking) (somewhat) secure.