Scenes of Steve Prefontaine (Scene 6)

Over a decade later, the teacher was no longer a teacher. He wasn’t anything. He had made a mistake in two sentences of written communication and lost everything. The State annihilated his past and present; he had no future. The mob had stoned him to death on social media. He had considered suicide; he was encouraged to commit suicide. His closest friend had vanished without a word. Other friends vanished, too. His dog died. The Christian nuts came out of the rotten woodwork and urged him to repent and convert.

He was on the existential lam, not running away, but to nowhere. He was driving south down Highway 101 and rain and wind were delivering uppercuts and body blows to his vehicle. He pulled into Coos Bay to ride out the storm. He got out of the vehicle and started walking. It was early afternoon and he had no idea where he was going. The Coos Art Museum came into view. He walked in and upstairs to the Prefontaine Memorial Gallery. No one was there. He examined the memorabilia and then sat down and started reading the register. He read for two hours. No one entered the room.

Guts. Guts. Guts. He knew he had to keep running to see who had the most guts. Not running away to nowhere. Running toward something different, good, better. Running into new people, new Oregon places, new dogs, new jobs, new stories. Find a new gift. Invent one. Run like Pre raced, although there was no known finish line.

It was the only way he would ever survive.

Several years later, the man was driving south down Highway 101 again on his way to a disheveled RV park near Gold Beach. He was living in an ancient Winnebago there, still thinking about Pre every now and then, still running with guts and finding new life as a construction worker and tree planter.

As always, he stopped in Coos Bay to visit the museum and commune with Pre. In the register, someone had come to say goodbye to Pre because he was dying of cancer: “Thanks Pre, for all your inspiration in my life. I tried to live it well.”

This time, the man also decided to visit a tiny public plaza a few blocks from the museum and admire the 40-foot high triptych mural of Pre emblazoned with his quote, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

It was a dry and cold afternoon. The plaza had potted flowers, benches and picnic tables. At the base of the mural, the man beheld two young men, about Pre’s age when he competed in the Olympics, 30 feet from one another, splayed, with blankets over them, surrounded by their scattered possessions. The man couldn’t determine if they were asleep or passed out or something else.

The awful juxtaposition of these young men and the mural broke the man’s heart. Had they read Pre’s words? Did they know who he was? Were they from Coos Bay? Had they attended Pre’s high school? Had their grandparents passed Pre in the halls? What were their gifts to the world? Was it too late for them to discover their gifts?

Could Pre inspire these two men? Was there any juice left in his story in the era where homeless men and women lived in tents and under tarps in the very places where Pre trained as a kid?

The man was going to find out. He would teach once again. He sat down on the bench and waited for the men to rouse. When they did, he would introduce himself and offer to help in some way, maybe order a pizza delivered to the plaza. They would eat together at the table, underneath the mural and the quote, and the teacher would ask them about Pre and then take it from there.