I was sitting on a barricade in Pamplona, Spain, 35 years ago this week, waiting on the rocket to go off to start the running of the bulls.
I could see the two college kids I had met in San Sebastian, which was the town closest to Pamplona that had a hotel room. They were backpacking across Europe, and we had met in a casino the night before. They had wanted to run with the bulls, but there was no train service from San Sebastian to Pamplona that day. So when I offered them a ride in my rental car, they jumped at the chance.
It was probably five, maybe 10 minutes, before 8 a.m. that morning in Pamplona. That’s when the rocket goes off and the bedlam begans.
Suddenly, I felt a shove in my back and some harsh Spanish, then some laughter.
I landed on my feet in the street and was confronted by some sort of marshal who began yelling in my face. One of the college kids spoke some Spanish, and he said I had to pay the tax.
Remember: There were four rules for running with the bulls. One was that if your feet hit the street, you were running. Another was that if you were running, you had to pay the tax, which was some small amount.
There was no turning back. I paid the tax, got my red sash and stood as still as possible in the growing congregation.
Then the rocket went off, and before I knew it the bulls were coming right at us.
I started running.
As we were almost to the final turn to home, a block from the bull ring and the finish line, I was tripped from behind. The guy leaped into a doorway.
My choices were to get trampled by the bulls, or to do what I did: Grab the dude in the doorway and switch places.
He got a very light gash in his arm. You would have thought it was a red badge of courage.
When the bulls were in the ring and no longer a threat, I sat down on the curb and threw up. Guys walked past me carrying a stretcher with someone who had been gored in the eye. I threw up again.
Finally I met back up with the college kids. As we slowly made our way back to the rental car, some guys with a huge pipe on their shoulders bumped one of the kids in the back. Then he did it again.
Then he bumped me, which I thought was rude, so I turned around and told him so in some specific words.
Suddenly, a policeman was yelling at me. The kid who spoke some Spanish said his best interpretation was that if I said another word, I was getting arrested.
I was more scared at that moment than when the bulls were barreling down on me.
I managed to keep my mouth shut and my feet moving.
As we drove out of Pamplona that day, I knew I’d never be back.