At 6:45am I boarded the big yellow school bus that would shuttle me to the start of the race, and took the first open seat I saw. I knew that the bus would fill up and was expecting to be joined on the brown, vinyl seat by a fellow runner, I did not expect the battle of wits that was about to catch me unawares. She sat down next to me and offered a smile. I returned the gesture and then out of a habit formed in high school resumed my empty gaze at the back of the seat in front of me.
Once all of the runners had streamed onto the bus the doors closed and we were off, driving up the road that we would all shortly be running back down. I imagined that the driver was wondering why he was driving us 13.1 miles away from our cars so that we could run back to them, he must have felt the same way the pilot of a plane full of skydivers does. As we headed up the hill the woman next to me smiled at me again and took a deep breath as though she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words.
Sitting there in awkward silence, it occurred to me that she was trying to be polite and start a conversation, maybe even hoping that I would start the conversation. She was a fellow runner and I didn’t want to appear rude so I began racking my brain for something to say to her. The longer we stewed in our unwieldy silence, the cleverer my comment would have to be. I didn’t want to be cliché and talk about the weather, I wanted to say something intelligent and obviously she did too. We sat there casting sideways glances at each other trying to come up with something to say, both of us wanting to be the first to break the silence and not the dimwit who couldn’t think of anything good to say.
It was as though we were locked in a battle of wits, a mortal struggle between intelligence and idiocy and I was slipping ever closer to idiocy. If I didn’t say something right quick I’d wind up a full blown idiot like Nitmos*. Say something! Anything! But before I could come up with the words she turned and looked at me smugly, I knew that she’d won. “Have you ever run this race before?” Wow. She was good. It was relevant, it was topical and it was obviously common ground for both of us. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Surely someone clever enough to beat me in this battle of wits was not just asking this as a simple question, but what was the hidden meaning? What was she getting at? It was driving me nuts and I needed more time to figure out how to respond.
“Hmm?” I said raising my eyebrows as though I hadn’t heard her. I immediately regretted it for the lack of intelligence it showed, but this woman was impossible to get a handle on.
“This race, have you ever run it before?” She had changed the structure of the question, putting the direct object at the beginning. Very crafty.
I was flustered and in my haste to appear smart, I blurted out as many sesquipedalian words as I could, “No I haven’t, but it’s not because I have triskaidekaphobia or anything. It’s because I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of an antidisestablishmentarian.” I wasn’t sure what the last word meant but I said it with an English accent, because that always makes you sound cleverer. Then I deftly turned the tables back on her, “This race, have YOU ever run it before?”
Our conversation parried delicately back and forth, a whirling intellectual dogfight taking place up in the skies, high above the IQ of the average Joes on the back of the bus. When the dust settled I was too confused to know whether I’d won or lost the quest to appear more intelligent. It was after a several minutes of silence that she turned and looked at me again and said “So, did you run this race last year?” At first I thought that she hadn’t been paying attention to my answers, or that she had been too confused by my magniloquent stylings, but I’d already established that she was sitting on a supernumerary IQ. I had already determined that she was dealing from a fuller deck than I was, perhaps even playing with two or three decks like a Vegas blackjack table. Clearly this time there was a hidden meaning to the question because I thought I'd already answered it, at least as I understood it. Instead the question just hung out there in the open, unanswered, poking my pudgy IQ in the belly and mocking my ineptitude. I had no response and she had won.
*You didn’t think I was going to leave this completely unprovoked attack unanswered did you?