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OFF AND RUNNING BANANAS, ELVISES AND VODKA - ALL ON MARATHON WAY.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, midway through the cycling event connected to the Los Angeles Marathon, a rider veered to a halt near Hollywood and Vine, parked his bike and hurried through the door under The Frolic Room's neon ``Cocktails'' sign.

(Note to boss: I was not in The Frolic Room at 7:15 a.m. Sunday. I did not get to The Frolic Room until nearly 11 a.m. The incident involving the cyclist was recounted to me at that time by the bartender.)

``He said, `How much for a shot of vodka?' '' Gita Bull said as she served seven customers beneath an autographed photo of John Belushi. ``I gave him a good, healthy shot. He deserved it.''

Bull made a motion like pouring a drink, and another like a cyclist downing it.

``Boom, out he went again.''

On the Frolic Room juke box, some late-'70s New Wave was playing. On two TV sets, the marathon was showing. The men's division winner had just broken the finish-line tape, six miles away in downtown Los Angeles.

``Everybody here is waiting for the bananas and the Elvises,'' said Hollywood accountant Bill Byrne, nursing a Corona at the corner stool, apparently referring to the marathoners dressed as bananas and Elvises.

If I'm reading the 2000 race statistics correctly, the typical L.A. Marathon participant is a single male dentist, age 35-39. If firsthand observation is any indication, the typical spectator is the dentist's girlfriend.

Of course, when you're talking about the L.A. Marathon, there's really no such thing as ``typical.''

Organizers are talking about a new course for next year and are fielding suggestions online, receiving lots of requests to cut out the hills and to move the start-finish from downtown to the beach. But short of forcing the runners to stomp through the tar pits or traverse the 26 miles to Catalina, it will be hard to make marathon morning more colorful than it is.

Half an hour before the scheduled 8:46 a.m. opening gun, the lobby of the Bonaventure Hotel looks like a disaster triage area. Twisted bodies are strewn about the floor. Actually, it's only marathoners stretching.

From a sixth-story walkway, the mass of humanity surging toward Sixth and Figueroa resembles, well, any old day in New York City. On nearby blocks, athletes in numbered bibs greet each other with those familiar words of encouragement: ``Where's the start?''

Could there be anything worse than training for months for a marathon and then getting lost and missing the start? Yes. A woman asks: ``Where's the bathroom?''

An empty pair of black-and-white running shoes rest on the curb outside the L.A. Prime steakhouse on Flower. It's a no-parking zone, but the shoes have not yet been ticketed.

``The marathon will start in six minutes at the sound of the gun,'' a public-address voice booms. ``Please do not move forward until the gun is fired.'' Runners begin to move forward.

A Japanese drum corps beats a left-right-left rhythm as the gun cracks at 8:47 and the lead runners take off behind a 14-vehicle escort. ``It's good to see a gunshot in L.A. not fired in anger,'' a TV commentator says, and you know the Chamber of Commerce appreciates that.

Runners wear everything up to and including full Native American dress. A man draped in a fox pelt dances along with bells ringing from his ankles. There are runners in turbans, thongs, Lakers jerseys, suits and ties, a red pigtail wig, and rollerblades.

If crime is going up, this is why: Batman, Robin, Supergirl, Aquaman and Spiderman plod along as a group at the back of the field, 10 minutes back before they even cross the start line.

Runners are throwing so many plastic water bottles into the gutter at my feet at Figueroa and Wilshire, I'm thinking of going into the recycling business. A homeless man steals my idea and comes along to stuff a huge garbage bag with bottles.

Early in the race, the pace is what the TV euphemistically terms ``relaxed.'' How slow is it? An American leads.

Once the pack is out on the course, the best way to follow it in person is via the Red Line subway. A $2.70 ticket is good all day.

Bill and Ann Siefert of Denver hop on the Red Line at Seventh and Flower. They watched their daughter, Martha, start the race, and now they're off on a 15-minute train ride to watch her run through Hollywood. By the end of the day, they hope to have seen her go by four times. The Sieferts have followed their other daughter, Amy, to marathons in Boston and Dublin. ``We're running groupies,'' Ann says.

On Hollywood Boulevard, Pat Cardinale of Mission Viejo stands and waits to cheer for daughters Lynda and Wendy. Meanwhile, he works a crossword puzzle. ``Gotta have something to pass the time,'' he says.

Daily News writer-photographer Kirby Lee, a strong marathoner, runs by with his dog, Onyx, running alongside, as always. ``Go, puppy!'' a woman shouts.

At World Books & News on Cahuenga, Heidi Weisman waits for customers and explains: ``We love the marathon. It's good for the city. But it's bad for business. Worst day of the year. We're such a city of cars. People get freaked if their regular route is blocked.''

At the Hollywood Cabaret, shelves of X-rated videotapes wait for customers. An attendant explains: ``Dead. Everybody's out there.'' He waves dismissively toward the marathon. ``One o'clock. Come back. Pretty girls. You'll like.''

I opt instead for the Burger King downtown. Watching 21,000 lithe athletes has inspired me to start eating healthier - tomorrow. A weathered man in a Tweety Bird wool cap opens the Burger King door for me. ``Have any change?'' he says.

Unlike the newsstand and the porno store, the panhandler finds the marathon crowds good for business. ``A lot of people have questions about getting around downtown,'' he says. ``I've made $18.''

Here's a question for him: How much for a shot of vodka?

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo: (color) A slow pace and typical Southland wackiness, such as this Trojan soldier participant, were in abundance at the 16th Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
COPYRIGHT 2001 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 5, 2001
Words:1044
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