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ON THE MEN'S PRESS TRUCK

One big sideshow along the route

The stories, tantalizing though incomplete, played out in a blurred tableau on both sides of the road. As the truck motored just slightly ahead of the runners, there may have been a million tales to tell yesterday along Our Town's Marathon, but no time to develop them.

The press truck stops for no man. In fact, it rarely brakes or sputters or alters speed, even in a warm but menacing New England springtime headwind. American-made, but Kenyan-like in its drone and application.

As the world's best runners zipped along the hardtop from Hopkinton to Copley Square at their unrelenting 12 miles an hour, they heard the cheers of thousands. At best, though, they could share but a nod or a wave.

Or perhaps they didn't see or hear them at all.

Sinatra was there. He stood on the back of a pickup truck, just past the 8-mile mark in Natick. He was belting out "My Way."

One could only wince.

His real name? Who knows? Would it matter? On April 18, 2005, some guy -- the guy in every office who just cannot be embarrassed -- pulled over at the side of Route 135, dropped the gate on the back of a pickup, and took to serenading the 20,453 hotfooters who had headed east out of Hopkinton. An electric cord ran some 50 feet from his microphone to a near corner and attached to a big black speaker that looked to be on loan from a keg party. Could there be a better way to get to know the real Boston?

"And now, the end is near. "And so I face the final curtain."

In the truck's wake, Ol' Blue Eyes was gone in seconds, his voice washing away at about the same time the sun stopped glistening on his silvery microphone stand. Note to "American Idol": The guy was just down the street from Herb Connolly Mitsubishi, opposite side of the road. Do not slow down. The lost cast member from "La Cage Aux Folles" was found. Yes, he was. Right there, maybe 500 yards before the Wellesley line, right-hand side, acting as sort of a bizarre sentry for runners about to arrive at Wellesley College. Before seeing some of the best and brightest young women in the world lined up and cheering wildly along the sidewalk, runners were treated (stretch in terms) to an oversized drag queen, dressed in South Miami Beach pastels, who seemed to derive abundant pleasure in his/her presence at the side of the 109th running of the Boston Marathon.

Could any of the previous 108 have been like this? He/she swayed. He/she giggled and waved and held a hand to face coquettishly. He/she sported a prominent chest that could be fodder for auction this morning on eBay. What an entry.

"Freak show," mused a veteran denizen of the press truck. "More of a freak show every year."

No, sir, not Johnny Kelley's marathon.

Hailu Negussie made the first of his repeated, and eventually successful, forays to the front around the 19-mile mark, early leaders Stephen Kiogora and Khalid El Boumlili disappearing into the pack of the long gone and hard to find. Negussie's bold move came out in the Newtons, around where Commonwealth Avenue and Center Street intersect, where he dodged the proficient and predatory herd of Kenyans.

"This time I was careful, biding my time," said Negussie, noting how he had fallen victim to the Kenyan Flying Wedge in previous races. "I would go out when I thought the time was right. I think I learned my lesson."

A middle-aged man, name unknown, picked about the same spot in the Newtons to drop his box of dry goods. He was smiling and waving as the press truck passed by his entrepreneurial corner of the world. He was wearing a white T-shirt, one of the many he brought with him. The rest were in the box, and apparently for sale; again, hard to be sure from high above truckside.

On the front of one shirt was the customary vulgarity referencing the Yankees, spelled out in bold letters. Red Sox Nation. A merchandising moment at every corner, in every box, at every event. And always, always, always a keen sense of history.

Sinatra here. A tarty drag queen there. The ever-present Yankee basher working up hate in the 'burbs. But not everyone took these for the aberrations they seemed to be.

"They were a good distraction," said Alan Culpepper, the standout American who finished fourth, the best performance by a Yank in the Hub of Hardtop since 1987. He spoke of the crowd at large, not of Sinatra and friends in particular. "You stop thinking of yourself, your legs, and your blisters, and it helps."

Overall, said Culpepper, the crowd helped him, "Through the hills and all the way home," he said.

Ryan Shay also enjoyed the locals' embrace.

"At times, you're really hurting," said Shay, who checked in at No. 11, just behind fellow Yank Peter Gilmore. "And at times you hear the crowd, and they're cheering so loud. The chants when I went by, `USA, USA, USA.' They were chanting my last name, `Shay! Shay! Shay!' It helps. As much as I was hurting, it helped."

"Regrets, I've had a few, "But then again, too few to mention.

"I did what I had to do

"And saw it through without exemption."

A rare day, the press corps noted when the 25-year-old Negussie talked after his victory. Rarely does anyone beat the Kenyans, in part because they compete as a group and celebrate collectively when any one of them wins. They are an international special teams unit, kick coverage, and virtually no one beats them for a touchdown. Only a few strides off the start line in Hopkinton, a preschooler, not looking the least bit like she came from that country, waved a small "Go Kenya" sign as they stormed out of town.

If there was a flag for him, or fans who made the trek from Ethiopia, Negussie didn't see them. "I was focused on my running," he said. "I didn't see anyone."

Sights to see. Some good. Some bad. In all, 26 miles and 385 yards of mostly a blur, with the occasional moment when time, thankfully, did not stand still.

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