Rocky V picks up with our hero, having just beat Ivan Drago, emotionally telling the post-fight Moscow crowd: “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” Well the wrong change greets Rocky when he arrives back in Philadelphia -- mainly his accountant has squandered all Rocky’s money and hasn’t paid his taxes in six years. Rocky loses his house to the IRS, and is forced to move back to the old neighborhood.
Things are bad until he mentors an up-and-coming fighter, Tommy Guns, who reminds Rocky of his younger boxing self. But Tommy betrays Rocky and, at the urging of a corrupt boxing promoter, challenges Rocky to a boxing match -- knowing that Rocky can’t fight in the ring anymore without risking serious brain injury. Rocky can’t beat Tommy Guns in a straight-up boxing match, but he uses his street smarts when provoked by Tommy and the promoter in a local Kensington bar (Rocky: “My ring's outside.”). In a bare-knuckle street fight, the younger Tommy Guns ultimately puts Rocky away with a couple of well-timed punches and a metal garbage can to the back. The end. Tommy walks away from the knocked-out Rocky.
But this is still a Rocky movie. Queue the music. Rocky hears Adrian and Mickey’s voice in his dazed head: “All those fighters you beat, you beat 'em with heart not muscle!” Rocky rises wearily to his feet, and catches up to the young Tommy Guns: “Yo, Tommy! I didn't hear no bell. . .”
Saturday was the fifth Rocky 50k. Like the final action in Rocky V, this was not an official or sanctioned run of any kind. The basic idea is that a bunch of people show up at Wolf and Lambert St. in South Philly (Rocky’s home in Rocky II), and recreate the training montage from Rocky II. A wide variety of people, many dressed in sweats and wearing a classic red sweatband, follow the movie montage scenes in order, from the stoop of Rocky's house, to the rail tracks on Lehigh Avenue, to the Italian Market, to the B Street Bridge (where a dozen kids join Rocky for the rest of his run), to the Kelly Drive path on the Schuylkill River, to Chestnut St., to hurtling the benches behind Independence Hall, up the Parkway, to his conclusion atop the Art Museum steps. And for the fifth year in a row, that is what about 90+ plus people did, inspired by the September 18, 2013 article by Dan McQuade in Philadelphia Magazine (much funnier than my write-up; this Philly Mag article with imbedded video is the script for this “Rocky 50K” : http://www.phillymag.com/news/2013/09/18/rocky-training-run-rocky-ii/
I was joined by my niece Rachel S. and Mary T. (Philly resident and big Rocky fan), both twenty-somethings. The run was old school all the way, from sweats, old running shoes, and downing a raw egg before starting up north on Passyunk Ave in South Philly. While Rachel and Mary did not partake in the raw egg thing, we all fueled along the way with tasty provisions provide by some dedicated friends (and mother) of Rebecca the organizer: donuts, bars, gels, potato chips, a king-size payday, a slice of tomato pie pizza, and boiled potatoes with salt.
I may have been one of the oldest persons in this crowd of mostly millennials, and probably one of the few even alive when the first Rocky movie came out in 1976. Like Rocky V, I can’t compete in a conventional race with the younger and faster (after passing the site of the Phillies’ old Connie Mack ballpark (now a church) at mile 21, Mary causally mentioned that she had just gotten into shape with a 20 mile jog at a 7:15 pace last week). So like Rocky V, in order to not get knocked out, I had to rely on my knowledge of the route through the Philly neighborhoods, insisting on stopping at all red lights, visiting some McDonalds (to the amusement of the locals), and not telling Rachel and Mary where the next turn might lie.
To add a little variety to the run, we did a mashup of Rocky I, II, and V:
--- Off Lehigh Ave, we veered off under the railroad tracks on Kensington Ave. (past a virtual homeless city in sleeping bags under the tracks), and visited Rocky’s house from Rocky I off Tusculum St. (“Took you long enough to get here. Took you ten years to get to my house. Huh, what's the matter? You don't like my house? Does my house stink? That's right -- it stinks!”);
--- Mickey’s Gym and the Pet Shop (now demolished) on Front St. under the “El” (“Hey, Butkus, hey.”; “You need somebody to walk you home? If I were you, I’d take a cab home. Every other block there’s a creep around here.”);
--- Adrian and Paulie’s house off Rosehill St. in Kensington (Paulie: “Get outta my house.” Adrian: “It's not just your house.” Paulie: [to Rocky] “You ain't no friend no more. Get outta my house, I just says.”); and
--- Adrian and Paulie’s grave in Mt. Laurel Cemetery (tombstone remains from the scene filmed in Rocky VI and VII).
While some Philadelphia neighborhoods have seen a Rocky-like comeback since the days of his fighting Apollo Creed (e.g., Northern Liberties), the Kensington and North Philly neighborhoods pictured in Rocky I and V are not in the best of shape. Quoting Rocky V: Rocky: “This neighborhood's coming down with tooth decay.” Rocky’s son: “It's called urban blight.”
At mile 23, we imitate Rocky running down the Schuylkill trail along Kelly Drive to Center City. For the next 3 ½ miles, Mary and Rachel, free from curbs, lights, and surprise turns, kicked it into a 8:15 pace, and turned me into a real-life reenactment of those kids in the Rocky II training montage, trying to hang on but falling farther and farther behind. Fortunately for me, the pace slowed quite a bit on a Chestnut Street crowded with holiday shoppers and traffic lights (unlike Rocky II where the kids follow Rocky down a Chestnut St. mysteriously devoid of cars).
Every Rocky movie features our hero climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum -- sometimes solo, but in Rocky II with a crowd of kids. This year, Rachel and Mary sped ahead to “go the distance” for our 32.5 mile Rocky run (6:29 total time, 5:07 moving time). I was a couple of steps behind, real life imitating the final scene of Rocky V, where Rocky Jr. waits for Rocky to join him at the top by exhorting “come on, you can do better than that.” To which Rocky replies, “Oh no way... It's like these steps keep growing taller every year, my goodness.”
(link to route: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/19397049)