We would like to thank Ryan Glass for contributing his Bill Murray Story. Thank you!
There was a gradual but definite change in the atmosphere of the Plaza Major as the time approached for the run to begin. All night I had soaked up the carnival feeling but shortly after the high white walls were warmed bumble-bee yellow by the rising sun and the casual partygoers left the square I sensed a tense anticipation in the air. The singing and brandy swilling continued for a while after the gates were closed but soon this gave way to nervous chatter and then to a queasy quietness, unnatural with so many people enclosed together.
This was when I was approached by Joel, a youth in loose dirty jeans and a pair of duct-taped sunglasses who would pass for a beatnik on the road in former era. He garbled that he’d been wrapped up in the spirit of the occasion and had decided to stay behind and take part in the run. Now, as he sobered he was having doubts as to whether this whole affair was prudent. He didn’t speak much Spanish and easily spotted me, dressed in full Scottish regalia including Kilt, Sporran and dress shirt (I’d forgone the dress shoes for a pair of Addidas) as someone who might be able to understand and help him escape the square and join the spectators on the terraces above before the bulls were released.
I searched frantically for Paxi but couldn’t find him amongst the throng of people and then tried to ask some of the other participants but understandably they had too much on their minds to be concerned. As the firecrackers went off, signalling us to get in position for the opening of the gates I realised that Joel would running with the bulls.
Paxi had described the event to me 6 months ago in my flat in Edinburgh. The most experienced runners run close to the bulls – these are the young local men who have run this race many times before. There is honour to be won and machismo to be proved by running closest to the bulls, sometimes only feet away from horns and heavy hooves. These men, dressed all in white with red fabric wound around their waists, run ahead of the bulls through narrow streets with high walls all the way from the Plaza Major to the bull ring a kilometre away. Paxi would be running here so I would be on my own. Ahead of the elite runners comes the throng: boys as young as 15 running for the first time or middle aged men; ‘still virile’ they say to each other but mindful that they are not as lithe as they used to be.
As the bulls approach members of the throng break off, dive into doorway entrances as the rest of crowd spill past. The heart of the throng is a perilous place as chaos and panic ensue as the bulls approach. Â Paxi explained that the best place for a newcomer is out in front, as far ahead of the bedlam as possible but this would require speed at the start to get ahead of the crowd and stamina to keep up the pace for long enough for the crowd to thin out. Once the throng had reduced it would be easier to bury yourself in a doorway entrance, pin your back to the shutters and let the bulls charge past.
I tried to pass this onto Joel as we pushed through the crowd to get close to the gates of the square. I explained that I had walked the square the night evening before (it felt more than a day had passed since then) and had spotted a good sized doorway entrance that would easily have room for two people about eight hundred yards from the square that we should aim for.
As the church bell struck the gates were thrown open and the crowd surged forward as one. Very few managed to move ahead of us as we sprinted off but I knew after the first few metres that I couldn’t keep the pace up for long. I counted the hollow resonating peals knowing that when the clock struck nine caged and heated bulls would be released into the street. Soon I was wheezing but like the bulls I was glad to be running after such a build of tension. As we ran for what felt like our lives we were encouraged with whoops and cries of ‘Venga’ from parties of women and children lining the roof terraces.
The crowd had thinned considerably and as we approached a bend in the street I motioned to Joel to cut right as we approached our sanctuary. As I turned the bend I was horrified to see that a man dressed in a crumpled linen suit, clutching a half-empty bottle of Soberano was slouching in our chosen doorway. We crammed in against him as runners sped past in blur of white and red – there was barely enough room for two let alone three but there was nowhere else to go.
Then as you recognise the face of a distant cousin it dawned on me that I knew his face. I absorbed the surrealism of the situation as I realised it was the actor Bill Murray. My eyes told the story but he just stared back at me and shrugged as if to say: ‘so what?’ Then I heard the clatter of hooves on cobbles and turned to see thirty charging bulls round the bend. A voice over my shoulder softly said ‘no one will ever believe you’ as a forceful hand pushed me out into the street…