Anyone who has ever run a marathon can trace their steps back to an ancient Greek fable of a man named Pheidippides. After the Greeks claimed a decisive victory at the Battle of Marathon, where they defeated the Persians, they needed to dispatch someone to Athens. This person’s job was to let the Athenians know that the Persian invasion was finally over.
Nevermind that Darius would soon return with an army of even greater strength. Greek soldiers had driven the best of Persia’s fighters into the center of the battlefield, where flanks converged upon them and slaughtered them by the hundreds. Few escaped back to Asia alive to tell the tale.
Hardcore historians cast some doubt on dear Pheidippides. They say that Athenians would have sent a man on horseback, being the more practical course of action. Skeptics of that POV like to point out that the terrain was rocky, and that a man on foot would have been better equipped to make the journey in the time needed. But this was no mere moment for practicality. This was a victory, and one that needed to be proclaimed on high!
So Pheidippides hit the road. Herodotus tells us that he met the god Pan along the way, who gave Pheidippides a pretty hard time about the lack of Athenian devotion directed at him. Pheidippides took this message, along with the message of a Greek victory back to the city. Upon arrival, Pheidippides is said to have uttered “Joy, we won!” before collapsing dead.
It was that heroic moment coursing through my mind as I came barreling down Angeles Highway in my 2015 Ford Fiesta. The week I’d bought the car, Mrs. Wife asked me what I’d name him. I’m not the sentimental type, and have never named cars of the past. But this car, with its bright silver paint job and sleek grill, warranted naming. Its flash interior, the ambient lighting, the quality.
Now I am not a prideful man, but these things spoke to me. So I called him Pheidippides, the runner who hailed the safety of Athens. The same name I’d give to my space cruiser, should I ever be so lucky as to command one.
Roughly a month after that moment, my fuel gauge would be ticking down to 10 miles left in the tank. I sat in the driver’s seat quaking, tapping the steering wheel with my open palms and probably tailgating the guy in front of me because I didn’t want to break momentum. Every tap of the brake felt like a knife in my belly.
Pheidippides pressed on. He ran me through the winding mountains. He ran me uphill, past work crews paving a new road into some corner of the wilderness yet untapped. He ran me past schools hidden in the leaves, and fire stations with big green engines in the front. He ran me through intersections and tunnels, across sharp turns at speeds far too high for the posted limits.
And he ran me down the hill to La Crescenta, passing the golf course as his fuel gauge ticked down. One, then zero.
He made his poor bleating sound, the desperate ping of a thirsty car. That monotone blip that you feel differently about depending on the circumstance, yet it always sounds the same.
And then he ticked his fuel gauge back up to 31 miles left and I cried. I’d learn later, as I flipped through my car’s manual for some explanation of this divine phenomenon, that my car maintains an emergency reservoir for people like me who think “Yes, I can make it through a 45 mile stretch of mountain with two gallons of gas left.”
I shook and I cried and I shouted and I felt more alive in that moment than I’d felt in years. I rolled his windows down and I shouted like a mad man and I cut off a Mercedes just because the gods had granted me that power.
And when I pulled into the Shell station, I got out of my car and plugged him with a gas pump and I laughed. I laughed until there was no more sense in it all for my car had not collapsed even though we had both hailed our own personal victories. Pheidippides earned that name this morning.
And then I went to work.
That, dear friends, is your dose of Friday magic.