Passing through the gates around Waterloo Park on a summer day in early July, I felt like I had entered another dimension, a surreal carnival ground. Vendors sold typical fair fare, funnel cakes and beer, but the costumes reminded me of a fantastic circus. The event’s organizers donned white pants and shirts and red sashes like those worn by the people who run with the bulls in Pamplona. A group of female performers sported the ruffled dresses of Spanish flamenco dancers. Beside the stage, several bulls let off a little steam as smoke billowed from their nostrils, and local bands entertained the crowd until it was time to take the festivity to the street.
I had never thought of the correlation between the bull in Spain and the Longhorn in Texas until I attended the Running of the Bulls event in Austin this summer. Believe it or not, this year was not the first time that Austinites witnessed a herd of bulls barreling down a city street. In 1999 Chris Carson and Ivan Spaller organized the first Running of the Bulls in their quiet Austin neighborhood. Using chicken wire and papier-mache, they constructed life-size bulls and set them on rollers. Hundreds of people turned out to drink sangria and throw themselves in front of the creatures as they slowly rolled down the street. After three years of hosting their quirky neighborhood party, Carson and Spaller realized that the event had outgrown its venue, and they decided not to hold it in 2002.
But from their ingenious bull, another group’s efforts at fundraising flourished. When Arc of the Capital Area, a nonprofit organization that provides services for adults and children with developmental disabilities, expressed an interest in organizing the event, Carson and Spaller were delighted. Arc got all the necessary permits and obtained permission to use Waterloo Park, and they converted what had been an underground event into a wacky Austin experience. Admission is no longer free (tickets cost $10), but participants, from families and young professionals to unicyclers and teenagers, get more than they expect, no bull.
Several of the attendees I talked to had run with the bulls in Pamplona in years past, but now they were looking for something a little safer and saner. A few folks got scratched, but most participants made it down Trinity Street with barely a bruise. If you are looking to prove something, get a ticket to Spain. Otherwise, grab a pair of tennis shoes and start training for the two-block stretch. With more than two thousand people attending in July, Arc looks forward to an even larger turnout next year. As for me, I will definitely be running with the bulls next summer. In Austin. If I make it to Pamplona, I’ll be enjoying the Festival of San Fermin in one piece, as a spectator.