Rick Benson, Jack Fanning, Drew Murphy and Rod Smith met in 1988. All had toddlers. They — the adults, that is — helped plan and build the Compo Beach playground.
It was dangerous work. Not the physical labor — just getting it approved was tough. There was significant opposition: It will ruin the vista! Teenagers will hang out there, drinking and having sex! It will attract out-of-towners!
But they — and others — persisted. Today the beach playground is one of our town’s great attractions.
The men have remained friends ever since. This year, they decided to do something even scarier than building that playground.
They would run with the bulls at Pamplona.
If you’ve been living under a rock all these years — or hanging out at a playground — and never heard of that bizarre ritual, it’s this:
Every year, for 9 days during the Feast of Saint Fermin, over 1,000 people join 6 bulls (and 6 herding steers) in the narrow, winding medieval streets of the Spanish town.
The men — and the runners are nearly all male (go figure) — try not to get gored or (yes) killed in the 2-minute race to a large bull ring. Once inside, there’s even more chasing — and being chased by — the bulls.
What could be more fun?!
The Westporters were joined by others: Benson’s son RB, Fanning’s son Mikey and Smith’s son Tyler; Joey Laurita and his cousin Bryan.
All have Westport connections.
They spent 3 days in Pamplona. They watched one day from the balcony of La Perla — the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed, when he wrote “The Sun Also Rises.” The 1926 novel lifted an obscure Spanish ritual into a worldwide phenomenon.
All ran at least one day with the bulls.
“It’s not as scary as it’s sometimes portrayed,” Rick Benson reports.
However, he notes, “Some people are definitely less cautious than we were.”
The craziest folks are in front of the bulls, or near their horns. The Westport contingent ran alongside the 1,500-pound animals.
Which is why they’re back home today, able to tell this great tale.
(PS: Rick Benson does not know what everyone else’s next adventure is. But this fall, he heads to Africa. He’s spent the past months raising funds with Rotary Clubs throughout the state. In Kenya, he’ll help oversee a $135,000 school renovation. In Nigeria, it’s a $120,000 water sanitation project. Both are a long way from Pamplona — and the Compo Beach playground.)