by Zero The Wunderweight
The first annual Bray to Bakers Race offered stiff competition to the traditional San Francisco Bay to Breakers Race this year. Sponsored by Bay Residents Against Addictive Exercise (BRAAE) and the Northern California and Nevada Donkey Owners Society (NOCANDOS) the event brought out forty-seven enthusiastic entries. To a scattering of hee-haw's they lined up on their long-eared mounts beside the Beach and Hyde cable car turn-around to await the 10 A.M. starting trumpet - courtesy of the Human Jukebox. The Buena Vista Café across the street provided Irish coffee stirrup cups for the jockeys and a convivial atmosphere predominated. Toot-toot! The cheering crowd urged the jockeys at a grueling trot towards the Beach Street Baking Company on the edge of Ghirardelli Square for the first 'bray' of the grueling course.
One full bray was required in front of each bakery on the course before the participant could continue. Successful brays were certified by striped-shirted referees (known as "Donkey Ho-tees") and marked on the contestants' scorecards. While the donkeys were coaxed, cajoled and urged by example, SPCA observers kept a sharp eye on the participants. The rules were stringent: no slapping, kicking or tail-twisting. The most popular technique was to dismount and 'hee-haw' at one's mount until he or she responded. Four-year-old Louella, ridden by Lazlo Mitten and an early-on favorite, was the first to reply to her owner's rasping calls. She set the pace for the rest, who gave a scattering of replies. Leaping back on Louella, Mitten took off for the Boudin Sour Bread concession at Pier 39. Frank Cabeza, a fierce caballero attired in jodhpurs and black boots, was running a close second. He was astride Azogue - 'Quicksilver' in English - a large jackass who seemed more interested in Louella than in the race. Following at a brisk trot was Isolde Quink on Sparkplug, the "Healthy-Happy-Heavy" Club's entry, while the rest of the field ambled along on what promised to be an lovely spring day.
Azogue caught up with Louella at the pier entrance and gave her a playful nip on the haunch to which she responded with both back hooves, dumping Lazlo over her head onto the boards. The referee disallowed Lazlo's interference call. Meanwhile Azogue declared his passion with deafening brays, but too far away from Boudin's to be scored. At this point Sparkplug saw her opportunity and took the lead, only to founder badly at the Swenson's Ice Cream cart where the chocolate-covered strawberries caught her jockey's eye.
Pier 39 proved difficult for many because of so many tempting snacks. Three or four Brayers took a wrong turn into Gallery One where the french fries were decimated. At Boudin's Bakery, a new front runner gave First Bray, Jenny Girl ridden by eleven-year-old Siddartha ("Call me Sid") from Boulder Creek. Amidst applause, he trotted up Stockton towards Liguria's in North Beach, a hot seven-tenth's of an uphill mile that he covered easily in half an hour. Louella and her admirer following a hundred yards behind. Oncoming traffic was detoured, allowing the Brayers free access to the bakery door where they exhorted their burros to cut loose. Onward to Mama's, with free panettone samples as well as water for the thirsty steeds. The race continued up Columbus to Mara's Italian Pastry and Stella's Bakery. Outside Wing Tai Trading Company, Sparkplug encountered some difficulty getting past the sidewalk bok choy. This proved an ongoing problem with the majority of the entries and some discussion ensued about redesigning the route next year to avoid sidewalk display bins.
At Broadway the race course swung over to Stockton again, first to Victoria's and then in front of Mee Mee's where Fluid Floyd on Baklava made his move with a series of incisive brays that cleverly duplicated those of his jenny. Baklava bared her teeth and gave forth a chest-heaving response that sounded like a handsaw cutting galvanized sheeting. The anvil chorus from the field rattled windows as far as Central Station whose efficient officers facilitated the Broadway crossing to New Maxim's, Baklava a length in front of a neck-and-neck Louella and Sparkplug.
At the Supreme Bakery, a relative unknown took first bray, Bucket O' Bolts out of Tillie by Set In His ways. Grocery stores' bins proved irresistable and the field slowed to an amble in order to sample cabbage, yellow summer squash and apples. At the ABC Bakery, the race reached the halfway point, but the climb up Sacramento Street to Powell still lay ahead.
On, Louella! On, Azoque! On Sparkplug! On Jenny Girl! The wail of a siren made Bucket O' Bolts skittish. He balked. He sat down to ponder the sonic environment. With shouts, clucks and imprecations, his jockey urged him to his feet while his competitors swept past him at a slow walk. An early afternoon breeze softened the strong sun scorching necks and beading brows. At the crest of California Street, Louella lunged into the lead! Only one more bakery to go!
Down the hill in Union Square, the Presidio Army Band struck up "Grand Canyon Suite!" Truly a stirring sight, watching the frontrunners jostling for position! The trick on the downhill slope was to stay mounted. Fluid Floyd rode backwards, holding Baklava's tail. At Bush Street, Frank Cabeza saw his chance and urged Azogue into a trot, closing in on Louella. Cheering aficionados crowded the sidewalks.
Three blocks left to go! The crowd was going wild! Even in the final stretch a considerable number of bets were being placed. Inside the St. Francis's ornate entryway, odds were heavily in favor of Baklava.
"Do it, baby!" Lazlo pleaded in front of Adeline's Bakery. "Hee-haw! Hee-haw, dammit!"
Louella shook her head, her bridle jingling. The roar of the crowd made her ears buzz. She was all brayed out. Azogue arrived and nosed her familiarly. She gave a half-hearted response with her right rear hoof which caught Frank on the shin. He argued a possible foul with the referees, during which young Sid arrived astride Jenny Girl. The boy leaned forward to whisper in Jenny's ear. She yawned and switched her tail in Lazlo's face. The tension mounted. More and more jockeys pulled up to bray and bay, croak and cackle, howl and moo.
"Hee-haw-hee-haw!" Sparkplug unleashed a squeaky rasp.
"We won!" Isolde screamed over the crowd's roar. She thrust her scorecard towards the referee.
"Go, go!" he yelled, pointing to Powell and Market where the beribboned finish line awaited the victor.
Hee-haws erupted all over the place. Isolde dug her heels in. "Gee up! Gee up!"
Besidethe bakery door, Azoque gave his best blank stare in response to Frank's expletives. 'Who, me?' he seemed to be saying. 'I'm with Louella!'
Baklava who took off next, Fluid Floyd crouched low on the saddle blanket, with Jenny Girl coming up on the outside. A hundred feet from the finish line Baklava pulled ahead! It was going to be too close to call! Photo finish coming up! Who had the Poleroid? Baklava and Sparkplug were trotting so closet that their riders' knees knocked together.
Someone passed them at almost - a canter? Had a donkey ever moved so fast before? It - yes, it was Jenny Girl! Winner by half a length! Young Sid beamed, waving his clasped hands over his curly head.
Sparkplug nosed out Baklava by a whisker for second place. It was over. History had been made.
"Shucks, easy," Sid replied to the television reporters. "She always does the opposite of what I tell her. So I just whispered 'whoa!' in her ear"