In Kelowna there is a group of men and women who have met weekdays for a lunch hour run for about 40 years. They meet at the old arena on Ellis Street and there is no cost to hang clothes on a peg and shower after the run. Numerous downtown workers have used this facility with a core group of 5 to 10 participants enduring year after year until recently. I have learned, however, that the arena door key was returned to the city marking the demise of this institution.
This group of men and women are commonly referred to as The Nooners. I was a member for about 10 years and many of us continue to meet once a year for a run and a lunch close to Christmas. In 1991 the following article was published in the Kelowna Running Club Newsletter. It has been slightly enhanced but continues to present the theme that has endured through the years.
“HAVIN` A NOONER” is an expression that has different meanings in many cultures. I expect its origins derive from our primordial past. In Kelowna there has evolved a most peculiar implementation of this practice. A subculture has emerged whereby a group of individuals, of no particular subspecies, follow an ancient convention by celebrating midday in their own unusual manner.
The ritual begins with each participant making his, or her, plan to facilitate their personal experience. Kelowna’s downtown harbours a cluster of individuals who participate in this activity. Their preparations have evolved through months of careful consideration and diligent planning. This clandestine enterprise is generally initiated by educating their secretaries to deny appointments fifteen minutes before noon and one half hour after. Any unknowing secretary who desecrates this statute will surely experience her benefactor’s wrath. Lunch meetings are absolutely forbidden. The furtive ones plan each day around this sacred time.
Each night participants prepare a sturdy satchel with implements needed for their experience. The container is held at arm’s length due to its odorous presentation after many months of performing a similar function. The satchel’s appearance may be indistinctive from another but its contents are only known to the proprietor. No others would risk contact with the device due to its aforementioned aromatic qualities. The bag appears bloated beyond reason and becomes very heavy in foul weather while diminishing in size and weight during summer months. All adherents can be seen leaving their homes under the cloak of darkness each workday with these unwieldy packages flung onto back seats or hidden in trunks of their vehicles.
Each participant ingests an early morning meal as they must abstain from further consumption until their ‘time’ has transpired. Having prepared for the day ahead, they leave for their place of business and assume duties very much like the local citizenry. Nothing is revealed or suspected of their eventual intent. They live among us.
Each member carries out their employment duties with diligence and skill. However, daily at 11:57 AM precisely, all production in the city centre ceases to exist for this society of members. Conversations terminate in mid-sentence. Pens are discarded and computers rendered inoperable. Clients are shooed from offices while business meetings are concluded abruptly. Slim shadowy figures begin to exit buildings from throughout the core with their prepared satchels over shoulders or draping from limbs. There is a sudden migration that focuses on a certain building that appears the very heart of Kelowna’s being.
These figures congregate in a room of a large gray building that houses a skating rink, commonly referred to as, “The Ol’ Barn”. This is when the aberrant aspect of their ritual commences. These adult, and otherwise responsible community members, enter cold, featureless rooms and strip, buck naked, in front of each other. The chill in the room is apparent as the city has long since relegated this edifice of history to subordinate or non-existent coffers and few services beyond light is provided to its users.
Participants don their personal costume, in preparation for the event to follow. Lining the walls of the featureless gray room, participants hang their civilian attire on pegs hung strategically at eye level. They begin to open their bags and clothe themselves in the apparel that was contained in their prepared satchels of the previous night. The content may be colourful and new, or old and moth eaten. A tall gangly Welshman wears only a T-shirt and shorts, regardless of the weather. Oblivious to the elements, it is apparent Kelowna’s weather must be tropical in contrast to a Welsh summer. Others regard Ron’s apparel as he dresses in three layers of mismatched paraphernalia until no body part is visible or exposed to the elements. The others, noting his choices, know to wear two layers of clothing less and prepare for a balmy summer run. There is a short man, who strangely resembles Columbo, rambling unintelligibly about birds flying into his office window while being chased by a ravenous falcon. He would have us accept this delusion in an urban environment. At other times he can be heard reciting passages of Robert Frost. It is apparent his labours have finally stolen the last vestiges of rationality. Little conversation is encouraged as each person contemplates the experience that is about to transpire. Columbo is ignore.
A lawyer, the apparent leader, signals the beginning of the event with the words “Let’s get this sucker over with!!” The others follow as if preparing to meet their executioner. The group numbers five to twenty members depending upon climatic conditions and day of week. They leave the Ol’ Barn in a swarm and begin a gentle jog on a predetermined course. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are run south while Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for a northerly route. This is never compromised.
As the group progresses, there are initially complaints of stiffness and “what are we doing this for?” Meanwhile a constant chatter can be heard from the short one, while the tall one, an apparent doctor, tells perverted medical jokes that only he comprehends. The Columbo-like person is heard reciting Frost verses. Some try to sprint ahead or fade back, seemingly in an attempt to avoid the meaningless discourse, afraid their faculties will be similarly compromised.
Upon reaching the one mile mark, someone glances at a stop-watch and utters a curse. The pace begins to quicken for the group as a whole. There is panting heard and sweat begins to emanate from pores. On days when a new participant dares to join the group, there is a sense of urgency with a veritable sprint from the Ol’ Barn to the event’s termination. There have been many shattered souls discarded by the roadside.
On a normal day, with no new victim, this band of brothers (and sisters) runs exactly two and one half miles through City Park and along Abbot Street. They turn around at a location where folklore recalls an incident when two dogs were witnessed performing a ritual of their own. Everyone is aware of this legend but only relates the particulars when initiating a worthy collaborator. Reaching this location, they retrace their path in reverse. Throughout, participants are oblivious of their surroundings and disregard vehicles or pedestrians alike, each managing the invocations of Columbo, the short and tall ones, in their own way. They are drawn, as if by an irresistible force, back towards that cold, featureless room. The last mile sees the group begin to disintegrate. Some attempt to gain distance from the constant chanting while others envision some red flag or starter’s pistol causing them to sprint the last mile. The one known as Gorky leads the surge even though he has only performed the ritual once in the last year.
Participants arrive panting and sweating, as if having completed a more nocturnal pursuit that others may ascribe to another’s vision of being a Nooner. Clothes have long since been shed, at least those who followed the example of Ron. The Welshman, of course, has nothing to discard.
Members find their clothes on the wall pegs where they were discarded previously and begin to dress in street attire. They prepare a return to their other life. Once showered and changed, yet continuing to sweat profusely, they creep back to their offices. They are fifteen minutes late and must hide until the sweating subsides. They slowly return to the life they must assume, looking much like normal community members. Some allow a hint of a smile, knowing they have just had a NOONER and are better prepared for the afternoon than their less fortunate coworkers.