MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. — This is not what Ernest Hemingway had in mind when he waxed poetic about Spain's running of the bulls--about foolhardy men and reckless women, about toreadors, bravado and drunken revelry, about lost love and the Lost Generation.
The Arizona-Nevada border was transformed into a poor man's Pamplona on Saturday morning, when nearly 700 people--mostly men hurtling toward middle age--grabbed at a chance to leave everyday life behind in a sky-diving, bungee-jumping, hang-gliding kind of way.
"I want the adrenaline rush. I told my ex-wife nine years ago that I wanted to go to Spain and do this. She and the marriage counselor said I was crazy," said Joe Grissette, a 40-year-old carpenter from Boulder City, Nev., who ran with the thundering herd not once but twice, as his adoring new wife and six children cheered.
Said Ernie Romero, 51, of Barstow, reaching out a tattooed arm to pat a bull in a bit of pre-run bonding: "Once you get to this point in your life, you gotta do something."
Hurdles for participating in what promoters described as a "history-making" first running of the bulls on American soil were low: Contestants had to be at least 21 and not visibly drunk at 9 a.m. They needed $50 in disposable income and a desire to put themselves in the way of 1,500 pounds of barreling beef.
Running with the bulls is "an extreme sport," said Phoenix promoter Phil Immordino, before the nearly all-male event began at 10:40 a.m. "It's dangerous. It's exciting. It's different, and it's a wild party. . . . I want some action. I want some close calls. If someone gets thrown up on the fence, it's not gonna hurt my feelings."
Immordino's feelings may have been hurt for a different reason Saturday, when he was arrested after the event and jailed on a misdemeanor charge of holding a special event without a permit. In addition, spectators and participants suffered some.
More than a dozen parched bull-watchers were treated for dehydration, not surprising considering the 102-degree heat and the proximity of Mesquite, Nev., host city to the bull run and home to five casinos that serve alcoholic beverages around the clock.
One runner sprained an ankle and passed out in the sun. Justin Hayes, a 28-year-old Las Vegas Weekly reporter, was lightly gored as he raced down the quarter-mile course in the swirling dust of the first of two heats, with a dozen mixed-breed bulls and about 300 runners.
"I cheated death, that's what it felt like," Hayes said afterward, "at least until I realized there were no more bulls behind me."
A few of the more romantic bull runners blamed Papa Hemingway and a 1926 novel about alcoholic expatriates and a journalist with a war wound for their steamy pilgrimage to the Mesquite desert, 90 desolate miles northeast of Las Vegas.
"Why am I doing this?" asked 44-year-old Moses Ayoub of El Paso, as he cased the track the night before the run, checking out the emergency exits--just in case. "Ernest Hemingway. He wrote that book, 'The Sun Also Rises.' I figure, you know, you gotta do something with your life. Run with the bulls."
A private dirt rodeo track in the flat Western desert is a far cry from the cobblestone streets of the Basque country. Although runners Saturday were issued the traditional red sashes, there were more men in Harley-Davidson T-shirts than in the customary whites of their Spanish counterparts.
In fact, the only real echo of Papa's Pamplona came from Jeffrey Rath, 45, who has 16 Spanish runs and 33 stitches under his belt--literally. Rath made his way from Berkeley to the Virgin Valley to share his expertise in short Hemingway-like bursts:
"If you're not afraid, you're foolish." And: "Fear can be your ally." And: "Fear makes you hear better." And: "Fear makes you react faster." And: "If you use fear as an ally, you'll be fine."
The men were brave. The bulls were strong. The sun was hot. The people gathered in the hot sun to watch the strong bulls. Damn fine chaps. Damn fine bulls. Damn fine run.
Unless, of course, you were an animal rights activist. Protesters nationwide have been up in arms since Immordino first dreamed up the run late last year, envisioning cowboys using electric shocks and sharp prods to get the bulls running.
Immordino and Shane Holt, the bulls' handler, deny such charges and said the animals--part Mexican fighting bull, part Brahma, part longhorn--were trained before and guided during the event by cowboys on horseback.
"My life revolves around these bulls," Holt said. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt 'em."
The Humane Society of the United States exhorted opponents of the event to call the city of Mesquite, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Nevada government to complain about the run. Along with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the society claims some credit for the event being in a remote venue.
Immordino hopes to stage it again next year.