One of my hobbies is coming up with conversational games that are suitable for long runs or lunches with co-workers (two activities that otherwise have very little in common). In these games, the idea is to define a recognizable and slightly annoying type of person or behavior, and then try to think of as many specific examples as possible.
So far, my greatest contribution to the genre is the game called “Ruining it for the Rest of Us.” The object of RIFTROU is to come up with examples of people who, while technically following the rules, manage to take advantage of them in such a way that the powers-that-be decide to change the rules to make the entire system work less well for everyone.
Let me explain with the original example that prompted RIFTROU:
At my work there is a salad bar that has a wide assortment of veggies, beans, cheeses, prepared foods, and condiments. One of the nice things is that they always have roasted sunflower seeds (I always sprinkle some on my salad). Since salads are priced at 40 cents an ounce, it is technically possible to purchase nothing but roasted sunflower seeds for a price that is probably less than the retail price, or at least less than what it costs to provide them. Should anyone exploit the sunflower seed loophole by arriving at the cashier with a bowl full of seeds, it would surely prompt a change in the salad bar regulations, which would make everyone’s experience a little more burdensome. It would ruin the salad bar experience for the rest of us.
Having defined the category of RIFTROU, one can easily spend many pleasant hours coming up with other examples.
Anyway, I think I’ve come up with another idea, although credit really belongs to Kevin, who has vented about it on many long runs, and Joni, who provided a canonical example.
On the phone the other day, Joni mentioned that she was reading Neil Bascomb’s book “The Perfect Mile,” an excellent account of the assault on the four-minute mile by Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee. We agreed that Landy was the most sympathetic — and unlucky — of the three. We both felt that Landy should have broken the barrier first, even though it didn’t seem to be that important to him.
Of course, it was not the Australian Landy, or the American Santee, but the Brit, Bannister, who made history. On May 6, 1954, Bannister, aided by the pacing of his teammates Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, Bannister covered four laps of the Iffley Road track in 3:59.4. Six weeks later Landy ran 3:58.0 in Finland, but no one remembers that.
Bannister! That guy had it all! Not only was he really fast, he was really smart and he was an exceptional writer who knew how to tell the story of the four-minute in a way that has resonated down the years. After retiring from running, he became a successful neurologist, as well as a Master of Pembroke College, Oxford.
Me: So, Kevin, what do you say about someone like Bannister — world-class runner, honored doctor, distinguished author, and Oxford don?
Kevin: “I hate that guy!”
That’s right, if someone is too good at everything, too successful, too nice, then there’s only one proper response from slugs like us: resentment!
So there’s your challenge, readers. Can you think of other people who are so fast, smart, good-looking, and nice that they inspire us to exclaim “I hate that guy!”