Late mission through city streets gives NYC Marathon its blue line

Gino Magenta, left, looks on as Kristian Franco sprinkles beads, which illuminate the paint and aid in the drying process, at a spot where the New York City Marathon course turns. Jon Gold for ESPN

NEW YORK -- The massive yellow Nightliner truck was filled with 50 gallons of Marathon Blue paint, the crew filled with coffee and sugary soda, and they were off, ready to prepare the 26.2-mile course that would, drip by drip, become the route of the New York City Marathon.

The New York Department of Transportation night paint crew had gathered in front of the Brooklyn Academy of Music around 10 p.m. Thursday, ready for the night ahead of them.

They started on 4th Avenue near the Barclays Center, heading down through Park Slope, with David Suarez driving the hulking rig in front and Sal Testa applying the paint, which was timed with computerized spurts.

Driving roughly 25 mph, said supervisor Brian Paul, the DOT's director of sign sales, the machine would drop a three-second line for about 4 feet. The first line dropped just in front of Atlantic Avenue a little after 10:20 p.m. More than three hours later, the last drop of the night fell right around Queens Plaza.

In between, the crew handled much of the south portion of the race, down 4th Avenue and back up through the heart of Brooklyn, from Gowanus and Park Slope past Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, through South Slope and Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park and down to Bay Ridge, pivoting on 94th Street down by Dyker Heights and heading back up on 4th Avenue.

From the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets play, and past the Yummy Yummy Chinese restaurant, where the egg rolls are the size of an offensive lineman's wrist, and right by Darn Donuts, whose peanut-butter-and-jelly creation looks like it can stop traffic, if not hearts. Past what felt like an endless procession of what makes Brooklyn great -- church, bodega, church, bodega -- and past maybe two dozen check-cashing shops. And right by historic Fort Hamilton, where, on July 4, 1776, the first day in the nation's history, a small group of American soldiers fired on the British's HMS Asia -- New Yorkers' resiliency on display for not the first time and not the last time. Up through Williamsburg, south and north. By Nassau Avenue and through Greenpoint and, finally, up to Queens Plaza, where they called it a night at 1:30 a.m. and vowed to return the next day to finish the route.

The crew went about its business with a quiet pride that was only interrupted by brief jokes in thick New York accents, something to break up the monotony of a long night ahead.

Every so often, the caravan would halt as city transportation trucks, yellow lights flashing, stopped traffic to make way for the big paint truck. One man at a stop rolled his window down and yelled "C'mon!" Another saw the caravan, popped his car into reverse and backed down the street he was on.

On street curves, when the blue line stretched 10, 12, maybe 15 feet in a semicircle, Kristian Franco, hired just four months ago and working his first New York Marathon prep, would hop out of his truck and drop some clear beads, designed to illuminate the paint and help it dry faster, out of a Folgers Coffee container. He'd later say working on the marathon was "a pretty cool experience."

Others have done this same routine for years, some for decades.

Paul, the supervisor, was working his second marathon and looking like he could start for the Nets he was so tall.

"It takes the whole city to get everything done," he'd say later in the evening. "We want to show we're better than other cities. We're New York, the capital of America. I wouldn't miss this. There's pride. I have my own pride in doing this. We're the ones who painted these lines, rain, snow, whatever."

Born and raised in Staten Island and a DOT worker for a dozen years, Paul said there was never even a thought of canceling Sunday's race -- or the preparations -- in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attack in lower Manhattan that left eight dead and a dozen wounded.

"One of my mottos is it's about moving forward," he said.

Charlie Burger, a DOT worker for 28 years and a supervisor for 23 of them, recently bumped up to superintendent, echoed the sentiment. This is his "fourth or fifth marathon," and he said he takes a little extra pride in helping prepare for one of the world's great road races.

"We're gonna get this done," he said with authority. "They're not going to shut down the city. They're not gonna shut down the marathon. No matter what. You know? Whattayagonnado? They want to hit us, and they may knock us down, but we're gonna get back up again, right?

"We keep fighting."