Friday, May 09, 2008

The Race

I am happy to be a St. Louisan. There are some things I will never get over: the pizza, for one. It is completely unacceptable, to me, to put cheeze whiz on crackers and attempt to pass it off as dinner. Flame away, I'm teflon on this.

I left my hometown of Fishers, in the suburbs of Indianapolis, pretty much for good when I left for college at Wash U in '94. I've been back for a week or two at a time, but I have lived here ever since. I am rarely homesick for it. I miss the people, sure, but not the yearly allergies from the corn (it must be the corn...I don't sniffle here like I did there). I never felt connected to the city of Indianapolis, despite growing up about a 10-minute bike ride from the county line. Maybe because I never owned a car. It's hard to feel connected to something when you're only ever someone else's passenger.

Still, there are a few things that I miss. Real snow, every winter. A real spring where you buy--and wear--a light jacket. More than once between March and June. Really. Basketball. For a non-sporty person with the attention span of a gnat, I did enjoy basketball. Hockey makes a decent substitute, but it's harder to spot the puck than a bright orange ball. And then, there's the whole month of May.

In Indy, it's called The Race. There's no need to specify which race. There's only one worth talking about. Starting the end of April or the beginning of May, The Race is the top news story every night. Which teams have arrived. How many practice laps did everyone do. Who has the latest technology. Whose son/grandson/brother is racing. Dramatic flashbacks to prior years' fiery crashes. Heart-wrenching sagas of family legacies. Interviews with the rookies. Black and white checkers adorn every house, every t-shirt, every paper napkin.

Our family never went to The Race. I've never actually seen it in person. I didn't have to. Growing up, we would listen to it on the radio--the tv broadcasts were blacked out. That never stopped me from knowing who won, who crashed, who passed who in the final turns. In Jr. High, Race Day meant babysitting. It was an all-day affair, and typically two or three families would go together, so I'd get paid 2-3 times my normal fees to play for a day. Around 8th or 9th grade, I remember spending a Saturday or two at the track with a good friend and her older sister. The sister was very attractive (occaisionally a Hooters girl, later a Jagermeister girl..most recently a cop, I think), and over 21. My friend and I sat outside one trailer for probably 2 hours one evening talking and playing around while her sister was inside, partying with some of the drivers and crew. My senior year, several friends and I opted to enjoy Carburetion Day at the track rather than at school. We didn't have any pit passes or anything fancy, and the morning started out rather cold and rainy. But by the end of the day, the sun was shining hot, and our ears were ringing from the roaring cars. I came home with a serious hankering for one of the pace cars--red Mustang Cobra convertibles. Mmmm...must close mouth to stop drooling. Good times.

Arriving in St. Louis, it was surreal to enter the month of May with barely a mention of the month-long circus unfurling its tents and sideshows a couple hundred miles away. I don't think it even made a mention in the news until the actual race was over and a winner declared. No one here knew much about it, no one cared. Why should they, when the Cardinals were playing. I still can't get into a game that moves so slowly. I gather that the baseball experience of roasting in the hot sun and drowning yourself in beer is probably similar to watching The Race. Minus the heart-pounding excitement, edge of your seat thrills, eardrum-shattering roar of the engines, and the very lives of the drivers hanging in the balance with every turn. To each his own, I suppose.

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