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A Day At The Races
I should have known when we started passing more and more Nascar-stickered pick-ups. Actually, I should have known by the look on Stick's face when he asked if I wanted to go to the race, and meet his extended family, who'd all be there to see Stick's brother, a pit crew chief. This is back in the early days of Stick, and I'd recently learned that "pit stop" is more than just a euphemism for a bathroom break.
When I told my friends that I wouldn't make our weekly Aberrant game because I was going to the races with Stick, they looked at me in disbelief. Not only was I breaking the sacred code of games before dates, but watching cars drive in a circle? Is that really a reason to skip tabletop superheroes?
When we arrived, the stands were crowded with people, some of which were hot guys without their shirts! Yay! And some of which were sweaty grandfathers without shirts. Ick. Every surface is covered in ads for Budweiser and KFC, Trimspa and Stacker 2. Really good cyberpunk gives me a frightening vision of the future, but as I watch cars slam into the Nextel ads amid cheers and applause, I wonder if it's entirely fiction.
I was raised by hippies (Stick's introduction to my extended family is another story for another time. I think I'll save it for FTTW's humiliation-themed week) so I've missed out on a lot of pop culture, including America's fastest-growing sport. That would be Nascar, for those of you who still think of baseball or football as our national pastime. Unlike football, though, I can't pick a favorite driver based on car color. I chose by number, which was a Very Bad Idea.
Since then, I've started to understand the cult of personality around racecar drivers, and the excitement of race fans seeing a down-to-earth, next-door-neighbor kind of guy winning huge money in sports, especially with other pro athletes making scandalous headlines. The following is even stronger around Dale Earnhardt Jr., and others who are good sons, following the family business. I don't know if Martin Truex Jr.'s public urination problem or the recent cheating is enough to turn racefans away. In the case of Stick's family, I know it's not. I don't think a nuclear holocaust would turn them away from Nascar.
When I agreed to go with Stick, I thought that the race was around the track, not 200 times around the track. I began to envy those with beer coolers and hip flasks. Sometimes the cars got a flat or needed gas or, in my extremely technical vocabulary, started making the CHchCHchCHchCHchCHch noise, and they have to pull over and get fixed. This, for the family of a pit mechanic, is where it get interesting. I can't really tell a hubcab from a tranmisserator, and at times I wondered if our conversation was entirely in English. I leaned over to Stick, and whispered "I feel like Margaret Mead in Samoa,"
"You don't have to whisper," he told me "No one here knows who that is,"
I learned that if a driver does something wrong, I'm a little hazy on exactly what you need to do wrong, maybe it's passing on the right, they get a stop-and-go penalty. That means they have to parallel park. I love this part, to punish professional drivers, the judges make them parallel park. See? It's hard for them, too!
"Well, that's over," I announced to my household several excruciating hours later, dropping my bag and throwing myself headfirst on the couch.
"The car thingy, or you and Stick?" Eric asked, looking up from his game of Civ3.
"I think just the race... although... He's not going to make me do this again, is he? I mean, he knows it's a circle, right? And the cars don't actually go anywhere?"
My housemates considered it karmic punishment for skipping our game.