Monday, May 30, 2011

My Long-Ago Trip to the 500

I went to the Indianapolis 500 once when I was about eight years old, when we met Mom’s siblings and my older cousin Jay in Indianapolis for the race:

The traffic was bumper to bumper as it slowly crawled into the parking lot in the center of the track. Mom and I were in Jim and Brenda’s car, with John, Bill, and Jay behind us. It was early morning and the sun had just barely warmed the dew off the grass when we parked in the long line of cars.

Brenda quickly jumped out of the car and opened the trunk, pulling out a box of kitchen supplies. She then took out a metal garbage can lid and put it on the ground behind the car. “Where there’s necessity there’s a way,” she laughed and filled the upside-down lid with charcoal, placing a small metal grate above it all. Mom helped Brenda take the rest of the supplies from the trunk as Jim lit the charcoal and we all waited for the coals to get ready.

The inside of the Speedway was chaotic. I jumped up and down, trying to get high enough to see across the sea of people, and finally Bill picked me up and held me high. Cars and people stretched as far as I could see, all the way to the buildings at the far end. Setting me back on the ground, Bill said, “This track is 2 ½ miles long, so how many times do the cars have to go around to get to 500 miles?” He looked at me, and I desperately tried to do the math in my head, wanting to impress him. But it was too much to ask under pressure.

“Ummm, a lot.”

He laughed. “That’s right.”

Jay adjusted the baseball cap on his head and threw a baseball in the air and caught it in the mitt he always carried. “Two hundred.” I sighed and turned to Mom, disappointed that Jay had been smarter. By this time, she and Brenda were frying bacon on the makeshift grill, and smoke wafted across where Jim, Bill, and John were standing and surveying the mobs of race fans.

After eating bacon and eggs and realizing that Brenda’s grill had burned a perfect circle into the grass, we took a cooler and headed to our seats in the stands. I had thought we’d be sitting in the bleachers, but we were much closer to the action. As we stepped into the stands, Jim gestured below us, near the track. “Those are ours,” he said, and I looked down to see that instead of meager bleacher seats, we had a sectioned-off area right next to the track. The only thing that separated us from the racetrack was a concrete barrier and a high mesh fence. Jay immediately ran down and claimed one of the folding metal chairs closest to the fence. Jealous, I followed him and sat next to him so I could see, too.

And the race was exciting, so close. After we heard the singing of the National Anthem and Back Home Again in Indiana, we heard “Gentlemen, start your engines,” and the race soon began. We first saw all the cars drive by slowly during the warmup lap. Each car was jerking from side to side as they drove, as if they were avoiding speedbumps.

“Why are they driving like that?” I asked.

“They’re warming up their tires,” Jay said, rolling his eyes. Obviously it was a stupid question.

Finally the warmup lap was over and we heard the cars approaching as they began their first lap at actual race speed. The roar was deafening. And exciting. I looked at Jay, who was sitting with his arms folded, slumped in his seat, his baseball cap low over his eyes. How did he always look so cool? I wondered. I really wanted him to like me. “What names did you get?” I asked him. Brenda had written each driver's name on slips of paper and we each had drawn three contenders to watch in the race. The person with the winning driver would get a prize she had brought.

“Jnnnnnyprrrsunss,” Jay mumbled.

“What?” I asked, leaning in so I could hear him over the roar of the cars.

“Jonnyyyyprrrssnnns,” he mumbled again.

Not wanting to appear more annoying, I simply said, “Oh,” and sat back in my seat. I looked down at my slips of paper: Larry Rice, Jerry Karl, Larry Dickson. I looked up at the cars that passed and wondered where my drivers were. After watching them pass, I finally decided that I would root for the car that was prettiest. A fluorescent pink car raced by and I silently chose it as my favorite.

Soon the sun got hot and Brenda opened the cooler and handed out cans of Coke. Mom opened hers and then tapped me on the shoulder. “Come on, Shannon, let’s go look around,” she said, and I followed her outside the bleachers where there were booths of Indy 500 merchandise for sale. We saw t-shirts with the 500 logo and bags and buttons with drivers’ faces on them. I picked up a black and white checkered flag and waved it around. “Let’s get that!” Mom said, and she paid the man who stuffed the bills into his pocket. We walked further, enjoying the shade of the stands and stretching our legs. We could hear the race continuing on nearby as a constant drone. “How much longer will it go on?” I asked Mom. I felt like it had started hours ago. “Probably another couple of hours.”

We headed back up to our seats just in time to see a crash ahead of us on the track. Yellow pieces of car and black rubber flew in every direction, some landing on the pavement in front of us. I dug in my bag for my little 110 camera and snapped photos as the emergency vehicle drove out to help the driver out of the car. Shakily the driver stood and when we all applauded, he waved briefly to the crowd before being led off the track. “Who was it?” I asked, digging into my pocket for my crumpled slips of paper. “Was it one of these?” I shoved the slips in front of Bill for his inspection. “No, I don’t think so.” Smiling, I took my seat in front next to Jay, who was sitting with his baseball cap so low that I didn’t know how he could see anything. I waved my checkered flag in front of him. “See what I got?” I asked. I got a grunt in return, which was better than nothing.

Finally Bill told me that the end of the race was near, so I strained my ears to hear the announcer, silently urging my drivers to hurry. Cheers erupted from the stands behind us, and I asked, “Who is it? Who won?” as I gripped the papers in my hand. Suddenly John threw his hands in the air. “Woo hoo!” John had the winning driver’s name. I sat back in my chair with a thud, disappointed. And my favorite pink car didn’t finish anywhere near the front, either. John opened the gift that Brenda handed him, revealing a small frosted cake that she had topped with a plastic race car. “All right!” he laughed, hugging Brenda with one arm.

We got our belongings together and I snapped one more photo of the people in the stands as we joined the mass of people walking to their cars. As we waited in the long line of traffic, I waved my checkered flag out the back window. I could see the outline of Jay’s baseball cap in the car in front of us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Isn't As Cool

As I went into Starbucks recently, I walked past the same guy I mentioned in an earlier post. I almost didn't recognize him. It was the guy who used to sit inside for hours in a dark hat, drawing on a sketchbook while chewing on a matchstick. He had that cool vibe.

But now it's hot, and it's hard to be "cool" in shorts and a t-shirt. He had the same attitude as he sat there - head cocked in an attitude-filled manner, the same matchstick in his mouth, but it wasn't the same, at all.

Think about the word "cool" (or whatever word your generation used). What picture forms in your head? I immediately think of James Dean-type rebels in the 1950's with their black leather jackets and brooding expressions. Jack Nicholson in his Navy uniform saying "You can't handle the truth!" Gene Hackman's clenched jaw in "Unforgiven."

Cool women? Katherine Hepburn daring to wear pants and buck tradition. Judi Dench with her ramrod-straight posture and ability to steal a movie in which she only appears for ten minutes. Queen Latifah, who is able to rap like a gangsta' (Here, I'm proving I'm not cool.) and then appear in a movie as a classy leading lady.

All these people define cool to me. Mainly, they do not try to be cool; anyone who tries automatically isn't. They are strong; they buck tradition; they are smart and are never silly. They keep their mouths shut unless what they have to say is important.

But picture them in shorts and a t-shirt instead of that uniform or dark suit. Flipflops aren't cool. Summer sweat isn't cool. We need to cover up and keep some mystery. Wear that hat with the large brim we can peek from mysteriously. Throw on a rakish scarf or dress all in black. Just don't show your sweat stains.

George isn't as cool in the summer, either. How can you look cool when your tongue is hanging out?

Monday, May 16, 2011

When I'm Smart

Do you ever have days (or weeks) when you feel completely stupid? I’m in the middle of a stupid phase right now. And it really bugs me.

First, I put my first 100 blog posts into a book on, and their software allowed me to proofread the text in all 100 posts. Oops. While I know I often use incomplete sentences (purposely) and do make mistakes like anyone else, I had no idea I had so many spelling mistakes! And I’m a good speller! I blame it on laziness (too lazy to hit spellcheck) and lack of time (too busy to take time to proofread). Most of the time, I’d rather just get it posted and over with. It’s my blog, after all, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, right?

But I have to admit that many of those spelling mistakes were honest mistakes. How embarrassing, especially coming from a self-processed grammar snob and a person who is certified to teach high school English. Oops.

Sometimes I wish I looked really smart. I wish I were one of those super-intelligent people whose brain intimidates. But I’m from the Midwest, where we’re taught to be humble and not to brag. So I’m just nice, and people sometimes assume I’m stupid. I guess niceness and intelligence don’t go together?

And that is my biggest pet peeve. Just today, the worker at Star Nursery talked down to me when I asked about tagging some trees for pickup by the contractor who will do some work in our yard this week. The woman kept interrupting me, assuming I was stupid and didn’t know how to tie a marker around a tree branch. If she had just listened to me, she would have realized I was asking something more complicated.

And it happens all the time. Do I need to wear glasses so people will see that I’m smart? Should I put my hair in a bun? Should I be rude? Talk down to people? I sometimes desperately need to DO something. I’m just so tired of people assuming my questions are stupid. For example:

Me, at work: “Susan, do you know how to use the key on the door at the end of the hall?”

Susan: “Just put the key in and turn it.”

DUH! I know how to use a f-ing key. But the door at the end of the hall is the alarm door which needs a special key to prevent the alarm from sounding. But the nice Midwestern girl in me ignored the fact that she assumed I was stupid, and I just figured it out myself.

Someday I will be full of witty comebacks for all the people who talk down to me. Someday. When I’m smart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Avoid-The-Roses Day

Mother’s Day is still a day I’d rather just pass over. Mom died over ten years ago, and we’re deep in the waiting period of the adoption process, so Mother’s Day only emphasizes what I don’t have.

What I usually dread the most is going to a restaurant where they’re giving away roses to the mothers. If I take one, I feel like a fraud, so I usually find a way to sneak around the giver-of-the-roses and avoid the thing altogether.

And it seems like Mother’s Day is becoming bigger every year. I noticed that someone wished my husband a happy Mother’s Day this Sunday. What? It’s not like this is a real holiday…it’s not like wishing someone a Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas. So can’t we avoid all the hype?

A friend of mine told me that at her former church, they gave out roses at the door to all the moms, and if your mom was alive you got a red rose, and if your mom was dead you got a white one. Hmmm. What a weird thing to do. It makes me picture the people entering the church one by one and saying, “Alive.” “Dead.” “Dead.” “Alive.”

In my Grandma’s church, they gave a rose to the oldest mother (who was my Grandma) and one to the youngest mother. I wonder if the youngest was sixteen? Fifteen? Just kidding, but to me that’s a weird tradition, too.

This Sunday, we went to a church service where they honored all the women. At first I was afraid they were going to ask all the mothers to stand, but instead, they said that all women are nurturers – all women have been mothers to someone at one point – so they asked all the women to stand. And we all got roses. That was nice. It left no question. I didn’t have to wonder if I was worthy.

Good. Now that’s over and I don’t have another Avoid-The-Roses Day for another year.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Please Shut Up?

This week I had my eyes examined, and I signed in at the front desk and stood listening to the staff while I filled out my paperwork.

It was idle chitchat until one of the optometrists joined the women behind the desk and continued a conversation with her patient who checked out next to me.

“…oh, I heard everything you said,” the doctor reassured her patient while she flipped through some papers. “I can type and talk at the same time,” she explained. “You would be surprised how many things I can do at once.”

“You’re a good multi-tasker,” the patient responded.

“Yes, and I’m so glad that my mother let me watch TV while I did my homework. I wish that every kid was allowed to watch TV or listen to music while they study.” This comment caused me to look up and listen to this doctor’s reasoning. She continued, “Then they get used to constant stimulation and can learn to do many things at once. All kids should study while watching TV.”

The doctor’s sentences were said in a running stream with no pauses for breaths. She obviously could intake oxygen while constantly talking, writing a prescription, and reading the computer screen. She was really impressed with herself.

Being a staunch believer in the notion that people nowadays are over-stimulated and need to learn how to be quiet - to be alone with their thoughts – this woman made me want to laugh. When she finally walked back to her office, the room’s energy sighed in relief.

So imagine my disappointment when the door to my exam room opened later and that same doctor entered in a rush of run-on sentences.

While she entered numbers from my earlier exams into the computer: “Your eyes look great. It’s probably because you’re so thin. That means you’re healthy. There are way too many fat people in this country. And the fat ones are the ones with bad eyesight.”

While she had me look through the lenses and tell her “1” or “2”: “I have a patient who has great eyesight and he’s 70 years old. He eats spinach every day. That’s the trick. And it’s the married ones who eat better. If the woman eats well, her husband gets the benefit, too. You’ve got to eat spinach and leafy vegetables. I have another patient who…”

While she studied my retina on the computer screen: …Well, I can’t remember what she rambled about at that point, because I had tuned her out long ago. I was there for specific reasons – to ask about the eye pressure they had noticed last time, and to see if my macula looked okay, since macular degeneration runs in my family.

But she had not yet stopped talking and I had not been able to ask one question. Was she even looking at my results? How could she focus on anything? She sure liked to brag about her multi-tasking, but I knew that next time I would make sure I got a more focused doctor.

Funny how the doctor’s mile-a-minute exam was the perfect example of why her earlier logic was insane. It makes things so simple when people prove my points for me.