Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Off to the Races

My youngest son is obsessed with cars. Any and all kinds of cars, and he has a sophisticated knowledge of their test results, horsepower, engine and brake specs, and many other facts that seem to go through from my one ear to the other without lodging themselves anywhere. I'm not a good car talk companion, I'm not particularly interested in the details and I can't remember them when they are told to me over and over.

While he would really love it, he is not getting a car (or a motorcycle or a dirt bike) for his thirteenth birthday. So we did the next best thing we could think of. We took him to Laguna Seca to watch the American La Mans race. Not being race regulars, we just went with the goal of wandering around and watching the race from the different well-known view points. There were several classes of cars racing at the same time, which means there was a lot more passing than in most races. When there was the rare spin-out and a cloud of dust along the track, or a car went into the pits to change tires, the announcers really got amped up. For the most part, the cars roared around the track and I really had no idea how to keep track of what car was in what position for what class.

There were far more people working at the race in various capacities than there were spectators. There were ID checkers, parking lot attendants, bar tenders, race officials with the flags, vast amounts of pit crew and other kinds of crew who moved all the equipment around, medical and safety staff, announcers, TV crew, fried artichoke vendors, popcorn vendors, photographers, lots of people selling things from cars to car cleaning products to old car posters to fancy custom made earplugs. There were a few tall skinny girls in skintight "racing suits" posing for pictures, waiting for someone to buy them a drink, and I even saw one driver (there was no mistaking the suit nor the strut) walking around like a rooster. A diminutive rooster. This is such a foreign culture to me, there was so much to take in. The race itself was quite thrilling and deafeningly loud at close range near the fast straight of way and at the turns. I had no problem hearing everything quite well even with earplugs crammed in my ears as far as they would go.
The birthday boy with a car that is much easier to photograph than one going 173 miles an hour.

Laguna Seca is located in Monterey, California, and thus they offer Talbott chardonnay to sip on, in plastic glasses. The artichoke vendor ran out of artichokes. The food and drink choices were a disorienting mix of high end and county fair. The most popular snack seemed to be something touted as a French hot dog, which was about a quarter of a baguette hollowed out, with a long floppy hot dog jammed into it with at least a couple inches of the dog sticking out of the top. It was a phallic meal for an event screaming with testosterone. You would never see this in France. Even if I thought it would taste good, I'd be embarrassed to carry it around and eat it. Sadly I didn't get a photo of someone holding one of these.
Race spectators with a great view and a can of cheese whiz

Four amateur photographers taking the same shot through a rare window in the chain link fence surrounding the track
The spectators were overwhelmingly male. There was a high incidence of tattoos and a huge amount of very expensive photographic equipment. Lots of coolers filled with beer. Cheese Whiz on crackers. It was one of the only places I've been where the mens room had a line and the ladies room was nearly deserted. The two women in the restroom were in there preening, not peeing.

Race spectators
The sponsors of the race included Patron Tequila, Muscle Milk (contains no milk), and Tully's Coffee. I pondered this for a bit, as the spectator crowd did not appear to be the kind that would purchase any of these drinks. It was more of a beer can/7-11 coffee kind of crowd. And not one person seemed to be in need of a sports drink protein supplement. Then I realized that the names on the cars were not about the advertising, but about bragging rights. CEOs screaming "Mine is faster, louder, and more expensive than yours. My crew is bigger than yours. My track models are more sexy. My uniforms are more stylish and have more neon. My driver is more diminutive than yours."

We did have fun and my son enjoyed it immensely. When we left, he said, "I can't wait to feel the connection between the steering wheel and the asphalt." He has three years before he turns 16 and will feel that connection. Even if he turns out to be an excellent driver, I think we are safe: he's already too tall to fit in that Ferrari cockpit.
This was my favorite vehicle at the race, the Ferrari vespa. Cute and badass at the same time. Fast but not fast enough to catch on fire.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Some Days Are Just Bigger (And Thank A Teacher For That!)

Some days are just bigger than others. Yesterday was one of those, and it wasn't just because everyone in my family stayed up much later than usual. That made it longer, but it was a big day too.

It was a day where I witnessed one son's sustained hard work resulting in a significant personal record and a profound sense of satisfaction.

It was a day where I saw how generous one of my sons can be to a friend, literally lending the shoes off his feet to make a difference to someone just because he wanted him to succeed.

It was a day where I got to see another son's leadership in action and how he can make a difference for his teammates.

It was a day where extraordinary efforts were made toward an academic goal. Where I saw the lessons learned on the field applied to the classroom. Where hard work, a can-do attitude and a sense of pride and competition can bring about an all-out academic sprint. Where a passion for baseball and a challenge to do your best can meet in the classroom. It was an interesting, if very late, night.

Sure, it was an 18 hour day for some of us. But wow, what was done in those 18 hours has me in awe. And I owe so much of that to my sons' teachers.

The teachers in my sons' lives have had more influence than they can know. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. The teachers I've known for years, the teachers I have not met, the teachers who are coaches, and even the teachers my sons don't particularly like, I appreciate them all because they all have contributed something important to shaping the teenagers in my house.

Thank you to all the teachers who commit themselves to making a positive difference in a young person's life. In particular I'd like to thank my sons' teachers, for their encouragement, support, challenges, instructions, suggestions, inspiration, concern, perspective, friendship, leadership, and partnership.