Friday, June 8, 2007

My Day with The Left-Turn Loonies

At the risk of flooding Guarino-Blog with a wave of hate mail and some Patricia Cornwall-esque cyber stalking, I need to say this: I have now been to my first, and last Nascar event.

I think my brother-in-law said it best walking out of the Charlotte speedway, “That was a once in a lifetime experience – truly.”

This is not to say we didn’t have fun, it was a hoot. It was a slice of Americana that I’d always been vaguely fascinated and perplexed about but always wanted to see. I saw it. I’m done.

The experience started before race day. We flew to Charlotte on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for a visit with the wife’s sister, who moved there two years ago. Charlotte , by the way, is a beautiful place and I truly can see why so many northerners are moving there (that’s a post for another time, though).

So we left the kids with their grandparents for the night and headed out to what was, no surprise, called “Speed Street” – an all-night street fair in downtown … no, wait, Uptown Charlotte. Cheap Trick was playing at one end, some country band at the other and in between was a mass of drunk southerners downing Buds and eating massive turkey legs … literally just holding on to the bone. Good times.

I downed a few beers myself and must say I truly enjoyed the fried Twinkie and fried Three Musketeers the wife and I shared. It was like nothing you’d see up here, and that’s a shame. Once you got past the shock of it, it was a rousing good time.

Race day had us tailgating by like 1 in the afternoon, which wasn’t early enough for me or my brother-in-law but we made up for lost time by enjoying some tasty beers and truly fantastic grilling by Jeff and his buddy Josh. It was so hot that me and Josh’s wife, Jodi, and their friend, Maura, huddled under the one sun umbrella and finally broke out their actual rain umbrellas to use as parasols. Yes, there’s a picture out there somewhere of me with the umbrella parasol and a beer in my hand. Truly, that’s as un-Nascar moment as the
y come.

The race started at 5:30 I think but we got in early enough to find our seats in the massive stadium (170,000, I was told). We of course were right smack in the sun so I grabbed massive lemonade and settled in. There was a military tribute – complete with fighter jets and attack helicopters that were damn cool. LeAnn Rimes performed the national anthem and the entire cast of the Fantastic Four was there (yes, I saw Jessica Alba but Michael Chiklis wasn’t dressed as The Thing).

Then it was time for “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

The race was cool, at first. The cars went flying by and were so loud I actually did pop in the earplugs Jeff had brought. But while the pole allowed you to know which numbered car was in which place, once the lead cars lapped the losers in the back, the race was pretty much impossible to follow without a TV in front of you (which, yes, some people had).

The thing that convinced me not to go back, though, was the crowd – pretty much everything you’d imagine and worse. The women behind us – yes, women – had brought in about 40 plastic containers filled with little jello shots. By the second hour of racing, the guys around us were doing the shots off the women’s chests. And let’s just say that even a single guy there really shouldn’t have been glad to see these "women" in bikinis. I'd compare it to the scene in Return of the Jedi with Lea and Jabba the Hut, but this time Jabba was in the bikini. It burned my eyes.

One of them decided to join the guys behind them in tossing water on the crowd, which felt nice at first and then Jeff rightly remarked, "I hope that isn’t urine," and I suddenly hated it. Thankfully, someone else in the crowd did too and, within minutes, about four different law enforcement/security entities converged and the chicks were gone … one was apparently hauled off in cuffs. That was followed by two batches of guy fighting with their shirts off … nice and sweaty.

At about three hours into the race, we all looked at each other and wondered why they were only half-way through the 400 laps. We stuck around for another 50 or so laps and then called it quits – and we were exhausted.

For me, it’s not so much a cultural thing, it’s an annoyance thing. I’ll admit it, I don’t like to watch Sox/Yankees games from the Fenway bleachers, it was truly not a good experience to sit in the blue seats atop Madison Square Garden for a Rangers game, and I don’t like the crowd at Nascar.

Not to worry Nascar fans, it’s not you, it’s me. I must be crazy not to think un-showered guys with mangy beards and mullets are sexy, that fat women in bikinis truly get the motor running and that six hours of watching cars take left turns is major league excitement.

My bad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

3:30 of rock genius

So I was driving in to work this morning and, as I often do when extreme measures need to be taken in my life, I turn to raw, loud music for a brief escape. I had the window down along the ocean and up onto my iPod mix came "Porch" by Pearl Jam.

It was 3 minutes, 30 seconds of pure joy ... pure rock genius, really.

If you are a fan of the rock and the roll and don't know Porch, I do recommend checking it out. It is a modern classic, Pearl Jam at their very best. And, unlike many, it's actually the reason I started liking and then loving Pearl Jam.

It was watching MTV's great old show "Unplugged" that did it. I had heard of these guys Pearl Jam, liked "Alive" enough (until I found out what it was about, that is) and saw enough of "Jeremy" on MTV to make me think they might be legit. So, this being the late college days of 1992, I had nothing better to do ... so I tuned in when they played "Unplugged."

Legend has it they taped the show at midnight one night at a studio in Queens. That's cool. Anyway, they put on a great set and Porch was toward the end, as it was then and always should be.

I didn't know the song before so was a bit shocked at the bleep Eddie Vedder got at the first lyric....

"What the fuck is this world, running to ..."

I thought, boy, I could like this song. And it went from there. With each, "oh," as the song built, it just gets better. There is a long instrumental break in the middle and this was the show Eddie, standing on the little stool they'd given him, grabbed a sharpie and decided to write on his arm in huge letters "PRO CHOICE." Cool moment, but nothing for what came after ... the crescendo kicks in,

"Hear my name, take a good look/This could be the day/Hold my hand, lie beside me/I just need to say/I could not take a-just one day/I know when I would not ever touch you/hold you/feel you/in my arms...never again...Yeah...

Great, great rock and roll.

Perhaps surpassed a few short years later. April 10, 1994. They'd found Kurt Cobain's body two days before and this was only the second show Pearl Jam had played since then. They skipped the memorial service to play the show, almost cancelled. And Ed said a couple times he thought they shouldn't play. But they did, and they blew the doors off the old barn.

Again, Porch was the climax ... and Eddie was slamming the microphone stand down so hard at one point (I think it was Porch), that he smashed a hole in stage floor - and then jumped through it to end the song. Wow.

Shame they fell down in subsequent years. If they could have bottled this, I'd still be hooked. Now, it's left to the random song like this that I remember the once-greatness. Sad, but still great. Thanks boys.

Oh, and if you want to watch it, here's a couple things you need to see. First is the video of the Unplugged set. I can't find just Porch, but this is the whole show. And then this is a great live video of Porch that shows Eddie at his best at the famed Pink Pop festival in 92. Very nice stage diving.