As noted below, it was a helluva weekend. Some highlights:
Truck Driving Competition
On Saturday, I had to get out of bed earlier than I would have preferred in order to head off with Usual Suspect Artie to the A. Duie Pyle truck terminal in New Jersey where we were to serve as judges for the truck driving competition. My friend and bodyguard Ken would meet us at the place.
We had judged the competition for several years, two of which I have written about. As such, we were basically familiar with the drill, even though the course that has to be navigated by the contestants changes slightly each year.
On the way, I had stressed to Artie that we couldn’t hang around after the competition because I had to attend my son-in-law’s birthday party, which was to be held a couple towns away. He had no problem with that, and reminded me that, in years past, we were finished in the afternoon, which would leave me plenty of time to make it to the birthday party.
As it happens, Artie and I were assigned to the same part of the course. The contestants had to make a left turn around a traffic cone, with the goal of having the left rear tire hit the spot between 6 inches and ten inches from the cone. Artie was the left rear tire guy.
After the driver executed the left, he had to make a sharp turn to the right around another traffic cone, with the goal being to have the right rear tire come as close to the cone as possible without hitting the cone. I was the right rear tire guy.
The weather in the morning was “iffy”, and we thought that the competition might have to be called off because of rain. After about a half hour of walking behind trucks and eyeballing our respective tires, the farookin’ skies opened. It was a regular monsoon. Much to our surprise, we didn’t get the word that the competition would be held up, or possibly even canceled because of rain. Instead we each got a spiffy blue poncho.
So, there we were, literally in the middle of the huge expanse of asphalt that on a business day would be covered with tractor-trailers, walking behind trucks in a goddamned rainsquall. At one point, I looked up and there was my pal Ken standing dry as a bone in one of the hundred plus doorways in the terminal looking at us and laughing his ass off. Of course, I made a few vulgar gestures and vowed to get even some day.
Eventually the rain stopped, we finished up our judging duties and picked up our complimentary A Duie Pyle baseball caps — our pay for doing a heroic job. Fortunately, we finished in plenty of time for me to go home and get ready for the party – maybe even take a snooze. Both Ken and Artie remarked how they didn’t envy my having to go out that night, and each reported that their plans were to go home and just take it easy. I must admit; that prospect sounded pretty good to me, particularly since I knew that the following morning I would be getting up with the chickens to make it to the bus that was taking a few of the Usual Suspects to Dover, Delaware to watch a NASCAR race (see below).
When I arrived home from the truck driving competition, I changed into dry clothes and decided to sit in a comfortable and read for an hour or so before having to take a shower and get dressed for the party. I don’t think I got past the first page before I was out like a light.
I awakened at the appointed hour and dutifully took a shower and dressed for Son-in-Law’s birthday party. Mrs. Parkway had prepared party favor bags, and I volunteered to carry the box o’ bags. We located the restaurant with the help of good directions and Mr. Tom-Tom. We even got lucky and found a parking space about a block away.
As we were walking to the restaurant, Mrs. Parkway kept trying to take the box o’ bags from me. Seeing as how she was already carrying a purse and another bag of stuff she wanted to give to our daughter (TJ), I told her, “No, I can carry these”. She kept insisting, to the point of annoyance, that she would carry the box as well. I finally, lost my patience and said, “Jeez, what the hell is the matter with you. I can carry these.”
We walked into the restaurant and were led to a room in the back. When I walked into the room, carrying the box o’ bags, ”SURPRISE!!”. It was the gang of Usual Suspects, and the party was not for my Son-in-Law, but rather it was for me. (Artie and Ken were there too, the rat bastards.)
I was positively dumbstruck. I had absolutely no clue that this was in the making for a month or so. I had been had. I suppose it was particularly easy to pull it off, because my birthday is not until the middle of next month. They knew that I will be out of town on the weekend nearest my birthday (and it’s one of those “new decade” birthdays), so they decided to have a party early.
Spending the evening at an excellent restaurant with the Usual Suspects was a wonderful way to celebrate. After the dinner everyone returned to the House by the Parkway for drinks (the ice, champagne and extra booze had been cleverly hidden). The Original Bill served as the most excellent bartender, and we proceeded to throw back chocolate vodkas in great quantities.
A couple times, as the evening wore on, I thought about having to get up in just a few hours to do NASCAR, but I figured, “Hell, it’s party. I’ll worry about that tomorrow.” I don’t even know what time in the morning I finally got around to collapsing in the bed.
It was a helluva party, indeed.
At 5 a.m. the next morning, the clock radio went off, and I couldn’t believe that I had to get up and actually function at some level. I felt like shit and looked like Fido’s ass. I knew that the hangover wouldn’t even kick in for a few hours. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to be in front of the house to be picked up by Ken and Usual Suspect Jeff (da Chef of da Future) and Jeff’s son.
We drove to the bus (the trip was being run by the Elks Lodge in a nearby town), where I guzzled two cups of black coffee and wolfed down a sugary donut – strictly for medicinal reasons. I tried to sleep on the bus, but that didn’t work out all that well. They played a movie on the bus (“Cannonball Something-or-Other”) that was full of squealing tires and car crashes and about a dozen words of dialogue.
When we arrived at the Dover International Speedway, I was positively astounded with the sea of RV’s and farookin house trailers that apparently had already been there for a couple days. They were packed in next to one another and went as far as I could see.
NASCAR. Holy crap! I had read about how many people show up for these things, but I had no idea just how many there are and how fanatic they are.
Ours was but one of hundreds of buses parked in huge open fields, and every one of them (including ours) broke out tables, food and beer – lots of beer. I started out with a soda, not being quite ready for a beer.
We then did the souvenir walk, which took about 45 minutes, each step of which was torture for my aching ass. I cannot imagine how much money is spent on souvenirs. Hats, jackets, shirts, bibs, model cars, and seat cushions, all emblazoned with your NASCAR racer’s names and car number. We were already wearing “our guy’s” hat, and I really didn’t want a shirt, jacket, or bib, but I was to learn that a seat cushion might have been a good idea.
We then did the long trek back to the bus for some more pre-race refreshments. My ass was getting closer to the ground with each step. I did, however, manage to choke down a beer. About two hours before the start time, the hoards of people (140,000!!) began the walk to the track. Of course, my exhausted and hung over ass was among them.
You can imagine how
much I wanted to shoot myself happy I was to learn that our seats were way on the other side of the track AND that they were in the uppermost section. This meant that I could either wait on a line that ran forever to take an elevator, or I could walk up the ten or so (maybe more – I lost count) flights of stairs to get to our seats. Somehow, I made it. I figure I was too embarrassed to die right there on the goddamned stairs.
After much pre-race hoopla, including a beauty lap around the track with the drivers standing in the back of pickup trucks and waiving at their adoring fans, the race got underway.
I’m sure that many of you have been to NASCAR events and you know how they sound. I’m also sure that you have sat in seats that are not exactly comfy seats, but rather more like bleachers with backs. Can you imagine falling asleep during all that?
After about forty laps, it all became somewhat hypnotizing, and I nodded off.
I probably missed a few dozen laps, but I was snapped awake when a driver spun out. No one was hurt, but it was quite dramatic.
Anyway, the race turned out to be a real squeaker, with the guy who had been in the lead, but then lost it, but was coming back for the lead when he ran out of gas on the last lap. Our guy came in fifth.
Ken and I did the death march back to the bus, managing to avoid the rainstorm that erupted a few minutes after the race ended by walking under the grandstand. Others on the bus made the run for it and were soaked down to the underwear.
I so wanted to sleep on the way home, but try to imagine a busload of guys who had worked their way through 400+ cans of beer. And, of course, my seat on the bus was near the shithouse, so every single one of the beer guys slammed into me on the way to and from the crapper. Oh, and they played yet another tire squealing movie (“The Vanishing Point”), just in case we hadn’t heard enough car sounds that day.
When we finally arrived home, I was tired beyond words, but it sure was a helluva weekend.