Over the past weeks — weeks that have seen me back in Chapel Hill, NC, doing a reading at the great Internationalist Bookstore on Franklin Street after some seven years of not setting foot in the town, then out further on the coast of NC getting gloriously roasted and drunk in the southern sun — I’ve kept coming back to the same thing. Cause guess where I was a couple Sundays ago? On July 10 me and Mort were in fact standing on the grass of the infield between turns three and four at Chicagoland International Speedway, watching the world’s foremost purveyors of speed, those surly pitchmen for sundry other commodities besides — the beloved regretful male models strapped into the cockpits of hopped-up stock cars who are the NASCAR pilots — go zoom-zoom-zoom around the relatively new track, turns three and four of it at least. In doing so, sans race scanner or earplugs or even sunscreen, I found my new favorite way to watch the race.
Last year, me and Mort went on a press pass that afforded us access to pit road and the crew of then Cup series rookie Brendan Gaughan (he’s since been demoted back to the truck series and that day finished horribly). I wrote a story about the experience in the Chicago Reader that dealt mainly with the penchant most race fans have for picking their favorite drivers for reasons peculiar to the minds of outsiders (for the color of the car they drive, or devotion to a particular sponsor — DeWalt tools, for instance). The race itself, though, droned on mostly outside of my view, and on account of the fact I was later bummed-out. This year, I dropped the ball on securing a possible way into the stands. Luckily, the Chicagoland speedway’s ticket-selling policy assures that the city’s positively brimming with possible handouts, if you know the right people. The track offers only a package deal for the entire season’s worth of races, so that unless you’re willing to spend upwards of $200 for a seat in the comparably small facility (its 75,000 grandstand seats come nowhere near the sport’s megatracks in the South — e.g., Charlotte holds 167,000) for whatever particular race you want to attend, you’ll not be able to buy one. And many of those ticket-buyers are necessarily corporations buying large blocks of seats, giving them out to clients, who in turns give them out to clients who in turn…ad infinitum.
Mort called me on the morning of the race with heaven-sent news. His buddy used to work for a guy who worked with another guy who now works with Richard Childress Racing (see Kevin Harvick, the deceased Dale Earnhardt, etc.), and a couple infield passes courtesy of the car owner would be ours for the taking. After a few beers and a short walk around the track, we parked our butts in the grass between turns three and four and rarely moved from the spot as the cars shifted positions around the track. Three hours later, Mort’s favorite driver Matt Kenseth, having led for almost the entire race, lost his spot to posterboy Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made a daring move in the pits with twenty laps to go that eventually gave him the lead — likewise the win.
We left overjoyed at the turn of events. Despite Kenseth’s second-place finish, even Mort — a day at the track is better than any on the job, or somesuch. Later, I found my favorite way to watch old episodes of Dr. Who.
I arrived at the biannual Pilsen Pig Roast (@ The Whale, Canalport and 18th) just in time for the preliminary machinations that would later lead to the oft-lored belt-sander races. But if you’ve seen one belt-sander race, you’ve seen them all, so I chose to join a cabal of TV enthusiasts inside who were just starting a viewing of the series of “Green Death” Dr. Who episodes, in which the doc and his compatriots save a host of miners from deadly sabotage by an evil chemical corporation that has contaminated the mine by dumping waste chemical manufacturing by-products down disused shafts. The enthusiasts passed a bowl around the Whale’s coffee table and the rest of us got drunk; the question arose: “This is an anticorporate TV show?” The sort of question proffered by a bunch of drunks, of course, a nonquestion question, and more importantly something that belied the ages of everyone in the room. Activism once came in many forms, even that of a quite silly sci-fi television show produced in the 1970s. These days there’s little avenue left but for the streets, and even there the presence of riot policemen systematically outnumbering usually peaceful protestors, serve as a kind of gag. There’s as ever plenty to get mad about and want to change (see the latest Harper’s magazine, the feature “None Dare Call It Stolen,” by Mark Crispin Miller, detailing the fiasco of election-law violation during last year’s presidential election — violation by both Republicans and Democrats, of course, but of much more weight on the Republican side of the coin, the secretary of the state of Ohio, a man and Republican by the name of Blackwell, culpable for quite a bit of it — and the congressional report that detailed all but that was summarily ignored by the mainstream press, mocked in many cases, warranting only a single day’s coverage in but a few major cities’ newspapers: this report, put forth by Michigan representative John Conyers, is available for download from the House Judiciary Committee’s Web site and it’s highly recommended you go here to find it (it’s also available as a trade paperback called What Went Wrong in Ohio, and I’d like to say pay attention to the editor of Harper’s, Lewis Lapham, who, sanctimonious and repetitive though he may be, is one of the last voices of dissent left, as far as the mainstream press goes: highly recommended is last year’s Gag Rule, on the silencing of all voices of dissent by the political machine that makes the decisions for us like old — or the new, for that matter — Boss Daley’s 60s Chicago machine or maybe the swords and clubs of Genghis Khan)), of course, but unless you want to get hassled at airports and borders for the rest of your godforsaken life, a relatively new and burgeoning domestic outcome of the past few years’ worth of so-called antiterror legislation, you better damn well think twice before raising your voice. Or so the would-be death of activism plays itself out. There are little bright lights, more and more, many of them rising with last year’s mobilization running up to the election. Particularly, a new confluence of Democratic causes and popular culture was detailed by record-industry executive Danny Goldberg in How the Left Lost Teen Spirit.
But there are of course all kinds of things to do in the way of diversion, things to keep you otherwise occupied. Waste your time at the American power spectacle of a NASCAR race, in front of a television watching an outdated hokey sci-fi TV show, etc….