Canadian Grand Prix - Montreal 1998
Thursday, June 4
I had one thing on my mind as I left work shortly after lunch, and that was my trip to Montréal for the Formula 1 Grand Prix. I had actually attended two F1 races when I was a kid, but I was far too young to appreciate what was going on. My friend Brad got me deeply involved this season. I'd been watching all the races on TV, was getting familiar with the teams and the drivers, and I was very much looking forward to attending a race in person.
I got home and we still had a long way to go to load up the car and get on the road. This was actually fine with me. I'm usually a "take charge" kind of guy when I get on the road, but this time I had entirely abdicated control to Brad. He knew Montréal, he knew the track, and he's a veteran traveler. This was my opportunity to just sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride.
I got all my stuff together and basically sat around waiting for Brad. He's a bit obsessive. Everything has to be just right. I learned long ago that it's much easier to sit by while Brad obsesses than to try to get him to chill out. I didn't really care anyway, because I was in passive mode. He was the one who had to drive, so what did it matter to me when we left? He was ready to go pretty close to my expected departure time anyway.
We didn't make any decisions about the route we'd take until we were sitting in the car with the engine running. There were a number of options from Ithaca to Montréal. Beyond this, we had to decide how far to go that night and where we'd sleep. In fact, we had no reservations and no specific plans beyond the reserved-seat tickets I had in my pocket for the race itself. Brad's plan was to camp out. I wasn't too keen on that, but there weren't a lot of options. This was Grand Prix weekend, after all. We had no reason to expect that there would be a vacant hotel room in a hundred mile radius of the track. Camping was about the only thing we could really count on, but it was pretty cold and the forecast was for it to get colder still.
We had originally considered taking interesting, scenic routes, and perhaps even camp out on Brad's land on Lake Champlain. In the end, however, we selected the most direct route possible. We'd take Interstate 81 to Watertown, and cut across the Adirondack Mountains on Route 3 all the way to Plattsburgh, and then straight up to Montréal on the Northway.
The drive was uneventful, but when we got off the highway in Watertown it was clearly unrealistic to go all the way to Montréal that night. We could still get a little further down the road, however, so we headed into the Adirondacks. We decided to make predictions about who would wind up winning the race. I predicted that Michael Shumacher would win. I made this prediction based firmly on the fact that it was the last thing that I wanted to happen, and with my luck in these situations, it was therefor the most likely outcome.
By the time we pulled into Tupper Lake it was well past dark, and we decided to see if we could find some accommodations. Since this was a ski village, it was off-season despite the fact it was June. We saw one place that was all dark except for the neon "Office" sign in the window. The agreement that Brad and I struck was a simple one. He was to deal with all the bullshit, and I was to cover all the expenses. This meant that I got to sit on my ass in the car while he determined if the place was indeed open, and, if so, negotiated a price. He came back saying, "We have a room with two beds for $25 cash."
"Sounds good to me," I said.
Within minutes we were in the room relaxing. It was a little cheesey, with knotty pine paneling and outdated furniture. But it was a room and it was cheap. Brad turned on the TV to see if he could get any previews of the race on Canadian TV. I climbed into bed. Even with my insomnia, I was sawing wood within minutes.
Friday, June 5:
I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. Brad ran out for some sustenance while I showered. He came back with a 2-liter of orange juice and a bag full of donut-type twisty things. I choked one down. It tasted like ass. Brad was raving about them, though. I kept quiet because I didn't want to get distracted with a search for more palatable breakfast food. I just wanted to get on the road.
Once again, I got my shit together and waited for Brad to obsess over everything. He was hot to get to the track, though, so it didn't take too long. Soon I was comfortably in the passenger seat and Brad was driving us along.
It didn't take us long to get to Plattsburgh. We stopped to fill up with cheap U.S. gas and fill the tires with air. I stepped out of the car, and the wind blew one of my contact lenses right out of my eye. That was the first time that had ever happened to me. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack a bottle of saline solution, and soon I had the contact back where it belonged.
We got back on the road and headed for the Canadian border. When we got to customs there were two lanes open. We chose one pretty much at random. Of course it turned out to be the one that was moving more slowly. This had ramifications that went beyond mere inconvenience. It meant that the customs officer was scrutinizing the travelers more closely. This made Brad and me both a little uneasy. We had nothing to hide, but crossing the border can be a sketchy experience. If they decide to fuck with you, it can be a far greater hassle than just getting pulled over by the cops. I got out our race tickets and laid them on the dashboard in plain sight, so that there would be no question as to the purpose of our visit.
We finally got up to the booth to find a young, blond-haired woman on duty. She asked us all the typical questions. "Where do you live? Where were you born? What's your citizenship? What's the purpose of your visit? Where will you be staying?"
Brad said that we didn't have any specific plans on where we'd be staying. She looked at us incredulously. "You don't have any reservations?" she asked. We said no. There was a pejorative air to her expression, as if we were either crazy or stupid to go to Montréal on Grand Prix weekend without knowing for sure where we'd be staying, like we were vagrants or something.
Finally she got onto the final question. "Do you have anything to declare? Any alcohol or cigarettes?" We said no, and she let us pass. I then reached into the half-pack of Marlboro Lights that I'd unwittingly smuggled into the country and lit up a smoke.
There was no stopping us now. Montréal was only about a half-hour from the border. As the city approached I started feeling a little nervy about finding the metro station. I had an AAA map that I was examining. I started second-guessing myself about where we should get off. Brad was asking me questions and requiring some navigator duties of me. I rather wished that I was driving at this point, and that Brad was responsible for deciding where we should or shouldn't go. What made matters worse was that all the signs were in French.
Just as we were getting into the city itself, however, there was a sign that was clearly marked for the metro stop. I put the map away and relaxed. In the mile or so we had to go before we got to the exit, we found ourselves directly across the river from the island where the race track was. "Shhh!" Brad said as he rolled his window down. I heard the unmistakable sound of Formula 1 race cars screaming in the distance. The first Friday practice was under way, and the cars were circling the track in full force. We both smiled as we tried to contain our excitement.
We pulled off at the designated exit and followed clearly marked signs to the metro station. Just a bit of anxiety settled in as we wondered if there would be any parking left. Soon, however, we saw people directing traffic into an overflow field, in which there was still plenty of room. After a few minutes of stop-and-go traffic we were entering the lot. Some woman spoke French to us as she sold us a parking pass. It cost $10, but it was Canadian money, which translated into about $7.50 U.S.
We put the parking pass in the windshield and gathered our stuff. Once again I had to wait a while while Brad picked and pawed through all his stuff, gathering this and that, and packing it into his backpack. I was pretty patient this time, because I knew that a lot of the stuff he was bringing with him was stuff that I'd need too. He was also more or less in charge of cameras and the palmcorder.
When Brad was ready to go our next challenge was to figure out how to get on the metro. We were at a combined bus terminal and subway station. There were busses all over the place, but no clear indications of where the subway was. I was content to follow everyone else, but Brad wasn't entirely sure. He'd been there before, but it was many years ago. He remembered the subway entrance as being somewhere else altogether. Finally he spotted a sign, which was right were the crowd was headed, and off we went.
I was very excited to see what this metro was really like. I had heard that the Washington D.C. metro was modeled after Montréal, and I knew D.C. to have a really outstanding system. What I liked about it most, beyond the logical layout of the routes and stations, was that they had "smart" tickets. Each ticket, while made of heavy-duty paper, was the size of a credit card, and had a magnetic strip on the back. The user could put as much money on each ticket as he or she wanted, and the turnstiles gauged the distance traveled and updated the ticket upon exit with the adjusted amount. It was possible to put more money on a ticket, and they could be used indefinitely.
Once inside the station I discovered the ticket process to be decidedly low-tech. Tickets were a flat rate. We bought one each, and just a foot away from the booth we dropped each ticket into a little slot. It seemed like kind of a waste. But it was moot because we were on the train and on our way to the track.
Ours was the first station after the one on which we boarded. On the short ride I immediately started checking out all the young men. I'd been to Canada many times in the past, and I had come to the conclusion that there were not a lot of good-looking men in Canada. I had also come to the conclusion that they didn't have a good fashion sense. They seemed to be stuck in the Seventies, with fluffy hair styles, bell-bottom pants and paisley shirts unbuttoned to the navel. This was my first time in Montréal, however, and I was seeing something completely different. A large proportion of the guys were drop-dead gorgeous, dressed very smartly, and with attractive hair cuts. I had to keep from staring and drooling. I realized that every time I'd ever been in Canada had been in Ontario. I decided that they must be the ones behind the times, and that Quebeccers are much more trendy.
Within minutes we were at our stop and we got off the train. We came up to the surface and exited the metro station. We were immediately accosted by all manner of people selling all manner of stuff. Mostly people were selling official programs or ear plugs. Brad and I both questioned the idea of putting plugs in our ears, as the screeching sound of the F1 engines was one of the reasons we were so interested in seeing the race in person.
It wasn't until we'd walked some distance that we hit the turnstiles and had to present our tickets. There were a lot more people than expected this early into the weekend. I overheard someone saying, "If it's this crowded now I don't want to think about what it'll be like on race day!"
At this point in time the first practice was over, and there wasn't much going on. We both decided the best thing to do was to scope out our reserved seats. Brad had been to the Montréal Grand Prix many times before, but this was the first time he'd had grandstand seats. Before he'd always settled for general admission tickets. I'd waited until the last minute to order tickets, so we were in what was considered the worst seats in the house. We started to work our way around the outside of the hairpin turn to the back straights where our grandstand was. We immediately started hitting a lot of bottlenecks where the crowds were totally backed up. It was a huge hassle. If this was only Friday, I couldn't imagine what the crowds would be like on the day of the race itself.
Once we were on the other side of the hairpin the space opened up a little bit and it was easier going. We got to our grandstand, which was the furthest one around that side of the track, and found our gate, which was the furthest one in that grandstand, and climbed up to our seats. The view of the track wasn't too bad. We couldn't quite see the hairpin itself, but we had a long view in both directions. We couldn't see a Jumbo-Tron ™ screen from where we were, however, which was a big disadvantage since there would be a lot of action on other parts of the track which we wouldn't be privy to. They were pretty lame seats, actually, but they were ours. Brad was delighted to know that we had a place of our own, and that we wouldn't have to fight the crowds on race day, and that we could go for food or to take a leak and not lose our place.
We sat there for a while and played with our binoculars and cameras. The sun was shining, but it was still a little cold out. Before long the cars came out for the second practice of the day. The first time one went past I realized why a lot of the spectators were buying ear plugs. These cars were LOUD!!! I would turn my head to the right to see them coming, and then follow them as they flew past to my left. That put my right ear pretty much directly towards the sound each time. That ear started ringing pretty badly. But I was loving it.
It was cool to finally see these cars in person, but it wasn't terribly exciting. They'd fly by on the straight at incredible speed, and that was about it. But I was still glad to be there. After the cars had been out for a while, we decided to get up and wander around a bit. With most people in their seats, the crowds weren't too bad and we were able to get back around the hairpin pretty quickly.
We walked to other parts of the track and watched from various vantage points. The general area in which the track was located was very interesting. In addition to all the water that was surrounding the island, there were many canals and small lakes within the island itself. Before the hour was over, we'd walked down completely to the other end of the track. We took some snapshots and video footage until the practice was over and all the cars came off the track.
In addition to the Formula 1 race, there were other classes of cars and other races taking place the same weekend. We hung out for a while longer while other cars took the track. Brad wasn't too interested in these, since they couldn't compare to F1, and I was getting a little tired of the noise. We decided to head back to the metro station and venture into downtown for dinner.
We got back on the metro without too much trouble, and took it about two more stops up the line. We got out, assuming we would be in Old Montréal, but we were in a modern business district. We took a moment to snap a picture in front of what we assumed was the city hall.
I was pretty disoriented, but Brad knew approximately where we were. We only walked a few blocks and we found ourselves in the Old Montréal district. It was very quaint, with old buildings and shops and street vendors and whatnot. We wandered around for a while, but I was pretty hungry and started suggesting restaurants. Before long we'd settled on a place that served Italian cuisine and had seats in an open-air courtyard. It was still a little chilly out, but we both wanted to eat outdoors if possible.
We sat down, ordered a couple glasses of the house red wine, and I lit up a smoke. We had to wait a while because they weren't taking dinner orders quite yet. I started asking Brad some technical questions about the F1 engines, the nature of redline, and how these engines could spin at such unbelievable RPMs. While we were talking, I noticed a guy sitting alone at the next table. It appeared that he was eaves dropping on our conversation. Sure enough, after a few minutes he turned around and asked us if we had come from the track. Brad said yes and engaged him in conversation.
This is one way in which Brad and I are quite different. I tend to be very shy in situations like this. I act politely, but by virtue of my body language and terse responses I give the general impression that I'm not interested in conversation. Brad is quite the opposite. He is very enthusiastic about meeting new people, and jumps blindly into undefined social situations. In truth I wish I was more like Brad. It was good to have him along, because he spoke to the guy and invited him to join us. The fellow turned his chair around, bummed one of my smokes, and started talking with us.
He looked to be in his early to mid 30's, rather slightly built, but fairly handsome. He had a strong French-Canadian accent, but struggled with his English very gracefully. He introduced himself as Benoit (pronounced "ben-wah"). He had been sitting alone because he was waiting to begin a meeting with the restaurant owner. He said that he was in the business of finding investors for entrepreneurs, especially upstart companies in the high-tech field, and this restaurateur was one of his clients.
He then began to really tout the restaurant where we were. He said that it was the best restaurant in all of Montréal. Looking around, the place looked nice, but didn't seem to measure up to his boasts. Brad asked him how many dinners they served on an average evening. Benoit said around 1,200. I got the feeling that he was trying hard to impress us. As Brad and I looked over our menus, Benoit strongly recommended the fois gras (pronounced "fwah grah") for an appetizer. The waiter came by to take our orders. I asked for the fois gras, pronouncing it as best I could, and he looked back at me perplexed saying that there was no such thing on the menu. Then he and Benoit went back and forth in French while Brad and I were wondering what they were talking about. Finally Benoit told us that he could not convince the waiter to let him order anything that was not on the menu, although he'd done it before. The poor waiter had to wait while Brad and I tried to scramble for something else to order. I asked for stuffed shells, or something equally blazé. Brad ordered the escargot as an appetizer and said that he'd order his main dish later. I knew that escargot was snails, and I was just glad that I wasn't going to be eating it.
After the waiter left us alone we continued chatting and Benoit continued trying to impress us. He started bragging about a $200 bottle of wine that was served there. He told us that we absolutely had to try a glass. Brad and I both said that we'd love to, but that we were on a tight budget and couldn't afford that much for wine. Benoit said not to worry, that it was on him. He was most insistent.
Brad and I looked at each other. We were both thinking the exact same thing, but couldn't say it out loud. Each of us suspected that Benoit was an opportunist who was out to prey on tourists who were in town for the race. His overly gregarious nature and eagerness to impress were indicators of a con man on the make. The fact that he had been bumming smokes from me didn't help his credibility any. It seemed dangerously probable that he had a taste for some $200 wine, and was going to get it by sticking us with the bill. His ability to converse with the waiter in French without Brad or me knowing what was being said exacerbated our paranoia.
Ultimately Benoit would not take no for an answer, and he ordered the wine. After the waiter walked away I got up to use the men's room. When I got back the bottle was sitting there with a little bit in a glass at my place. They told me that I had the honor of trying the first sip. I did the customary actions of looking at the wine, smelling it, and taking a teeny-tiny sip. It tasted like red wine. Anything better than MD 20/20 is wasted on my frat-boy pallet. It could have been a $2 bottle of wine or a $2,000 bottle of wine, and it would have tasted about the same to me. But to be polite I made this really big deal about how fabulous it was. They each poured themselves a glass and we continued with our conversation.
Then the really tricky part of the evening came. The escargot arrived. Brad was served a plate with hollow pastry, surrounded by sauce, stuffed with a small pile of snails. Except for their dark color, they looked just like the slugs I see underneath rocks. This didn't become a crisis until Brad suggested that we share it. I didn't know if Benoit was a legitimate financial big-shot, or if he was a slimy crook, but either way I didn't want him to see me as the uncultured clod that I actually am. This was Old Montréal and we were Formula 1 fans; the upper-crust of spectator sports the world wide.
Brad put half the pastry and a little more than half the snails on a side dish for me and passed it over. I put on my best poker face as I cut off a piece of pastry, speared a snail, and looked at it as I tried to muster up the bravery to see this through. Not wanting to pause too long, I closed my eyes and popped it in my mouth. As I began to chew I fully expected to gag and either spit it out or swallow it whole. Much to my surprise, however, I found the little bugger to be just about the most tender meat I'd ever tasted. It really was something to be described as "melt in your mouth." I then started pigging out on the plate, wishing I had more of them.
Soon the waiter came by and told Benoit something in French. Benoit said that the restaurant owner was ready to meet with him, and he must say goodbye. He gave us his business card and went off into the building. Finally Brad and I could compare notes about him. It turned out that when I went into the men's room that Brad confirmed with the waiter that we wouldn't get stuck with the bill for the wine. It was only then that Brad told the waiter to go ahead and bring us the bottle. Until then I fully expected that I could get stuck with a $200 charge on my MasterCard.
We enjoyed the rest of our meal and our $200 bottle of wine as the sun started going down. I was having a great time, but I still was worried about accommodations for the night. Brad was still planning that we would camp out. I still wasn't too keen on the idea, but there were not a lot of alternatives. Any possible chance of finding a hotel room was growing more and more remote with each passing minute. Among the literature that was sent along with the tickets, coincidentally, was a guide to camp sites in the greater Montréal area. Brad flipped through it as we ate dinner, looking for the most geographically convenient places.
What had me most uneasy was the prospect of setting up a tent in the dark. We still had to get back to the metro, take it back to the parking lot, and try to find whatever campground Brad settled on. Considering that night was already falling, there was no question that it would be pitch dark by the time we were ready to set up. Brad found a nearby region that had a good density of camp grounds, but didn't settle on anything specific. He didn't seem too worried about it, so I tried not to allow myself to be worried either. Before long we'd paid our bill and were on our way back to the car.
Once we were in the car and on our way, I again had the task of trying to be the navigator. We were parked in a suburb of Montréal called Longueuil (suburb of Montréal, pronounced "long-gay"). We knew what route we wanted to be on when we left town, but we had no idea how to get there. After heading North for a while, Brad made a right onto a main thoroughfare. We drove along for some time, and I was able to confirm that he had turned on exactly the right street to send us out of town on our desired route. This helped me to relax a little.
Then, suddenly, we came upon a big, bright neon sign that said "Motel." What's more, there was a little neon sign under it that said "vacancy." We both agreed that it was worth a shot. We pulled in and I let Brad do his tour guide thing while I sat in the car and said a prayer. Soon some guy on a big touring motorcycle pulled up. Just after he'd dismounted and removed his helmet, Brad stepped back outside. The guy said something to Brad, and I heard him respond, "I think we just rented the last one." I didn't wait for Brad to come over to our car. I jumped out and made a bee-line for the lobby.
Brad said that there was one room left, and he started telling me about how much the room would cost, and how much we'd save if we agreed to stay there the following night, and all other manner of details. I didn't care. It turned out that it was a very reasonable rate (about $65 Canadian), but at that point I would have paid anything not to set up a tent in the dark and sleep out in the cold. I ran in the office and threw my credit card at the woman behind the glass. Brad started talking to the motorcycle guy. He and his Philippino mail-order bride had been riding around all evening looking for a room, but none were available because of the race. I felt sorry for the guy, but not sorry enough to give up the room. We had gotten there first and I was determined to take it. Within minutes I had the room key in my hand. We apologized to the motorcycle guy, who was actually quite gracious about it, and pulled the car down to our room.
The room was nothing special, but it was a roof over our heads. We both marveled at our unbelievable luck to have found a room, any room, especially this close to the track. It looked exactly like the one pictured above, right down to the red Bat-phone on the table and the frat-house couch beside the bed. Considering the cars pictured in the other panel of the same postcard, I'd say that the rooms hadn't been redecorated in at least 20 years.
Brad immediately turned on the TV to see if there was any info about the race. The only station we could get clearly was an XXX porn channel. I didn't know if this was the kind of thing they aired on Canadian TV, or if this hotel just played it for the enjoyment of its patrons. I didn't particularly care. It was heterosexual porn, but there was plenty of stiff cock, so I had all I needed. We watched it for a while, but decided to hit a convenience store and get some Canadian beer. We found a store nearby, and Brad picked out his favorite brand. I decided to pick up a pack of smokes, too. I wanted to get Winfield, since that's the brand that sponsors the car of my hero, Jacques Villeneuve, but apparently they weren't sold in Canada. So I got the next best thing. Players cigarettes sponsored the Canadian Grand Prix, so I picked up a pack of Players.
We went back to the room. We watched porn and drank Canadian beer for a while. I smoked some of the Players. They were pretty nasty, and I'd gotten the light variety! We had a big day ahead of us, so we went to bed fairly early.
Saturday, June 6:
I woke up to the sound of Brad rustling around in the room. I expected to feel a little hung over, but surprisingly I didn't. I lounged in bed as long as I could, but soon Brad was telling me it was time to get up. I hopped in the shower while he ran out to get some breakfast. By the time I'd gotten dressed he was back with a 2-liter of orange juice and some donuts. It turned out that the hotel was supplying the donuts to any patrons who were in town for the race. The donuts were pretty nasty (they all are, in my opinion), but it was something to put in my stomach.
Soon we were out the door and heading to the track. Having found the motel completely by chance, we weren't entirely sure how to get back to the track. We had only made one turn on our way to the motel, but heading back in the opposite direction we didn't know exactly which intersection was the one we had turned at. When we reached the appropriate corner, however, there was little question. We turned left and soon were confident that we were on the correct course. The location of the motel couldn't have been more perfect if we had researched it and made reservations months in advance.
Having gone through this the day before, we knew the drill pretty well. We got a slightly better parking space than the day before, and we walked directly to the metro stop. We got off at our stop, and once again we were accosted by vendors as soon as we exited the metro building. Neither of us had any desire to fight the crowd to go sit in our seats again, so rather than take the path that led to the gate we had entered the day before we decided to head off to the other entry point to the track.
The first free practice of the day had already ended, but it wasn't long before the next one was to begin. We headed over towards the back straight. The cars came out right about the time that we were nearing the last chicane. We had an interesting view from behind and beneath the grandstands looking right at the point where the drivers had to make a tricky maneuver. Just as I fired up the palmcorder, Ralph Schumacher spun out right in front of us. I didn't get it on tape, but I did get him smoking his tires to spin himself back into the proper direction. I was afraid that someone else would come flying around the turn and smash into him, but he got out of there pretty quickly
We took pictures and video for a while as the cars screamed past us. We moved around a little bit, but it wasn't until the practice was over that we started exploring more of the track. Brad had a pretty good idea of where we were. I knew approximately where we were on the map, but I didn't yet have an appreciation for the significance of one part of the track relative to other parts.
The next event was the qualifying session. Prior to that, everything had been fluff. Qualifying is an important part of the race itself, as it determines everyone's position on the starting grid. Since passing can be very difficult in F1, a driver's staring position is critical to his chances for a victory. The problem was that we still had a couple hours to kill before the qualifying session would begin. We explored a little further. At one point we went over a bridge that sent us from the inside of the track to the outside. That sent us to a section behind some grandstands that actually had a wide variety of food tents. I got something to eat while Brad scoped out a place for us to sit and watch qualifying. The plan was to stake out some good seats and plant ourselves there until qualifying began.
I grabbed my food and found Brad. He was in the grass between the bridge we had come over and the nearest grandstand. I gobbled down my lunch and quickly found myself rather sleepy. I scooted down the grass a little closer to the fence, put on my headphones, and listened to a CD (Barenaked Ladies - Born on a Pirate Ship) as I closed my eyes and tried to nap.
By the time the CD was over I hadn't really slept at all, but I did feel a little more refreshed. I took off my headphones and scooted back up the grass. Brad had struck up a conversation with a couple of Quebec ladies. I didn't feel particularly sociable, but I joined in the conversation and actually found myself enjoying their company. They recommended that we go to a particular restaurant in the Mount Royal section of town and get "Smoked Meat" sandwiches. Brad had raved about these sandwiches before, and strongly recommended that I try one. I was game. The ladies claimed that the restaurant they recommended had the best smoked meat sandwiches in all of Montréal.
Soon it was time for the qualifying to begin. The grassy area between the bridge and the grandstand quickly emptied out. Despite the great efforts Brad and I had gone through to stake out our spot on the grass and hold it for the couple hours we had to wait, it turned out that most people were bona fide grandstand ticket holders who came down to lounge on the grass between events. With this revelation, Brad and I quickly moved right up to the fence. We were totally psyched. That is, until the security guys came by and pushed us all back. I was pretty pissed, but Brad pointed out that security is a valid and grave concern, and I should respect them. He said that the issue isn't so much that I might do something to jeopardize the drivers, but that a car could hit a wall right in front of me, and send a 100 pound tire directly at me at 150mph. I capitulated, but was still pissed off at this one particular security guy who was acting like he was King Shit (pictured in the foreground below).
While F1 races are "exciting," I would describe the qualifying sessions as "suspenseful." Qualifying is one hour: no more, no less. In that time, each driver has a limited number of attempts to do a lap in the fastest time possible. The final ranking of best lap times determines each driver's place on the starting grid. The rankings can change wildly as drivers make subsequent attempts, and there can be incredible suspense as the hour draws to a close. The only driver I particularly cared about was Jacques Villeneuve. Unfortunately his car had not been particularly competitive this year, and there was very, very little hope that he would win the race. The only other driver I cared about was Michael Shumacher. Actually the only thing I cared about him was that someone, else finished ahead of him.
Whenever Villeneuve got out on the track I put my camera up to my eye. I did manage to get one (reasonably) clear picture of him.
The only positive way to tell one driver from the other, at least between teammates, is by the design on his helmet. The following picture indicates clearly Jacques' helmet pattern.
Jacques got out on the track early, and garnered himself a very good position. But the more cars that got out there, the further he got bumped in the rankings. At one point he was down to 10th. But by the end of the session he got back out and increased his ranking to 6th.
Towards the end of the hour Brad had wandered off to check out potential viewing locations for the race the next day. He came back saying that he'd found the perfect spot and dragged me over to check it out. I was resistant from the start. Our seats basically sucked, but it was our guaranteed space and we'd be able to sit down and relax for the race. I was also getting a bit weary of Brad constantly second-guessing himself and habitually changing his mind. I went over to look at it, more to placate Brad than anything else, but I had to admit that the spot had a great deal of advantages (see colored portion of picture below).
The first good point was that we could see the starting grid. A great deal of action takes place during F1 starts. Since it is so entirely difficult to pass once the race is underway, drivers take great risks at the start in an attempt to gain a better position. The second point was that we could see the exit of pit lane. Again, due to the difficulty of passing during the race, a lot of position changes take place because of pit stops. Suppose Driver A is just ahead of Driver B. Driver A takes a pit stop, Driver B continues on, and Driver A comes back out way behind him. But a few laps later, Driver B is going to have to pit too. When Driver B comes out of pit lane, it can be extremely exciting to see if he re-enters the track ahead of Driver A or not. From this vantage point, we'd be able to see Driver A speeding up the track, and watch Driver B exit the pits, and see how they'd interact. Finally, we had a clear view of a nearby Jumbo-Tron ™ screen, which would be key to following every detail of the race.
Brad made a good case, but I was still resistant. I'd forked out big bucks for reserved seats, after all, and I wasn't too keen on standing for the whole race. Beyond that, we'd have to get there a few hours early, stake out our position, and stand there unwaveringly the whole time until the race started. Brad pointed out that we'd gone through a number of check points to get to this coveted section of track, and without our reserved-seat tickets we'd never have made it through. While we were talking, the Toyota Championship race was getting ready to begin. Brad recommended we watch it a while to get a feel for this view under actual race conditions. After only a few laps I was sold. From our seats all we could see was cars whizzing past us in a blur. From this vantage point, not only could we see the start/finish line and pit exit, but we had a wonderful, 3-dimensional view across the large S-curve at the start of the track. We were in agreement.
At this point neither of us had much of a reason to stick around the track. We took a leisurely stroll back towards the metro stop. On the way we stopped in one of the many gardens to chill out and snap a couple pictures.
Soon we were back in the metro station boarding a train into town. This time we went a few stops further than we'd gone the day before. We got off the train, and on the way towards the escalators I noticed some interesting art on the walls. What really caught my eye was the stylized David.
Brad had a vague familiarity with the Mount Royal section of town. As soon as we emerged at the surface I knew I liked Mount Royal. The old city where we'd been the day before was very nice, but this part of town was a little more jazzy. There were campy shops that sold retro fashions and other quirky wares. We quickly set out to find the restaurant that the ladies had recommended. While walking around we spotted a zebra-striped Renault R5. Brad and I were both nostalgic for the R5 that he'd owned and sold to me years before, so I posed for a picture.
Coincidentally the car was parked just a few doors up from the restaurant we were seeking. Upon seeing it I realized it was much more of a diner or deli than a "restaurant." It was also incredibly busy. We had to wait outside for some time. Eventually we got in and took seats at the counter. We ordered up two smoked meat sandwiches. Watching them prepare these dishes made me wonder about a few things. First of all, this meat was clearly steamed, not smoked. And it looked to me very much like ordinary corned beef, of which I'm not particularly fond. But recalling my experience with snails the night before, I was open to trying anything. Very quickly our sandwiches arrived. Mine looked like it was about 30% fat. I took one bite of it, and it tasted like it was 100% fat. It literally felt like I had a mouth full of gristle. I totally wanted to spit it out. That's something I generally never do, probably because I'm so damn picky about what I put in my mouth in the first place. Alas, I mustered up all the resolve I could, chewed it up, and choked it down. I had survived. But now I was faced with the remainder of the sandwich. I pulled apart the bread and looked at it. The meat had huge hunks of pure fat hanging off of it, and was pervaded with large veins of fat running through the large-grained meat. I looked over at Brad who was munching away on his. I pinched off as much fat as I could, took a deep breath, and continued on. It wasn't the flavor, or even texture of the meat that bothered me. I knew that each bite must have had at least 50 grams of fat in it. EACH BITE!!! As someone who is constantly watching what he eats in an increasingly vain attempt to stay lean, I couldn't believe that I was voluntarily ingesting such obscene quantities of fat. I got about two-thirds of the way through the sandwich and I simply couldn't take any more. By this time Brad had finished his anyway, so I set my dish aside and called it quits. We paid on the way out and were quickly back on the street. My belly felt like it had a brick in it. I had intended to remain stoically quiet, but I had to express to Brad my feeling that this was the most disgusting sandwich I'd ever eaten in my entire life. He conceded that it was way more fatty than he'd expected, and that it was far from the best smoked meat sandwich he'd ever had.
By this time we were both in the mood for a drink. Fortunately there was a plethora of bars for us to choose from. We stopped into the nearest one that looked half-way decent and had a couple of beers. From there we wandered around until we found the next interesting-looking place, and went in for a few more beers. From there we wandered around looking for the next bar, until we stumbled upon a specialty beer store. We went in, and I had visions of buying something nice to sneak into an alley and drink right on the spot. But instead we moved on looking for the next bar. We found a place that had seats outdoors. This time we ordered a carafe of wine. As I sat and watched the people walk by, I got the distinct impression that we were now in the gay district. First of all about half the people who walked past set off my gay-dar, but beyond that I was seeing a lot of people wearing buttons or cars sporting stickers that were overt queer symbols. I had worn my freedom ring necklace for just such an eventuality, although it had been tucked inside my shirt until this time. I pulled it out and allowed the rings to dangle in plain site. I had no idea if Brad even knew what it meant or not. At one point a pair of guys walked past, and one of them was really checking me out. I made some eye contact and gave him a smile, but they kept walking right along.
By the time we finished the wine we were both feeling a little tipsy. We decided that we should get back to the car before we were both too drunk to drive back to the motel. We walked blithely in the general direction of the track, and within just a few blocks we came upon a metro stop. As soon as I sat down to wait for the train I realized how completely exhausted I was. As I sat in a nearly catatonic state, Brad snapped a picture just as the train came into the station.
Soon we were back at the Longueuil station and walking back to the car. We made the quick drive back to the motel, where we drank more Canadian beer and watched XXX porn on TV. I was asleep early that night.
Sunday, June 7:
I woke up that morning feeling rather more tired and unmotivated than I had on previous days. All the activity and all the drinking was starting to catch up with me. I got out of bed, and found that the weather was not all that good. It was a reasonably nice day on Friday, but it had been turning progressively more cold and gray with each passing day. This day was quite gray and dark, uncomfortably cold (for June), and there was evidence of some rain drops on the parking lot and car. Although this was race day, the whole reason we were here, I really wanted to just crawl back in bed and relax.
Alas, I knew this was not an option. I took a long, hot shower and felt a little better. We packed up all our gear, got our day bags ready, loaded up the car, checked out of the motel, and we were off. On our way to the track we decided that it might be a good idea to have a hot meal before we even got there. We pulled into a Hardee's. It looked like all they had was freshly grilled hamburgers. We weren't even sure if they were serving yet, but at 9:00 in the morning neither of us had much of an appetite for burgers. We decided to just continue on and eat track food.
We arrived and went through the usual drill. We were sent to yet a third area to park in. This was a rather vast field behind the trees, along one side of which was a steep embankment leading up to the nearby expressway. We gathered our stuff and hoofed it over to the metro station. The crowds really weren't all that bad. They were larger than before, but it had been consistently crowded enough that this day wasn't that much worse. On our way into the track we paused at one bridge to watch the Ferrari Challenge from above. The Ferraris must have been going plenty fast, but compared to the F1 cars we'd been watching for days now, they seemed sluggish by contrast.
As soon as I grabbed a hot dog from the first food cart I saw, we headed directly towards our special viewing area. When we approached the first checkpoint we paused to consider strategy. Grandstand tickets were visually different from general admission tickets. Our tickets for the crappy grandstand seats were apparently similar-looking to tickets for the elite grandstands, which is how we were able to slip through the previous day. But if any of the security people decided to actually look at our tickets to verify that we belonged there, we'd be screwed. Brad got into obsessive mode again. He decided that it would be best if we went through with a big crowd, so that the security staff would be too rushed to take the time to look closely at our tickets. But he didn't know if it would be better if we were at the front of the crowd or at the back. He finally decided that it would be best if we were at the front of the pack, because the security people would want to get us through quickly so that the rest of the pack could be processed, as opposed to lolygagging at the back of the pack, at which time the security people would be relaxing and possibly more prone to scrutiny.
We waited for a large group of people to approach, and Brad gauged our pace very precisely so as to keep us just ahead of them but not get passed by them. It was all for naught, as we simply flashed our tickets and breezed past. We had a couple more checkpoints to go through, but Brad was a little more passive now. We breezed past every other checkpoint until we were in the elite area.
We headed directly to our chosen location. Just after we crossed the bridge over the track we caught something over the PA system about how people should get their cameras ready. It turned out that the parade of drivers was on its way around the track. Our position was not far past the starting line, so it was upon us before we had a chance to get our camera gear set. The drivers were propped up atop the back seats of convertible cars that were being driven around the track. Villeneuve, being the home-town boy and the son of the track's namesake, was the first in line. It was the first time I ever saw him in real life. When Shumacher went past I wished I had a splatball gun with me.
Soon the parade was over and we continued to our spot. There was a fence beyond which a number of people had already started congregating. We figured that security would back everyone out once the race got underway, so we positioned ourselves on the outside of it at precisely the spot where we'd have the absolute best view. Now there was nothing left to do but wait. And wait. And wait...
I listened to a CD and tried to stay warm. After the first hour my legs were pretty tired and my feet hurt a little bit. By this time there was only about two and a half hours more before the race started. Then there would only be about another two hours before the race ended. Brad snapped a couple pictures and wandered around a bit, but mostly stood there with me. I asked him if he thought Villeneuve would be able to get past Ralph Shumacher on the start.
"It doesn't matter," Brad said. "Ralph never finishes a race anyway."
Some guy beside us looked our way. He had a bit of a smile on his face, albeit a snide one. The time continued to pass slowly until the opening ceremonies began. They had Canadian Royal Mounted Police on horses carrying flags, and baton twirlers, and all sorts of stuff. It marked that things were getting ready to get under way, but it also dragged on for some time. I was getting really impatient by now.
Finally the cars came out on the grid, accompanied by armies of technicians. This indicated that the start was imminent. We waited for security to usher everyone behind the fence, but it wasn't happening. The start was getting ever-closer, and still no action by security. We started to get a little paranoid. Brad asked some security people what the deal would be, but he couldn't really get any straight answers. By the time they started clearing the starting grid of tech people we decided that we better get on the other side of the fence with everyone else and get the best view we could. Now my college experience with crowded fraternity beer blasts started to pay off. I positioned myself strategically so that people from behind couldn't overtake my position. Whenever anyone in front of me would advance even an inch I'd be right behind them so they couldn't retreat. In fact we had a fairly good view.
Finally the warm-up lap started and all the cars screamed past us. My heart was pounding. I was completely distracted from my tired legs and aching feet. Things were quiet while the cars went through the rest of the track, but in a couple minutes they were back and lined up again. Now my heart was REALLY pounding. Any moment it would begin for real. From our vantage point we could clearly see the starting lights. One by one they came on. Then, after the final second that seemed like an eternity, the lights went out and the cars were off.
The first eight cars got through cleanly, but a serious bottleneck was forming behind them. F1 starts happen so very quickly that it's very difficult to see what's going on in real-time. Suddenly there was trouble. Too many cars were abreast, and when they got to the second part of the first S-turn, there was trouble. Alexander Wurz wound up airborne, flipped upside down, and did a serious barrel roll when he touched down on the other side of the track. Cars behind him started crashing everywhere. It was utter mayhem. This is a pretty rare occurrence in F1, and it was all happening directly in front of us. I was now really, really glad that Brad had found this spot for us.
A few weeks later we found great pictures of the whole incident in F1 News Magazine.
The race was brought to a stop. They would clean up the mess, drivers would get into their back-up cars, and the race would be re-started. This was all incredibly exciting, but it meant that we had to wait longer still for the actual race to begin. As we stood by it was interesting to see how the big cranes and little fork-lifts were used to get the wrecked cars out of the way.
Finally everything was cleaned up and they were ready to start again. They did their warm-up lap and lined back up on the grid. Once more the starting lights went on one by one, and then they went black and the cars were screaming towards us again. But something was wrong with Mika Hakkinan's car. He started out normally, but then coasted to a stop. Since he was in the #2 spot, all the cars behind him, accelerating to incredible speeds incredibly fast, had to act with lighting-fast reflexes to get around him. It was too much. More cars started to crash and there was mayhem yet again. Two cars in particular got totally entangled, and wound up one atop the other just a few meters away from us. There was even some fire, and the rescue crew flew over to put it out.
The cranes and fork-lifts got to work again, but in F1 there is no re-restart. That is to say, no matter how many cars wrecked this time the race would go on. But until everything was cleaned up the safety car came out and the remaining cars followed it around the track. This was the first time I'd ever seen a caution in F1, and I was there to see it live! They actually made several laps under caution while things were being cleaned up again. The Jumbo-Tron ™ was very helpful now, because a caution is over when the safety car enters the pits, and since we couldn't see the entrance to the pits from where we were standing, we kept our eye on the Jumbo-Tron ™. Eventually, after quite a few laps, the safety car entered the pits and things were under way for real.
Finally, after all this time, we got to see some real racing. David Coulthard and Michael Shumacher quickly pulled ahead of the pack. And Shumacher was *really* on Coulthard's ass. Shumacher had a light fuel load, making him much faster than Coulthard, but he was trapped behind him. I found that rather gratifying. Still, lap after lap those two would come flying past with Shumacher just inches off Coulthard's bumper. That tends to be Shumacher's style. If he can't readily get past someone he'll hound him and hound him, waiting for the other guy to make a mistake. He perceives himself as being quite intimidating, and assumes that his mere presence will unsettle the other driver and make him prone to mistakes. Coulthard was holding his own, however, and Shumacher remained stuck behind him.
The race continued like this for a while, but the bizarre pandemonium would not subside. After several laps Pedro Deniz spun out into the grass. When he got back on the track he was dragging a huge clump of turf along with him. This left dirt and other debris all over the place. It wasn't long before they brought out the safety car yet again! This had already been the strangest race I'd ever seen, and the degree to which that was so did not ebb!!! After just a couple laps the safety car pulled off and things got underway.
Very soon after this, Coulthard had mechanical trouble and retired from the race. This put Shumacher in the lead, much to my dismay. Mika Salo (the only F1 driver cuter than Villeneuve), had a bad crash and the safety car came out yet again. By now this was becoming routine. Shumacher took this opportunity to pit. Just as he was coming out of the pits, Heinz-Herald Frentzen, teammate of Villeneuve, was speeding past the start-finish line. Shumacher pulled out into traffic, and edged Frentzen further and further out, until Frentzen had no choice but to either make contact with Shumacher's Ferrari, risking both their lives, or bail out. Discretion being the better part of valor, Frentzen wound up in the sand trap and Shumacher continued on. This was all under caution, mind you. Brad and I were livid. Shumacher, the master of underhanded driving and dirty tricks, struck again! He knew that if he got stuck behind Frentzen that he'd be slowed way down, so rather than accept his fate he pulled some bullshit and bumped Frentzen right out of the race. Still, we were both glad once again that we decided to watch the race from this vantage point, as it all happened right in front of us once again.
This put Shumacher in third, behind Fisichella in first and Villeneuve in second. After one more lap the safety car pulled off and the race was underway again. In his inimitable style, Villeneuve took this opportunity to surprise everyone and make a move on Fisichella in that fateful first S-turn. He was the home-town boy, after all, and this was his first chance to lead a race all season. His reasoning was sound. With Shumacher stuck behind Fisichella, Villeneuve would be able to take off with the lead with relative impunity. All he had to do was pull it off. Yet again, this happened right in front of us. I tried to watch as my brain slowed down time as much as it was able. Villeneuve hit the brakes way after Fisichella, giving him the advantage in the turn, but causing him to lock his tires, send up a cloud of smoke from the burning rubber, and compromise his control of the car. He came SO CLOSE to making the second half of the S-turn, but he just couldn't hold it. Centrifugal force sent him off the track, and the rest of the pack went by him. He did manage to get back on again, but had to pit. We figured this was the end, but a couple laps later he was back out again. He had absolutely no hope of finishing any better than last, but at least he was able to finish the race before the home-town crowd.
The race went on in relative calm for several laps. Finally, the race stewards decided to levy a penalty on Shumacher for the shit he pulled with Frentzen. This was gratifying, but precious little consolation by this time. The penalty consisted of Shumacher being forced to come into the pits, bring his car to a stop, and then take off again. This may sound benign, but it costs precious time in a sport that is measured in hundredths of a second. Shumacher came out behind Damon Hill. There was no love loss between these two. By the time they'd gone around the track once, Shumacher was ready to blow past. He made his attempt when they got to the starting grid, which is a long straight-away and a good place for overtaking. Brad and I could just barely see them off in the distance. Now it was payback time, and Hill's chance to fuck with Shumacher. Shumacher pulled to the right, and Hill blocked him. Shumacher pulled to the left, and Hill blocked him. Shumacher pulled to the right again, and Hill blocked him AGAIN! Although we were watching this at extreme distance, our vantage point looking almost directly up the starting grid was perfect to see it. Finally Shumacher got past him.
Now Shumacher was second behind Fisichella. This went on for a few laps until Fisichella pitted. This gave Shumacher the lead, but he himself had to pit one last time to re-fuel and get new tires. He burned up the track as best he could to put as much distance between him and Fisichella as possible. A few laps later Shumacher went in for his own pit stop. Brad and I waited with baited breath. Once again we were really psyched to be standing where we were, because the race all come down to Fisichella's position when Shumacher exited the pits, and we were right there to see it. Alas, Shumacher came out way, way ahead of Fisichella.
There was nothing to do now but wait for the race to end. I was praying for some sort of natural catastrophe to befall Shumacher and send him out of the race. With each passing lap it became less and less likely, but my hope became more and more intense. My eyes were pegged on the Jumbo-Tron ™. When there were just a couple laps left to go, this short female walked up to me and said, "Do you speak English?"
I was annoyed. All my attention was on Shumacher, and in the unlikely event that he crashed and burned, I wanted to see it. However I was not impolite. "Yes I do," I answered. As I looked down I noticed she had a microphone in her hand.
"I'm with the Canadian Broadcasting Company," she explained. "Can I interview you for tonight's news?"
My attitude quickly changed. I smiled. "Yeah!" I said enthusiastically. Suddenly my attention was no longer on Shumacher, but on my own narcissistic vanity. The camera guy got set up, and she asked me a question about safety, considering all the mishaps that day. I explained that F1 is a very safe race, and that it was just odd that there were so many accidents during this particular race. I was now rather glad that Brad has such a tendency to ramble on and on about F1 racing. He's the expert and I'm just learning, but from listening to him babble endlessly I had the vocabulary and the insights to sound like I knew what I was talking about. The lady asked me virtually the same question, and I tried to answer it in another way yet still say essentially the same thing. She asked me virtually the same question a couple more times, and I tried to vary my responses and still stick to my original point. I would have been impatient with her, but I knew a little bit about TV production, and I could tell she was fishing for just the right sound byte.
That was about it. She thanked me and was on her way. Brad had been standing nearby watching. I walked over to him, and he gave me the bad news that Shumacher had indeed won the race. It took all my resolve to stand there and watch Shumacher smile smugly as he held the trophy above his head. In the post-race interview he was asked about the incident with Frentzen. He said that he was just far enough ahead of Frentzen that he never saw him. I wanted to gag. He then went on to say that if anyone should have been penalized it was Damon Hill for pulling the crap he did during Shumacher's attempt to overtake him. Now I wanted to puke.
That was it. The race was over. As the thousands upon thousands of people began to leave the stands, Brad and I stuck to our pre-arranged plan of chilling out until the crowds eventually thinned. We climbed up into the grandstands and figured out exactly which was the best seat so that we could try to reserve it for the race next year. It felt so good to sit down.
Still, I was impatient. I knew it would be insane to even attempt to get on the metro at this point, but all I wanted to do was get in the car and head back home. We hung out for about an hour taking pictures and discussing the race. While the outcome was the last thing I wanted, it had been one HELL of a race. I thought that the previous race at Monte Carlo had been rough, but compared to this, Monte Carlo was like Telle-tubbies. Another half-hour went by, and we were both too bored to sit there any longer. If it had been warm and sunny I would have been content to sit and relax, but it was cold and gray, and it was getting colder and grayer. We figured we could kill some time by casually strolling back.
Pretty much everyone was walking on the track now, although officially this was strictly forbidden. Brad wanted to walk on the track too, but my timid nature resisted. Finally he told me to get over myself and just do it. We got down there and it was actually way cool to be on the very track where those $100,000 cars and miracle men had been just hours before.
While we were walking along we noticed where the TV cameras were placed. We stopped at one of them. The camera was all snugly covered up, but there was a piece of paper taped to the railing of the platform on which it was mounted. We looked around, and seeing no security guys we swiped the paper. It was nothing, really. Just the listing of the starting positions, but it was also an artifact. As banal as it was, this was a document not meant to be seen by the public. It was generated deep within the track's inner sanctum, and was handled by men involved in the inner-workings of Formula 1 racing.
Finally we got back near the path to the metro station. We had to climb through a fence right by a bunch of security guys to get off the track. I was again fretting that they'd hassle us, but Brad, losing patience with me by now, pointed out that lots of other people were walking right past with impunity. Away we went, and the security people totally ignored us. We walked the short distance to the metro stop, and found a massive crowd outside waiting to get in. It looked like we had at least an hour before we'd even get inside the building, and who knew how long it would take to get through the turnstiles and onto a train.
Brad had a brainstorm. He suggested that we continue walking through the nearby park, and walk across the expressway bridge back to the mainland and to the car. I had no idea whether we would we would be able to get to the bridge, and if we did if it would be open to pedestrians, but anything was better than standing in this massive crowd. We walked into the park, but were not entirely sure which way to go to get to the bridge. We just kind of followed our intuition, and sure enough we wound up on a path that lead directly to it. Not only that, there was a big, bold stairway that led up to it, inviting pedestrian traffic.
We had a wonderful walk along the bridge over the island and subsequently the river. Except for keeping an eye out for roller bladers whizzing past at ridiculously unsafe speeds, it was an intense walk. We got to the point where we could look down upon the whole race track complex, and we hung out for a while pointing out the places we'd been and all the places that the general public didn't have access to. After a while we continued on.
The pedestrian concourse led almost directly back to the lot where our car was. It was an amazing decision to walk back. Not only did it take less time in the long run, but it was a fantastic view, a wonderful experience, and the perfect way to wind up the perfect weekend. We unlocked the car, sat down, and relaxed a bit before heading out. Some guy with a brand new BMW Z3 roadster stood by as a tow truck hooked it up and dragged it away. I wondered what was wrong with it as I turned the key on my $375 Renault and fired it right up.
Pretty soon we were on the road. The driving was a little bit sketchy for a while as we jockeyed with Sunday evening Montréal traffic, but Brad was driving and I was relaxing. It seemed to go on for quite a while, until eventually we were out of the urban areas and on to the more sparsely traveled rural stretches of the highway. Once we passed the junction where another highway headed off to Ottawa, nothing lay before us but the path to the 1000 Islands Bridge and the way home.
Brad was still talking about finding some place to set up a tent. I said I wanted to continue on the whole way home. Brad said that was totally unrealistic, primarily because he would be in danger of falling asleep at the wheel once the sun went down. We decided to pull off at the next service area, get a bite to eat, drink some coffee, and I'd take over driving. Brad got in line at the food court and I went into the bathroom to take a dump. It was one of those messy, explosive events that could only be generated by three days of track food. But man, was it satisfying. I looked over to the toilet paper roll to clean up the considerable mess I'd just made, and was aghast to find none there. "Well this is just great," I thought to myself. "So much for Canada being cleaner and more sanitary than the US." I had no choice but to pull up trow and move to another stall. Of course they were all full, so I had to stand there in a considerable state of discomfort and wait for one to free up. Finally one did and I took care of business.
I rejoined Brad, nibbled at a little food, ingested some caffeine, and relaxed a bit. While Brad finished up his dinner I went to find a pay phone. I wanted to call a friend in my home town of Watertown, NY and ask him to tape the Canadian news that night (Canadian TV is available in that area if you have an antenna). There was no guarantee that CBC News would actually use me in the final cut of their story, but the only way to find out was to tape it and view it. Fortunately I have a watch that can store up to 300 phone numbers, and his was one of them. I typed in my calling card, and a minute later I was talking to him. He said he'd be glad to tape the news for me and mail me the tape.
I went back over to the table. After a minute I said, "You know, while we're here we might as well dump all our empty beer bottles in the trash so we're clean when we go across the border." Brad shook his head and looked down. "What?" I asked.
"I was just about to say that exact same thing at that exact same moment," he said. We laughed. This was a clear indication that we'd been spending way too much time together. When we were ready to go we got rid of the beer bottles, cleared any other debris out of the car, and I took over driving. I played music as we drove along and Brad napped a bit. Eventually we were across the border from Quebec into Ontario, and one step closer home. Still, we had a long way to go. Brad napped more and I played more CDs, as the sun went down and the miles ticked away. Time was beginning to drag a bit until finally the lights of the 1000 Islands Bridge were in sight. Brad was awake and alert and I was on my second wind. I pulled off the exit and quickly found myself in line at the US Customs station. Since it was getting late on a Sunday evening, there was virtually no line. I pulled up to the booth. The guy asked us the usual questions, like our citizenship, where we were, and where we're going. When he asked us if we had anything to declare, I said "We have a half a pack of smokes and about 6 or 7 bottles of Canadian beer."
"Move along," he said.
Within minutes we were up and over the 1000 Islands Bridge and right back in my old stomping ground. Brad was still wondering about stopping for the night, but I knew every inch of road between here and my house, so I told him that as long as I'm driving we're going to persevere. I calculated that we'd be home only a little after 11:00 anyway. It really wasn't that late and we didn't have that long to go.
From here on Brad started sleeping more deeply, and eventually I had to fight fatigue myself. By the time we were South of Syracuse I was getting a bit groggy. But this was the final stretch, and Brad was waking back up and getting a little talkative, so I kept on going. Before we knew it we were back at Toaphland safe and sound. Monté, who was staying with me at the time, was still up. He wasn't expecting us back until the following day, but he was happy to see us.
We immediately rewound the tape in the VCR to ensure that we'd gotten the broadcast coverage of the race. It was there. We showed Monté the footage of the incredible wreck at the start of the race. We played it over and over again in super-slow-mo. It didn't take long before Monté had enough, and he went down to his room. I fast-forwarded right to the spot where Shumacher forced Frentzen off the track. We played it in super-slow-mo, and there was no mistaking that Frentzen was slightly ahead of Shumacher when he came out of the pits, making it impossible for Shumacher to not have seen him, making Shumacher a bald-faced liar before the FIA and the world.
After a little more of this and a few Canadian beers, we went to bed.
A few days later I got the video tape from my friend. It turned out they did use me in their story!
My mug was broadcast from coast to coast in Canada as part of their evening news program. I think they tried to use me as the guy who didn't know what he was talking about, though. As is the wont of news types, they tried to present a specific angle on the race. In this case, their angle was that the FIA regulation changes for 1998, which were intended to make the race safer, in fact made it more dangerous. I was the schmuck who was saying that F1 was a safe race and that this had been a fluke. But I am secure in my response. First of all, the FIA regulations weren't for safety, they were an attempt to slow the cars down and facilitate overtaking. And if you look at the season as a whole, there were not more crashes on average than in any previous seasons. Beyond that, no one was seriously hurt, or for that matter even mildly injured, all season.
Still, getting exposure on national TV, albeit Canadian TV, was the perfect way to conclude the perfect vacation.