Monday, May 25, 2009

The 93rd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Of course it isn't the same as being there. When you're at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you are tuned in to the public address system, and aware of each passing moment as you move toward the 1:05 p.m. order: "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!" Notable steps on the journey include the Purdue University All-American Marching Band playing, "On the Banks of the Wabash" at 11:15, "America the Beautiful" at 12:43, "God Bless America" sung by Florence Henderson at 12:47, the National Anthem at 12:54, and flyover of vintage B-25 aircraft at 12:56.

The announcement, "Drivers to your cars!" is also made at 12:56, despite the fact that they've been in their cars for some time already. From their cockpits they listen to the invocation at 12:57, "Taps" at 1:02, and "Back Home Again in Indiana" sung by Jim Nabors at 1:03.

The precision with which these pre-race formalities were scheduled and carried out was always a source of wonder to me. We remain mostly unaware of the other times and places in our lives where the minutes are so carefully meted out.

As I said, it's different when you're not at the race in person. Unable to rely on the festive atmosphere to provide excitement, the television broadcast attempts to create it artificially with scripted commentary delivered by white-toothed TV journalists clad in simulation racing suits. These rookies, who couldn't tell Lloyd Ruby from Ruby Tuesday, breathlessly tell the viewer that it's time to get excited, just before cutting away to another commercial for

In spite of the distance between Spokane and Indianapolis and the need to rely on ABC/ESPN for the coverage, I know what is going on, minute by minute at the track. I remember. I remember the hot sun on aluminum bleachers at 10:17, the worried gazes to the west at gathering storm clouds at 10:28, and the smell of fried chicken and Stroh's beer at 11:09. Beyond that, I remember the orders being called out the previous day at 1:02 p.m., "Boys, it's time to clean out the garage.", the starting of the charcoal at 4:19, my brothers and I singing to our mother at 8:13, and brother Bredy lugging out the famous, "Wheelbarrow of Beer" at 9:42.

I've used this space to write about time-binding and nostalgia, but written words do not do justice to the alluring power of the past, calling to us from somewhere just beyond our reach, often in the voices of loved ones lost. The sights, sounds and smells of the present moment instigate our time travel, but like the young sportscasters in their racing togs, the present always seems a dim and twisted reflection of the cherished moment we wish we could experience just once more.

At the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover meal our Jewish friends recite the words, "Next Year in Jerusalem." Meaning no disrespect to the depth of their religious conviction, moved by the depth and intensity of my memories I offer my avowal: "Next Year in Indianapolis!" 

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