“Nascar, of course!”
THAT’s what you say at the end of your third week home with the kids and you’re already beached out and have hit the zoo and the City and farms and rides and parks and pools and are trying to think of something fun to do for the day. And by fun I mean, something that will keep you out of the house for hours to minimize time spent actually parenting, I mean, entertaining.
Some people see the glass as half full. Some half empty. Nascar can be seen both of these ways. Say the word to people and watch either their faces recoil in horror or light up in delight. Having never been to such a car race before, I stood a solid neutral leaning toward the side of, “eh, it’s something to do, and there’s beer there, sooo…”
So pulling into the dirt lot of the Riverhead Raceway, the stereotypes were already coming true. There were trucks and pick-ups and trailers. Men in trucker hats. Women in denim cut-offs. Enough American flag paraphernalia to make Kid Rock’s stylist drool.
Let’s pretend for a minute that you’re older and have been asked to write an essay for school about what being an American means to you.
By 10:30 a.m. a day earlier, the 4th of July, I was eating Doritos while stirring my mayo based salads for a bbq centered around nitrates, and loving every minute of it. This is my America (*in moderation, eat your vegetables!). It’s freedom. It’s pride. It’s immense respect and gratitude for the remarkable men and women who serve in our military. And, it’s the right to splurge and eat Doritos and potato salad and hot dogs.
Packs of families came rolling into those bleachers carrying coolers and seat pads and liter bottles of Mountain Dew.
One woman in particular caught my attention. She was giving a boy, who looked about your age, a sip for a giant can of Arizona.
“Oh,” was my thought, and hopefully not my outward expression as before I knew it the young woman and boy were standing at our feet. “Say hello!” she beamed to the boy who was clad in a black t-shirt with an American flag on it. (Does Kid Rock have a son?)
“Oh hi!” I said, startled by their arrival. They stood there, mute and smiling. The little boy reached out and touched my knee. “What’s your name?” I asked him, filling the rare silence in between races, a break from that piercing sound that somehow little kids everywhere learn to make when playing motorcycles–NEEEER, NEEEER, NEEEER (it must be innate). The young woman–who had to have been quite warm in those Pink Floyd sweat pants??–answered for him.
That’s when I was pretty sure she said his name was Kendall Jackson, followed by four other first names, and a nickname of initials, for short.
Not only did I just hear a wine name (“Kendall Jackson!!!”), but my brain was in overdrive thinking of all the “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” quotes I could torture your father with on the drive home. (“Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft to get the fire off me!”)
In addition, that’s when I learned that she was not the boy’s mother. That his mom worked in the pit on the cars down below.
That’s when I realized, Kendall Jackson is one of many children who come to the track on a weekly basis, some as offspring of workers, some as fans.
That for many of these families, junk food is not just a splurge.
And so I write to you, not some throw-up-in-your-mouth entry about how “blessed” we are that you guys aren’t growing up in a loud, hot race track, that we eat kale salad. (Okay fine, we actually don’t eat that.)
I write to you to remind you that every family is different, but at the root of them all, we’re all the same. There’s a love there. An unspoken camaraderie among Nascar loving and loathing parents alike. A look in an eye. A gentle hand guiding a child up the bleachers. An I would do anything for you. I want the best for you. I want a safe, better world for you. Let alone, I want something fun to do with my kids (and by fun I mean…)
At the end of the day, headed back toward the dirt lot, a wrinkled woman with a pack of Marlboro Reds duct taped to her walker stood by the exit. A lit cigarette was held tightly between her chapped lips. She wore a tie-dyed t-shirt with an eagle on it, and was a shade of tan if I sat out from now till eternity I could never achieve. She gave me a wave, and I gave her one back. Two ships passing in the night, different, but the same.
I turned to your father, forgoing the onslaught of lines about Ricky Bobby, and said “now this is the American Dream…”
I bet he thought I was kidding.