Monday, June 23, 2008

ToPA - Racers Arrive

I floored it again, the V-6 whining in protest.

21.3 mpg, the gauge stubbornly read.

Too much. I braked. The car dipped a bit quickly. I remembered when my mom first drove an American car with power brakes. The kids in the back (me included), unbuckled because that was okay back then, would slam into the back of the bench seat, fall to the floor, and burst out laughing.

Then we'd get up and wait for my mom to hit the brakes again.

Now normally I don't drive like this. But I had an excuse. I was trying to learn a car in 30 seconds, at night, flipping the wipers on trying to turn on the lights, spraying the windshield when trying to signal a turn. I found the light switch, turning them on to "On". This way if I went under a particularly bright tunnel, the lights wouldn't turn off. As a bonus the high beams went down. I wouldn't blind Andrea, nor would I illuminate the handily borrowed Time Pro team van just in front of her.

The gap opened up. I floored it again. A moment's hesitation and the car lunged forward. I braked. The car reminded me of the chase scene in "To Live and Die in L.A." (warning language but it's the bestest chase scene ever with a boy-ish looking Gil Grissom in there), specifically the engine sounds an automatic transmission car emits when alternately floored, coasted, and braked.

I saw my first true obstacle in our caravan to go rescue some stranded German bike racers from Philly's International Airport, launched at some time past midnight from a parking lot I cannot identify.

A stop sign.

We were almost out of the hotel parking lot.

After the initial scary 200 meters, I was actually on public roads. What followed was a crazy drive to Philly International. I had no idea where this airport sat, no direction, nothing, just a vague feeling it's about 20 minutes away. Also one of the two cell phones in the two leading vehicles was on its last legs and the other seemed to go to voicemail immediately, so it would be hard to call if, say, I missed an exit. So in a blatant, "Do as I say, not as I do" maneuver, I rode Andrea's bumper for much of the drive to the airport.

Okay, I let a small gap form when I tried to find a non-hip-hop station at 1 AM, and I also let a gap go when I started fiddling with the air conditioning, set initially on "Freeze" (I set it just a touch warmer than that). Both times I successfully closed the gap, closing the door on eager racers, err traffic, trying to cut in.

This day all started about 18 hours earlier, at 6:30 in the morning, when the alarm went off next to the bed. It hooted like an owl, startling me out of a fitful night's sleep. Okay it scared the blank out of me, I thought there was a bird or a steam boat sitting next to my head. Part of it I'm sure was that I'd had a hard time falling asleep, not really able to sleep until past 3 AM.

I got up though, showered, and met my two bosses for breakfast, Robin and Andrea. We went over a number of things for the race, specifics. Which truck would carry what to where before, during, and after the races. Where people would sleep, what vehicles would get driven where.

With the teams arriving today, there'd be a lot of chaos. We expected a few rooms have problems (i.e. not booked) but Nicole, the person who'd arranged all that, had done a beautiful job and there were basically no problems. I spent a bit of time in the lobby meeting a lot of people (all team staff), the ones that would make it possible for the racers to hopefully not think about anything except two pages in the extensive Tech Guide.

The Prize Money.


It's a LOT of money. You could put a down payment on a small house if you won a bunch of stages. Okay, a really small house, but still. You could definitely pay a decent sized mortgage payment with a single day's winnings. I've never seen money like this on a prize list for a bike race, and to think that it would all be paid out to the U25s wandering through the lobby, well, it was a bit astounding.

One rider to show up was the now-infamous winner of the Harlem Rocks crit. He races for Time Pro, the team that would lend us their van for our late night run.

One tech support guy was the guy in charge of the airport pick ups. It takes one cargo and one 15 passenger van to pick up 10 people (6 racers, 4 support staff) and their equipment (typically 6+ bikes, wheels, frames, parts, gear, and street clothing). They were busy shuttling to and from the airport, some teams arriving a bit late, and slowly and inevitably falling just a bit behind schedule. They had an extra long 2 hour-each-way trip to pick up two somewhat local international teams (they were already in-country). This last bit caused the German problem because the fully laden convoy was 90 minutes away from the hotel when the German team called to say they were standing at the terminal.

We didn't want them to wait the 2+ hours it would take to get the two other teams to the hotel, unload them, and then make the drive out to the airport.


Luckily I'd just finished making up the packets for each team so I was officially free (and dreaming of a short lifting session in the "efficient" hotel fitness center). As I was still on the clock ("Hey, you've only been up 18 hours!" - okay, they didn't say that, but I was thinking that), I got recruited into driving a third vehicle.

Driving? Sign me up. I don't care what it is, but if it's a SEC car ("Someone Else's Car") then I'll drive whatever the key starts.

Before I get too far I have to point out one thing. When I was a kid, I always tried to touch every cool parked car. I'd pretend to look in the window and then touch a finger tip to something that wouldn't show a smudge, maybe some trim, a tire (which, now that I think of it, is not really the "car" per se), or the underside of the sideview mirror. I counted coup like that, chalking up a car when I got to touch one.

And now, in a similar way, I counted coup in ToPA.

I can definitively say I touched every single number that you'll see lined up tomorrow in the Tour of PA, and no one else can say that. I even touched all the frame numbers. I even touched all the anti-doping test info sheets, the schedules (I made a run to Kinkos to make about 200 different packets, stapling them all until my thumb pads were raw).

Apparently my work didn't go unnoticed. They said I earned the status of "Trooper". Like, "Oh, he's a Trooper".

I guess the next step is earning "Real". Like, "Oh, he's a Real Trooper".

I had started on the packets when we got interrupted by the German team's cry for help. I finished up by the time we'd decided on a plan of action. And so I found myself in this crazy caravan.

With our decal laden vehicles led by a lime green van sprouting wheel forks like a spiky haircut, we made for a convincing caravan, a runaway team car pursued by two angry officials.

Being on a mission emboldened me beyond my normal self and I was quite aggressive in playing tail gunner to our trio. I think it's the same motivation a domestique finds when they have both a clear mission and a strong leader.

I could block a lane when the road narrowed, I backed up a bit when we finally found a spot at the crowded pick up area (i.e. a spot that is three spots long), and I tried to keep an eye out for the local LEOs. We ended up tailgating one of them for a bit and afterwards I learned the tailgater didn't know it was an unmarked state trooper.

We loaded up at the airport, stuffing our two caravan cars with bags and racers, the bikes and some more racers and staff piling into the Jell-O green van.

The two German riders with me were pretty quiet except when I asked them about the temperature. I guess they'd been in ice cold air conditioning for the past 13 hours, and the Freeze+ setting in the car wasn't to their interest. I turned it up to the point that I felt beads of sweat form on my head.

Interestingly enough they started to talk a bit more when the air warmed up, after I asked about a universal commonality amongst young males (that wouldn't get me arrested for any lewd type talk) - cars. They jabbered in amazement over a left exit ("Exit from the left?"), thought that we were going kind of slow ("60" I heard, then I heard the other say something like, "But that's in miles"), and commented that in Germany you can go 300 kph (186 mph) if you felt like it.

But for all that, Germany has fewer of something else. Big, huge, gas guzzling V8 type machines. "Oh, Chrysler!" "Jeep!". And of course they first commented on the automatic when they first clambered in.

When they started oohing and aahing over all the cars, I turned and looked at the two kids, because that's essentially what they resembled in the deep blackness of the backseat.

"You two ever been to the US?" I asked.
"No, never", they replied.
"Well, then, I would like to welcome you to the US."
One grinned at me.
"Thank you," he said politely.

I guess those standard opening phrases in English class really do come in handy sometimes.

1 comment:

Aaron Trent said...

I have read through all of the ToPA posts here on your blog. It was a great read, particularly since I saw the final crit on VS. Makes it all seem a little more real.