Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Freedom, fireworks, and Twilight Zone? Yes, Twilight Zone

I love a good ol’ Independence Day BBQ, but for me, one of the highlights of the holiday is the SyFy Channel’s Twilight Zone marathon. Yes, I was raised on a steady diet of TZone—I’ve seen most, if not all, of the episodes, and I’ve seen many of them more times than I can count. There aren’t too many modern TV shows that can match its stories and characters. Some episodes still give me chills, even if I’ve seen them many times before.  And its plot twists are really second to none. (Like in “The Eye of the Beholder,” in which a horribly disfigured woman’s face is about to be revealed following a last-ditch surgery to make her look normal. I saw it for the first time as a kid, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the big reveal. My mother kept giving me this devilish, knowing smile, which just scared me more. Well, if you know what happens, things don’t turn out as expected—and young me might have freaked out. But let’s not turn this into a therapy session… :-))

Having sat through the TZone in its entirety, I have a few favorite episodes which MUSTBEWATCHED whenever they’re on TV.  Here’s a short list of recommendations (in alphabetical order), along with when they first ran and when they’ll be run during this year’s marathon. Hey, you never know: it might rain on Thursday and you might need some quality television to pass the time.

1.) Deaths-Head Revisited (first aired November 10, 1961; alas, not part of this year’s marathon! Definitely Netflix this one.)—While this episode will unfortunately not be included in the Fourth of July marathon, I have to have it on this list, because this one just grabs you by the throat. Perhaps the most obscure episode in my top five, Season 3’s “Deaths-Head Revisited” deals with the demons of recent history—namely, Nazi atrocities. World War II had occurred less than two decades prior to the making of this episode; as difficult as it can be to watch this episode today, it’s hard to imagine watching this when World War II was just a recent memory.

The villainous main character, Captain Gunther Lutze, living in post-war exile in South America, is returning to Dachau for a visit fifteen years after the end of WWII. He wishes to see the now-abandoned concentration camp in which he was personally responsible for the torture and execution of countless prisoners. But he is not returning with any sense of remorse; instead, he misses the “good old days,” when he was a powerful man who held the fate of many in his hands. Shortly after his arrival at Dachau, he comes upon the camp’s “caretaker,” whom he ultimately recognizes as a former prisoner—one he had executed.  Suffice it to say, justice is meted out in major doses. It is both painful and riveting to watch.

As haunting as the entire episode is, the part that stays with me is TZone creator Rod Serling’s closing narration. After a minor character rhetorically asks why Dachau still stands, Serling’s voice responds: “All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.” Serling often had striking narrations at the end of TZone episodes, but I think this one might be his best. It’s especially affecting to modern ears—there’s no moral relativism in this narration. It’s not afraid to identify evil, to distinguish between right and wrong—and to hold onto memories of atrocities in order to prevent them from happening again.

The Twilight Zone is usually thought of primarily as a sci-fi series, but make no mistake: it often wades into political and historical lessons as well. “Deaths-Head Revisited” is a great example of that.

2.) A Hundred Yards Over the Rim (first aired April 7, 1961; airing July 4 at 11am)—This one has a happy ending—yay!  There are a number of TZone episodes that include time travel (“The Odyssey of Flight 33,” “Back There,” “No Time Like the Past”), but “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” is my favorite of these. The year is 1847, and Chris Horn is leading a wagon train out to California. The group left Ohio more than a year earlier, and it’s now decimated. To make matters worse, Horn’s young son is ill and on the verge of death. Horn goes off by himself to try to find water, and upon scaling a hill, he sees (bum bum BUM!) telephone lines. He enters a roadside cafĂ© and meets a helpful and (not surprisingly) confused couple, and he eventually discovers that it’s 1961. Will Chris be able to return to his own time and get the wagon train the aid it needs? I won’t ruin it, but since I already said there’s a happy ending, you can just guess.

The time travel episodes of The Twilight Zone tend to have a similar theme: the events of the past were inevitable, and one can’t change what’s happened—at least without major unforeseen consequences. In “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” the inevitability of the past is a good thing, the reason why the episode ends on a positive note. Other time travel episodes have a somewhat darker turn—“Back There,” which deals with the Lincoln assassination, is an example. If you’ve ever read Ray Bradbury’s excellent short story “A Sound of Thunder,” you know what I’m talking about. As an aside, here's an interesting, though not exactly shocking, fact: Bradbury was supposed to be deeply involved with making The Twilight Zone and contributed a few scripts.  However, the only script of his which made it to production was “I Sing the Body Electric,” based on his short story of the same name. But the time travel episodes—and in particular, the creative portrayal of time travel in “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”—show how influential Bradbury was on the show.

3.) The Night of the Meek (first aired December 23, 1960; airing July 5 at 2am)—The Christmas Episode. Yup, even The Twilight Zone has a Christmas episode. And of course, there’s more than a little of the supernatural involved. Art Carney (the same guy who played Ed Norton on The Honeymooners) plays Henry Corwin, a drunk department store Santa Claus who lives in a dirty tenement surrounded by poverty. The only thing he wants for Christmas is to “see the meek inherit the earth.” On Christmas Eve, he wanders into an alley and comes upon a bag—a magic bag which supplies whatever gifts he asks for. Again, I won’t ruin the ending, but I’ll tell you, this is an episode which makes me cry every time I see it. Every. Time.

This is a really, really great Christmas episode, which manages to walk the line between the religious and the secular in telling a heartwarming tale. It’s unique in that it focuses on the poor, on those who have next to nothing. The images of elderly men celebrating Christmas mass in a shabby mission house, and of a young girl who wants a job for her father for Christmas, will have you choking back tears. And the juxtaposition of these images with the avarice that is often part of contemporary celebrations of the holidays is extremely noticeable. Corwin’s life seems especially seedy and squalid, for example, when he tells off his boss in the department store. Greed and commercialism often seem pervasive around the holidays, while Corwin feels for those “where the only thing to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve is more poverty.” This one’s a must-watch, all year round.

4.) The Obsolete Man (first aired June 2, 1961; airing July 4 at 7pm)—Hoo boy, this is a good one. It’s important to remember that The Twilight Zone was made at the height of the Cold War, and this is one of the episodes in which Cold War fears were the most overtly expressed.  This is the story of librarian Romney Wordsworth (best librarian name ever!), who lives a totalitarian state of the future. Books and reading have been outlawed, and so Wordsworth is deemed to be obsolete and is sentenced to death; furthermore, he is also a believer in God, also illegal in this society (and an important plot point—wink, wink). He is allowed to determine his own method of execution, and he chooses to tell his executioner how he wants to die while keeping the method a secret from “The State.”  Let’s just say all that fancy book learnin’ paid off—he’s got a big surprise in store for The State.

As I said, “The Obsolete Man” has the stink of the Cold War all over it, showing that a society in which art, religion, and individualism are stifled is doomed. But it also tries to take lessons from the fascist states of World War II. The episode’s Chancellor, the personification of The State, commends the methods of Hitler and Stalin, but says that they did not go far enough in eliminating undesirables. By the end of the episode, however, the failures of totalitarianism are more than clear. Also: watch it for the scary, moaning mob at the end. Freaky! If you twisted my arm and forced me to pick my one favorite TZone episode, this would be it.

5.) Walking Distance (first aired October 30, 1959; airing July 4 at 8am)—This gem from Season 1 had it all: great acting, a fantastic score, and a wistful, beautiful story. Martin Sloan, an advertising executive who’s disillusioned with the modern world and tired of its fast pace, takes a drive through the country and winds up in his boyhood hometown. He finds to his happy surprise that nothing has really changed since he was a kid. Turns out nothing has at all—it’s 1934 there. His efforts to recapture the past show that it’s impossible to go back, and that he must seek happiness and contentment in his own time.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to J.J. Abrams, the director who’s probably best known for creating Lost: “[‘Walking Distance’ is] a beautiful demonstration of the burden of adulthood, told in The Twilight Zone, which everyone thinks is a scary show, but it’s actually a beautiful show. The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television.” The pressures of adulthood and modern life is another big theme in the series. Another one of my favorite episodes, “A Stop at Willoughby,” is extremely similar to “Walking Distance,” except the main character in “Willoughby” finds that suicide is his path to happiness. Yeah…not exactly the happiest of endings. Oddly enough, though, the conclusion of “Walking Distance” is a sadder one, perhaps because it is so inconclusive. But it’s easy to relate to Sloan: who hasn’t longed to return to the happiness and security of their youth, at least for a short time?  Hard to believe that Sloan would want to leave the late 1950s, though.  If only he knew how much worse it would get…

Well, enough of my opinions. Here’s the full marathon schedule. Even if marathon watching isn’t in the cards, any of these episodes would make a great addition to a Netflix queue. Happy Fourth!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Carlisle, culture shock and bursting bubbles

How far do you have to go to get outside your own bubble, and how much does that have to do with physical distance? For someone who lives in a city, is going to another country necessary? Or could it be that simply getting out into “the country” is just as helpful in broadening one’s experiences?

Last week, I had the chance to attend an event with Charles Murray, author (most recently) of the best-selling Coming Apart, fellow AEIer, and all-around brilliant guy. The topic of discussion at the event, which was attended by young folks in the first few years in the job market, was career and life stuff. Heavy.

One of Charles’ central recommendations was that you should travel while you’re young—to learn about different cultures and ways of life. Buy a one-way ticket to somewhere you’ve never been and try to make your own way for a year or two. Take time off from college to do so, or if you’ve already graduated, don’t go right into the job market.

The rationale makes sense: in order to make better career decisions, it helps to understand who you are and what you like before jumping into something that makes you less than super-satisfied. Indeed, Charles spent several years in the Peace Corps in Thailand after college before returning to the states to get his Ph.D. in political science and embark on his career as a well-known social scientist and author.  And also indeed, his thesis in Coming Apart is that the American upper class is becoming ever more insulated from experiences outside their own little bubble.

Well, if you read my last post (or if you’ve ever met me), you’ll know I am not an adventurer.  I value safety and security over risk. When I imagine myself in Charles’ life in Thailand, I can only think that I would be incredibly unhappy.  Not just unhappy, but I would be forever concerned that I would be doing great damage to my nascent career. I look at enough resumes to know that “gap years” are not appreciated, no matter the reason. Maybe this is unfortunate, but it is the truth.

So when Charles reached the end of his remarks, I raised my hand. The gist of what I asked was that everyone in that room had likely been on “the treadmill” in pursuit of success our entire lives, so how could we convince potential employers that getting off the treadmill was the right decision? Charles said that we should stop thinking about what others thought and instead chase the adventures that would add to our character and self-awareness.

That wasn’t enough for me. I proceeded, perhaps a bit more timidly. “What if you’re not a risk-taker?”
How would I know for sure if I didn’t try?, he asked. Good question. The only thing I could do is project myself into potential overseas adventures, and I instinctively knew that such a life would not be for me. So I wasn’t really interested in adventure?. he wondered.

I paused and felt a wave of embarrassment. “Not really.”

This elicited some laughs from those around me, but I was serious. I like being a three-hour train ride from my family, I hate moving, and darn it, I love indoor plumbing. So why did my words suddenly seem so blasphemous, even to me?

Charles did his best to be helpful—perhaps I could move to another city? Well, after pursuing undergraduate and graduate political science degrees (quite happily, I might add), DC is the ideal place to be, at least at this time in my life.  When the event was done, I walked out of the room pretty feeling low.

Fortunately, I was on my way out of town and off to Carlisle, Pennsylvania—or, more exactly, to the Carlisle Fairgrounds for the Spring Carlisle swap meet.

Swap meet? Swap meet. This:

For those not in the know, swap meet means “sea of stuff for sale,” and in Carlisle’s case, it is largely automotive-related. However, there are plenty of sights to take in that range far from the car realm:

(Biggest regret of the day: I did not get a picture of the bulldog getting pushed around in a stroller. Cutest. Thing. Ever.)

Well, you know how they say it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt? They might as well say it’s all fun and games until someone finds something large and bulky to buy. And as it happened, my father located the object of his affection in row number one:

The front end of a 1971 Thunderbird. My father owns a 1970 T-Bird, which has been in the family since new. So why the interest in the ’71 front clip? Without getting too much into the weeds, there are no reproduction parts being made for this vintage, so if something ever happened to the delicate grille of his own car, he’d have a suitable replacement.  In all of his years of combing swap meets all over the Northeast, he’d only seen one grille before—and it cost $300. This front end came with a much more respectable price tag of $50 (my father, ever the king of haggling, got it down to $40).

Major score, right? Perhaps so, until you realize that we are at the bottom of a big hill and our car is at the top of said hill. A two-door 1971 Thunderbird weighs about 4300 pounds total, so you can guess that this front clip was not exactly light. Fortunately, the two guys who sold it to my father lent us a handtruck to get it up the hill.  Even then, the trip was arduous, to say the least, but we could muster a smile once we got it to the top.

And yes, it did fit in the back of the station wagon—albeit just barely.

So what does all of this have to do with anything? Going to Carlisle and places like it are a good reminder of what much of this country is actually like. When you look around, there is nary a smartphone, Starbucks cup, or ironic t-shirt to be found (I did see some “Duck Dynasty” t-shirts, but they were entirely sincere). Those who come to Carlisle swap meets are largely working-class, and many are quite religious (indeed, the swap meet weekend includes a non-denominational service on Sunday morning).

It’s a different world from DC, to say the least. It may be in the same country, but the beliefs of Americans in DC and Americans who come to Carlisle seem worlds apart.  To go to Carlisle, even for one day, is a reality check—an important reminder that this is truly a land of contrasts, and we can never stop learning from it.  It’s not often that I am attaching a front clip to a handtruck, taking great pains to ensure that it will not get damaged or fall off in the midst of transport, while avoiding cuts from jagged and rusty metal edges.

And I couldn’t help but think about Charles’ talk from the previous week while I was doing this. A day at the swap meet might not be exotic, but you can’t argue that it’s, well, different from the normal DC woman’s day. Could such experiences expand my own horizons, make me a more well-rounded and, ultimately, happy person? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. I daresay that perhaps there is too much emphasis on the potential adventures and learning opportunities far from home, at the expense of those right under our noses.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Known Unknowns

With the arrival of spring, a young woman’s fancy turns to Expedia in the hope of finding cheap flights…or, more accurately, dreaming about them.

At least that’s the way it’s been for me this spring. I am always a daydreamer, but the tendency has been especially strong in recent days. As I contemplate and search for a new job (which explains my recent absence from TLJ), the fight or flight instinct kicks in. Sometimes I am super-motivated to seek out new people to get advice, or apply for another fellowship, or give my resume yet another update—you know, fight for the next step in my career. And other times, well, I just want to take a flight.

Where to? Anywhere. Just away. Away from my own disappointment, away from colleagues with exciting new opportunities and my stupid jealousy about their happiness and seeming self-assuredness. Away from not knowing what my own future could or should hold.

OK, wow, I just read that last paragraph back, and I am making it sound much worse than it really is. Of course, I am aware that I am incredibly lucky, with a great support system and a job that fulfills me more often than not. But as they say, it’s all relative, and seeing folks experiencing great successes all around you…yes, you’re happy for them, but it makes you feel like more of a screw-up. (Lesson: never look at your news feed on Facebook if you want a pick-me-up.)

Say what you will about Donald Rumsfeld, but that whole thing about the “known unknowns”? He was really on to something there. OK, not on the weapons of mass destruction stuff, at least for my own purposes here. When you’re seeking the next step, you know you want to be happy, safe, comfortable, and successful. But what happens when the path is unclear? Or when it’s obstructed by lack of opportunities? You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get there, or you don’t even know whether such a path exists. Despite constant assurances that I’ll figure it out, I’m not sure right now how I will.

Well, at least I know in all likelihood, that someday I’ll look back at this post and laugh, wondering how I could have been so angst-y when things indeed would fall into place, how I worried for nothing. But naturally, it’s hard to understand that when you’re right in the middle of the storm.

And so it’s nice to think of flying out of the storm, I suppose. Perhaps you read this Converge magazine piece from a few months ago—“Why You Should Travel Young.” While I am not exactly the adventurous sort (before Pat and I made it out to California in 2011, I had not set foot on an airplane in more than 15 years), the argument that “traveling allows you to feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way” is one that resonates with me—especially given my concerns about my future prospects. More and deeper connections allow for greater clarity and perspective, I believe.

And yet when I daydream about travel these days, it’s not so much about the connections as the escape.  As I look at Expedia right now for flights, the whole country seems open to me (the budget doesn’t exactly allow the world to be open to me quite yet).  So many destinations—so many I have not been to and would like to see. Fort Lauderdale? For sure! Buffalo? Why not! Little Rock? Sure thing! Kansas City? Absolutely!

I often think about roaming the streets of a city I’ve never seen before, or driving through a stretch of country that had been previously just a picture in my mind. It’s not like I need a journey of self-discovery, a la Homer Simpson and the Johnny Cash coyote. But in the same way I believe that connections can bring clarity, I think that a temporary distance from your own cares can bring it as well.

In the meantime, though, the search continues for that next career step. And if it comes soon, maybe I’ll treat myself to one of those flights. Until then, I’ll keep that Expedia tab open—just in case.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things a'doing

My apologies for an extended absence, but there is exciting career news: in addition to my work at AEI, I am joining the Independent Women's Forum as a Visiting Fellow!  I'll be writing all sorts of fun stuff over there.  For instance, my most recent piece on their Inkwell blog was on Danica Patrick and how her oversexualized portrayal of herself was hurting the cause of women in NASCAR.  Anyhoo, I am super-excited to be joining them.  I've had the chance to attend a bunch of their events over the past year or so, and they are a super-cool, super-smart, and super-accomplished group of women with whom I am honored to be able to work.  Please look for my pieces over there, though I'll still be writing here, too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

On CPAC, Christie, and GOProud

So it looks like Chris Christie, governor of my beloved Garden State, is being denied an invite to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this March.  What gives?

For a little background, CPAC is the biggest yearly gathering of conservatives—political leaders give speeches, conservative organizations raise awareness for their work in an exhibit hall, and there are people everywhere.  I mean, this thing is HUGE. The conference taken place within DC for decades, but it’s been moved to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland this year since no hotel in DC is big enough to hold it. How many people attend? More than 10,000.  

So, yeah, this is a major platform for conservative/Republican politicians, and those who speak there tend to speak for the conservative movement.  This year’s theme is “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives. New Challenges, Timeless Principles.”  When this theme was first announced, I was initially excited, thinking that this meant that conservatives/Republicans were coming to realize that their message had not been working and so welcomed the infusion of young blood.

Well, then. Among the speakers this year are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.  Yup, they’ve all spoken at CPAC in recent years. It’s good to see younger leaders like Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and Mia Love get speaking spots, but I don’t really get an overwhelming feeling of youth looking at this year’s agenda. Most of the speakers have made many an appearance at CPAC over the years.

Where is Christie, one of the most popular governors in the country? (Not one of the most popular Republican governor—one of the most popular governors regardless of party. He’s currently got a 74 percent approval rating, according to Quinnipiac.) The conventional wisdom is that his cordial relationship with President Obama regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Well, let’s say that’s the reason why—that’s still not a valid reason for being less than welcome at CPAC. I’ve seen many a verbal altercation at CPAC—libertarians vs. social conservatives, neocons vs. isolationists, etc.—so it’s not like there haven’t been differences of opinion in the past.

Unfortunately, this Christie news is consistent with the direction CPAC’s been going over the last couple of years: rather than welcoming those of varying viewpoints into the conservative fold, CPAC has been limiting their access.  The most well-known example is the exclusion of GOProud, a gay conservative group, as a co-sponsor of the conference.  GOProud is fiscally conservative, pro-life, and believes that the question of gay marriage should be left to the states. Hmm.  Sounds like many of the conservatives I know!

I just don’t see any good reason why GOProud should be shut out of CPAC.  In fact, if CPAC’s goal this year is to get young conservatives and Republicans more active and more represented, it’s actually counterintuitive to keep the group out. A 2012 Pew poll showed that nearly 4 in 10 Republicans between the ages of 18 and 29 support same-sex marriage.  Eight years ago (back around the time when I first attended CPAC—yes, I am old), only 28 percent supported it.  Young people are clearly shifting on this issue, but CPAC doesn’t seem to recognize that.

Back to Christie: it’s clear that the many young conservatives who attend CPAC would love to see him speak.  I could point to the fact that he is blunt and charismatic, but let’s have the public opinion numbers speak for themselves.  In the same Quinnipiac poll I noted above, Christie’s approval among voters aged 18 to 34 stands at 53 percent.  That’s among all young voters—not just Republicans.  He would be treated like a rock star at CPAC, and again, I just can’t see why he wouldn’t score an invite.

With major national and statewide Republican losses just in the rear view mirror, and with the waning influence of the Tea Party, this would really be a great time to make the conservative tent bigger.  In my opinion, sharing the “timeless principles” of conservatism doesn’t mean that the biggest conservative gathering of the year should exclude those who have complimented the President for helping his own constituents, or those who believe the government should stay out of certain private decisions.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wiping away Ray's Heck Sauce, but not memories

Dear Lord, do I love food.

And as much as I like a nice, classy restaurant with fancy food, I’m just as happy with a slice of pizza or a hot dog at the ballpark.  (In fact, as I write this, I am eating cake batter-flavored fro yo out of a paper cup.  Awesome.) Yes, I love eating, but I think one of the greatest things about food is its ability to bring people together and create some great stories and lasting memories.

That’s why the news of Ray’s Hell Burger’s permanent closing is especially tough to take—more than most restaurants in the DC area, it embodied all the things that make food so awesome.  Of course, the burgers at this Arlington institution were other-worldly—there was nothing much better on this earth than a grilled Little Devil with tons of toppings and lots of Ray’s Heck Sauce (obvi).  A huge line always greeted you as soon as you came in the front door, but you knew that the wait for your burger would be worth it—and it always was.

But while I of course think about the great burgers when I think of Ray’s, I first think of the great times I had there with great friends.  That time we sat at the same table Barack Obama and Joe Biden had dined at? (I’m pretty sure that this is true—let’s just pretend that it definitely is.) The impromptu walk to Ray’s on the 75-degree St. Patrick’s Day last year?  Eating Ray’s takeout around a friend’s coffee table before an epic birthday night out?  It’s hard not to think of a Ray’s memory that doesn’t put a smile on my face.

You see, places like Ray’s take us back to certain times in our lives—certain memories we carry with us long after the last bites of burger are taken.  There’s just something about sharing good food with people we care about that makes a great meal taste even better.  And ever since I came to DC, Ray’s has been one of those places for me—a place where new acquaintances started to turn to friends who then turned into a second family.  We came from different states, and even different countries, but the great food was something to bond over as we learned more about each other and evolved into the tight group we ultimately became. 

But dang, one of those Little Devils would be good right about now!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"J-Bird" and the NASCAR obsession

As I noted in my previous post, I come from a car-obsessed family.  While this is mostly the work of my dad, I must take part of the credit (or blame)—and that is in the area of NASCAR. From the time I was about nine years old, watching NASCAR races became a non-negotiable part of every Sunday afternoon between February and November.

Really, it started as a father-daughter bonding thing.  Every Sunday without fail, my dad and I would sit in front of the TV, turn on TNN (anyone remember TNN? Apparently, it's back.), and check out the latest action from Daytona, Darlington, or wherever the NASCAR boys happened to be that weekend. And for the three hours the race was on, there’d be nothing else—no work for him, no homework for me. Just fun times talking about the cars, the drivers, and the action on the track. For the first time, really, I wasn’t just a little kid—I was my dad’s buddy, and that made me feel really special.  My dad, ever the Thunderbird guy, would call me “J-Bird,” like the T-Birds we watched on the track.

When he suggested that we go to Dover, Delaware for a race in mid-1995, I think I might have been the happiest kid in the world.  I will never forget the first time walking into the racetrack, standing up against the catchfence, and feeling the force of the cars going by at nearly 200 mph. Still have the tickets from that day in a scrapbook. With the exception of one year, we’ve gone to at least one race in person every year since then.  I still love the feeling of those cars going by, but since my dad and I live far apart these days, I really love the ability to go to a race with him.  I feel like I’m my dad’s buddy again.

What keeps me a NASCAR fan is that it is a sport that incites deep passion.  Because there are 43 cars on the track, with differing levels of driver skill and equipment quality, victories are hard to come by.  A little anecdote: when I was 12, my favorite driver was Bill Elliott, and with fewer than ten laps to go in the Daytona 500, he was leading. This was 1997, and he had not won a race since 1994.


So I freaked out, to put it mildly. After three years, my guy was finally going to win a race, and the biggest race of the year to boot!  Well, sadly, this story did not end well for me. He got passed by three other drivers with just a few laps remaining and finished fourth. I was disconsolate and showed my displeasure by locking myself in the bathroom and refusing to come out of a decent period of time.  (Was I prone to melodramatic gestures? Maybe.  Do I regret doing this? Absolutely not.)

The real kicker? Bill didn’t win another race until 2001. Yup, seven years between victories. There were many happy tears cried the day he finally broke that streak.

And while the victories are so much sweeter in NASCAR than they are in other sports, the losses are especially tough to take.  Unfortunately, the potential for great tragedy is always there, and the pain of those losses is amplified by the passion one feels for the sport and its competitors.  Having gone through the loss of one of my favorite drivers to an on-track accident, I can tell you it makes you all the more appreciative of the days where the action is intense but everyone stays safe.

Well, when those engines fire up again this weekend for the first time since last November, you better believe that I’ll be calling up my dad to talk racing.  It’ll feel good to kick off another NASCAR season.