What do you do when there’s no race in view? Go on Spring Break, of course


space

space

space

Yesterday morning, driving in to work, I could see the remains of the contrail of today’s space shuttle launch, by then just a snaky, vaporous apparition, as ghostly perhaps as the mission itself now just four missions from extinction. Discovery is carrying eight tons of cargo and science equipment for the International Space Station’s laboratories. The 13-day mission, dubbed the “Experiment Express” has three planned spacewalks to install a fresh ammonia tank assembly for the lab’s coolant system and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior.

space

space

None of that was visible to me from earth, driving US-441’s Orange Blossom Trail as I made my way to work along that old arterial, amid heavy traffic sleepy from the Easter weekend, windows rolled to the unsurpassable intoxicating smell of musk-sweet orange blossoms coming from trees in groves and homes throughout Central Florida. All I could see of the shuttle was that contrail dissipating high above, looking like a winding river at first, with those meandering, snakelike curves, and then slowly losing distinction – for a moment, becoming some spirituous figure rising in the sky – and then as the sun asserted itself into the day, it erased completely all signs of the mission now underway, up there under the nightlights of the Milky Way.

space

space

The the contrail was going, going, gone, just like the mission to put human beings into space, going the way of gravity and the winds of change, our economy, our increasing brokenness which can no longer afford the luxury of heavenly jaunts for a science which now doubts there’s all that much out there for us, anyway.

For a while, there was excitement in the astronomical community to find a number of solar systems out there; but where we figured that they would follow the pattern of our own – smaller planets close to the sun with atmospheres which may parallel our own, big gas giants further out – just about every solar system we’ve looked more closely at has its massive gas giant planet mashed close in, dashing, for perhaps a decade of more distant searching, all hope of the likelihood smaller, life-prone planets in our approximate position – dashing, thus, too, much hope that there’s much life out there. Just like coffee research which alternates between it’ll kill ya and it’ll save ya, big space research now swings toward the empty and lonely and what’s the use anyway.

space

Not much out there for us any more. Or so says current planetary science.

spacse

* * *

space

Like the rest of you, I’ve gotten through this past weekend without a Sprint Cup race, and for me there’s been minor damage to the system. The trucks race in Nashville on Friday night and the Nationwide race on the same track on  Saturday offered a few crumbs to feed the monster with some threads of drama, Kyle Busch breaking Harvick’s unbeaten streak in the trucks competition and Harvick winning on two fresh tires the next day with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski in hard pursuit.

Still, the stands though looked about two-thirds empty, making me wonder that if its hard enough to sell a ticket to a Sprint Cup race these days, how long these minor series can survive.

One down weekend down, another to go: The Phoenix race this weekend starts late on Saturday night, so I doubt I’ll catch much of it. Monte Dutton (whose reportage I pass on at NASCAR This Week) won’t be covering it, either, since the finish will come long after the press deadline for the Gaston Gazette in North Carolina, where he works. With the Martinsville race finishing on Monday, I had a good amount of fodder to get through the week for NASCAR This Week; with the Texas race not til April 18, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper to entertain the troops.

From my nook of cyberspace at least, for the next couple of weeks it’s Spring Break: a vantage on this Sprint Cup season which has me far from the track, lolling in sunshine, bemoaning the state of things while basking in gold. Never worse, never better.

space

space

Yet I’m an Iron Man: I persist, like Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzy Osbourne and Mark Martin, I do not leave my Oval, even if I have to find strangely new ways to round it, at this odd early hour, alone in the obvious sense and yet in the thick of the Great Pack of the Years, bumper-to-bumper with ghosts and phenomena, history and mystery, Wynona. NASCAR’s reigning goddess of fortune, next to me in black leather pants and a red velvet push-up brassiere, her blueblack hair blowing mightily from the rolled-down-window on her side (for she loves the night wind at 200 mph), her smile there and not, like the last traces of the shuttles contrail at first light.

space

Iron man, meet Wynona.

space

* * *

sapce

space

For citizens of locales like mine, what could be better than Spring Break? Here in Florida, days have been near-perfect recently with temps in the low 80s, everything in bloom, skies as blue as a Weekie-Watcheee mermaid’s eyes even at ten leagues under.

space

Anybody else wonder how mermaids have sex? Many a sailor has drowned trying to figure that one out …

space

Over the weekend I did all sorts of yardwork just to say out in it, mowing three yards (that’s another story), putting down Weed ‘n’ Feed, washing my wife’s car and my own. On spring days like this, you feel like the next step you take spring-boards you into the blue pool womb of Wynona.

space

space

Jubilation, near-nakedness and drunkenness are in high gear on the Florida beaches of Daytona and Cocoa, Ft. Lauderdale and Panama, as college students take a dubiously-needed break from the burden of their $50 thousand dollar educations. (It’s harder and not these days, going to college I mean, with this current generation facing fewer prospects for their overpriced degrees and yet solidly believing they deserve at least a “B” just for showing up in class, having borrowed so much money to sit there.)

Wildness is a wonderful cure for sobriety, for the rigors of that showing up; letting go, in the culture of nascent adulthood, is a comprehensive license to thrill, including binge drinking, indecent exposure of the potty soul and rubberless abandon in coconut-oil-scented beds.

That’s the flavor of it, and it’s a riot till it goes full overboard, like when 17-year-old Notre Dame football recruit Matt James fell last Friday from the third-floor balcony of the Days Inn Motel in Panama City. Described as “drunk and belligerent,” James was leaning over the balcony rail shaking his finger (probably a middle one) at the people in the next room. Too much booze skews and occludes the peripheral vision which keeps us prone, and James had had way too much of it; the 6-foot-6, 290 pound offensive lineman fell over, and the hit he took from the concrete was bigger and more fatal than any mortal can, lineman or not.

space

Matt James; revelers on Destin Beach in Panama City  on the Friday of James’ fall.

It happens frequently, during Spring Break, you know. Something about drunken assholery and climbing the monkey bars go together. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an all-city, all-state, all-American high school football star who was one of Notre Dame’s top recruits, saturate enough of our brain with that bug juice and get too close to the balcony rail and you’re likely to become a common-enough statistic for youth gone too wild at Spring Break.

space

It’s been a long time since I’ve been out at the beaches during Spring Break – 1984, I think, when my girlfriend at the time and I made the mistake of staying at a Cocoa Beach hotel the same weekend Spring Break was in full flower. (We simply forgot all that was going on when we planned the weekend.) We were not amused at the screaming in the halls all night long and the big puddle of vomit in the elevator. But the Dionysia of it all was, well, intoxicating in its own way, the same way the orange blossoms are intoxicating: so much wilderness perfume in riot beneath a brilliant hot sun. I remember most the smell of coconut oil on my girlfriend’s back as I worked it in with my hands, Van Halen on a big PA system at the hotel pool and the surf some hundred yards away managing to crest all through that, soothingly crooning along as my oiled hands worked down around my girlfriend’s bottom and in between her upper thighs, her sighs something for the breeze of spring which can lift and carry a soul to heaven.

space

space

A ghostly sensation of oil and buttflesh still tingles at the farthest edges of my fingers as I drove in to work, watching the shuttle’s contrail fade above and listening to the radio about the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Mexicali (located in Baja California, Mexico), with shock waves extending into Southern Califonia and being felt in Phoenix, site of this weekend’s too-late Cup race.

Good things seem to come in singulars – I only oiled my girlfriend’s bathing-suited bottom that once, and she only sighed back that way that once. But bad things like to come in gangs of three, like waves. On the home front, I just replaced the transmission and clutch in my Toyota Matrix to the tune of $3 grand when the motor to our a/c system went kaput and the garbage disposal in the kitchen went on the fritz.

The Mexicali earthquake completes a trio of earth-shakers which began in Haiti, rolled on to Chili and then trembled north. And Matt James’ death trios on one side with death five days earlier of fellow spring breaker Brandon Kohler, who fell from the fifth floor balcony of the Holiday Terrace Motel just a mile down the road in Panama City; on the other side with former WWE wrestler Chris Kanyon who also died last Friday. Depressed in the ruins of his career, fired from the business for admitting his homosexuality and unable to collect health care benefits from the WWE for all the injuries he had suffered over his career, the 40-year-old Kanyon was found by his brother in his New York apartment, dead of self-inflicted injuries.

space

Mexicali earthquake; pro wrestler Chris Kanyon, who committed suicide last Friday.

If you’ve ever body-surfed, you might remember getting walloped by an especially hard trio of waves; and in the lore, the worst of all is the ninth wave, the culminating third wave of the third trio to batter the shore. And the ninth wave bears a message not even Iron Man may ignore. We are told by a fisherman in a Scottish folk-tale, “A man may live by the sea for five score years and never hear that ninth wave call in any Sroth-mˆra, but soon or late he will bear it. An’ many is the Flood that will be silent for all of us: but there will be one Flood for each of us that will be a dreadful Voice, a voice of terror and of dreadfulness. And whoever hears that Voice, he for sure will be the burden in the Ebb.”

space

The Ninth Wave gonna gitcha.

Meaning, the ninth wave is curved like a reaper’s scythe for all of us, on some day in the undiscernable future, as likely to carry us off on dark wet road as the brightest beach in all of springtime.

Bound to happen; fate’s wrapped in every crappy event, wiggling her crooked finger where the sunshine don’t quite make it, cackling with a ninth-wave’s crashing glee at our sorrows.

space

space

And yet if that’s so, does that wave scowl in ebbing thunder when a sudden happiness finds its way through the fatal weave, breaking our heart open with a moment’s caught breath at the sight of beauty walking down the beach or smiling back at us in the darkness of our bed or is the simple fragrance of orange blossoms at this hour of 5:06 a.m., belling the sum of every sunny day in spring, as if death itself were no match for one hour of paradise at the beach?

space

space

* * *

space

It is a strange function of our thinking that the things are never worse and never better than the present. Consider how lousy fans feel about NASCAR these days, are staying away from races in droves, fill the blogosphere with bitching and contempt for a once beloved sport. And yet the vehicle for what’s killing NASCAR is the technology which has made cars both safer and now approaching speeds of former glory: the same source of that ever-increasing perfection is the source of ubiquitous high-speed Internet and hi-def TV. In the preset, we are impoverished and enriched in the same moment; an age of exhaustion and wonders is simultaneously here.

It is another function of our brains to think better of former times, despite the lack of convenience which ever-crowds the present. The racin’ was wilder and tougher and infinitely more free-spirited before HANS devices and superspeedways, before all the big corporate money and NASCAR’s iron grip over teams and drivers. If the 90s was the Age of Dale, there was before that the age of Cale and King Richard, and before that Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherley (both killed on the track), and before that the legendary moonshine-runners Junior Johnson and Fonty Flock and Lloyd Seay, back when racin’ was a bet between outlaws to see which of their car was best at outrunning every law in the land.

In the mythic reckoning of human time, there is always a descent from godlike glory and timelessness down to the present, a time of human-sized achievement and mortal-sized life-threads.

According to Hesiod, there were Five Ages of Man:

  • In the Golden Age, the first men lived with the gods, did not have to work (beasts and plants simply offered themselves),grew to a happy, old old age and became our guardian spirit or daimons, keeping an eye on us like Clarence, the angel who rights the path of goodly George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
  • In the Silver Age there was strife among the gods—Cronos was defeated by his son Zeus and sent to the underworld where he became the god of time and human harvest. Humans lived as infants for a hundred years (suggesting that there are a lot of grown-up babies among us) and lived only a short time as adults, fighting among each other and refusing to worship the gods. After death, they became the “blessed spirits of the underworld” – the everpresent, ever-livin’ Dead.

space

“The Silver Age” by Lucas Cranach the Elder (d. 1563 AD)

  • In the Bronze Age human time was synonymous with war: armed with bronze weaponry all of these ancestors did fight, fight, fight. Bronze was as omnipresent as omnipotent; people even lived in houses of bronze and probably drove bronze Model T’s to town. The dreary result here is that the entire race of men killed each other off with their bronze swords, disappearing from earth to live in the darker depths of the Underworld, as Oblivion’s ruling shades.
  • Then came the Heroic Age, a time unmarked by metals or gods, when the greatest human achievements were made (heroic achievements, not so much discovering what romance meant or inventing a clock as carrying off heroic deeds like taking down the impregnable city of Troy.) The race of humans from the Heroic Ages died and went to a nobler  afterlife in Elysisum, on the Isle of the Blessed, sailing on golden ships across the waters of eternity attended by busty nymphs who fed them milk from their immortal breasts and let them lap ambrosia from their musky laps. (Sounds a bit like Spring Break, don’t you think?)

space

Ace hero Achilles slays Hector outside the walls of Troy in a painting by Peter Paul Reubens, 1630 AD.

Human affairs devolve into the Iron Age, Hesiod’s present, an age in which humans lived in toil and misery, the social order is turned ass-backwards with children defying their parents and siblings at war with each other and the ancient code of hospitality between a host and guest become a ruse for midnight buggary and a slit throat come dawn. At the height of this age, humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing; babies will be born with gray hair and the gods will have completely forsaken humanity: “there will be no help against evil.” The first Wal-Marts were believed to have opened their doors, and the practice known as flaming was begun on carved tablets which were eventually replaced by computers.

Hesiod lived in the eighth century BC. Where does that leave us? He didn’t have to contend with things like gas at $2.90 a gallon and cancers brimming in our canned Chef Boy R Dee, with HIV and other STDs rampant in the collective groin, with capitalist-in-populist-hysteric-clothes on Fox News or living-dead celebrities with so much Botox in their faces that when they smile you get the feeling of seeing a Kabuki mask – surface perfection with terrified eyes staring out – and with so much silicone in their boobs that no matter how they move or how they age, their nipples float in perky attention at all times, saluting your nose – or the sun – certainly a faux-immortality which really ages one badly.

space

Which is worse: scary botox, or a toxic pundit populist?

Never worse: Yet never better, when you think of the advancements of technology which speed out innovations in ever-faster cycles. Blu-Ray, wireless computing, virtual sex, iPods which store thousands of your freely-stolen songs in a space no larger than your own fingernail: what’s to complain about?  And think of how pharmaceuticals are upending and peppering our society.

Today there’s a pill for every ill, extending lives through lowered cholesterol, halving heartburn and keeping you from peeing in your pants when your kidneys turn into bouncing urine balloons. There are pills which will pump you up into a Schwarzenegger and pills that will shrink your zits to the size of titwit tits. There are pills for ills which used to not qualify as legitimate illnesses, like flacciditis – a limp penis in the clench. Now you can take a little blue pill and get a stone-hard woodie which sometimes won’t quit (all the ads say you’re supposed to go to the doctor if you experience an erection on Viagra or Cialis that lasts more than 4 hours, but who are they kidding? What better marketing could there be?). For the nervous and squeamish, there are date-rape drugs a million times more potent than Old Spice cologne or eating raw oysters). Guys in their 80s are getting off now with the peppery bluster of guys half their age–if they can find any woman their age who’s still willing to still put up with (or out for) sex.

Kevin Conway makes his Sprint Cup debut this year in the No. 38 ExtenZe Ford Fusion, owned by Front Row Motorsports with Yates Racing. A Nationwide series vet, Conway made his first Sprint Cup debut in Phoenix last year. ExtenZe, a non-prescription “all natural male enlargement formula” which promises “to increase the size of your penis and enhance sexual desire, pleasure and performance,” has committed to Conway for the entire 2010 season, and his middling performance on the track so far– with an average start of 38th place and finish of 31st – seems to suit his team fine. “He’s doing exactly what we want him to do,” says FRM general manager Jerry Freeze, “Which is run laps, get experience and just build his notebook, to get better for next time.” And for ExtenZe Racing, whose  motto is “Going the Extra Length” for Excellence, how Conway finishes is less important than how long he stays out there …. for the longer Conway is on the track, the longer ExtenZe gets airtime, and the longer you and me have to fight our silly primate hardwiring for “bigger as better” sex. It also goes to prove that it’s not what goes in a pill so much as how its marketed that makes the difference. One thousand times around at Bristol is a lot more important than a Top Ten or Twenty or even Thirty. Hell, with ExtenZe, any nice guy can do that, with a goofy grin and plenty of satisfied-looking models drifting dreamily by in the periphery.

space

Extenze Chervolet and Kevin Conway, the driver who’s willing to go an extra length for visibility.

Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace, driving for Rusty Wallace Racing, is sponsored in 2010 by Five Hour Energy. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials. “Focus and alertness” is the promise of Five Hour Energy, a promise which Wallace so far this year has been delivering, with three top-10 finishes so far this year and 11th in points overall. Perk-me-up palliatives have come a long ways since the old days of speed in tablet form, entering the mainstream in a flood of energy drinks. Living Essentials is said to sell more than 4 million 2-oz. bottles of Five Hour Energy a Week.

space

Steve Wallace and the 5-Hr. Energy Camry, all pumped up.


But the iron man of enhanced racin’ is Mark Martin, who drove the No. 6 Viagra Chevrolet for 19 years for Jack Roush Racing. Martin is also NASCAR’s iron man–he’s driven in some 767 races since 1981. Perhaps because of Martin’s affiliation with technological innoviations which promise much to the imagination yet somehow fail in the human clinch, Martin is another driver who’s gone the distance yet never quite made it all the way, finishing second in the points standings five times. But he keeps on keepin’ on. Last year—at age 51—Martin drove the No. 5 Cheerios Chevrolet to five wins for Hendrick Motorsports. He’s only the fourth driver in NASCAR history to win a race past the half-century age mark. This year he’s in the No. 6 GoDaddy Chevrolet, almost as comical a sponsorship as Viagra’s; but Martin, with a combined total of 95 wins between the three series, has a vitality no sponsorship can quite equal. An Alabama native, Martin now lives in Port Orange, Florida, with his wife and five kids, drives his personal jet to his races, loves rap music and runs on the side two car dealerships. This boy is race libido personified; he’ll be nailing Wynona for victories into his 80s.

space

space

* * *

space

In the Iron Age we’re still stuck in heavy metal’s pounding migraine: things have never been worse. Pesilent diseases, populist rage across the land, a housing market disappearing under the waters not of global warming (though that’s coming) but pure corporate greed, with myriad industries and employments evaporating in the swelter of the New: Yep, it sucks.

Yet, if we follow the truisim, things may never have been so good, and ironically, iron (and its Iron Men—and, soon, Iron Maidens) may be leading the way. For years the eilusive grail of computing has been superconductors, electrical circuits which, due to their structure, allow energy to flow endlessly through them with no loss of potency. Some experiments that energy can circuit through superconductors at the same rate and force for 100,000 years. The problem is that superconductors, till now, are so damn expensive to create, because most metals used in them – like aluminum  or tin – have to be cooled way below absolute zero to achieve superconductive status.

space

space

Now comes along humble, ancient iron. In 2008 researchers discovered that iron compounds known as pnictides superconduct well above absolute zero, making possible is known as high-temperature superconductivity, a much more affordable – and employable process. Iron-pnictide superconductors could radicalize applications ranging from computing to the Hadron particle accelerator, the gyroscopes and magnetic field detectors in the Gravity Probe B satellite and magnetic resonance imaging: All giving us a faster, clearer, infintitely more precise picture of what’s out and down and in there. (See the the article in the August 2009 Scientific American)

Iron may be the Viagra of scientific progress in the latter 21st century, allowing a potency which may be able to stop all the ill effects of our Iron Age in its tracks.

And just think of such a superconductor under the hood of a Sprint Cup car … or implanted somewhere between the swinging’ balls or in the pituitary gland of a middle-aged guy like me. Can cars go around a track at a million miles per hour? Can a man go for months, maybe years in the clench of his Beloved, especially gals similarly fitted with superconductive iron clitties? Can we stop global warming in its tracks with high-temperature superconductors? Forever turn the day into a spring one like todays?

Maybe. But I suspect the future will continue to be what has always held to be true for our present, much as it was 2800 years ago with Hesiod: Never as bad as we fear, or as good as we hope.

Oh well. Surf’s up …

space

space

space

space

space

In this time-lapse photo taken by Orlando Sentinel photographer Red Huber early Monday morning, the space shuttle Discovery waits on its launch pad as the International Space station passes by — perhaps forever — overhead.

2 responses to “What do you do when there’s no race in view? Go on Spring Break, of course

  1. Well, here’s how you know I read it (and enjoyed it). Mark Martin’s from Arkansas, and he was 50 when he won that race. Small detractions from your always enlightening blog.

  2. nice blog…keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s