Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Year of the Underdog: Monkeys, Mechanisms, and Music

Sunday afternoon I was going 150 mph around the Speedway at Talladega… and less than twelve hours later I was sitting in traffic, jamming to some music on the 405. While my car may have been at a stop, my mind was still racing. Meetings. Appointments. Deadlines. UGH!!!... I wish I had just five minutes to do absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. But knowing me.. I would just be sitting there.. watching the clock waiting for the five minutes to be up. Yeah, I am that girl.

My life has been in the fast lane for the past two years, and once I put my foot on the gas… I have yet to let up. My mom likes to say I run myself into the ground. I just say I am accustomed to the college lifestyle. I don’t mind the late nights. The hours I used to spend helping college kids get their Dr. in U.N.K… I now spend writing articles, blogs, watching late night sports recap shows, and sorting out my calendar. As for my social life, it’s been pretty nonexistent as of late, but I really haven’t minded since it’s allowed me to focus on my career, and what’s important to me. I've had two “boyfriends” in the past four years, and they all ran a distant second to a late night sports show and a warm bath. I might possibly be the oldest twenty-three year old in the world. But, until now, I thought I was happy.
Until now.

When life gets beyond frustrating, sometimes it’s best for me… to just go for a drive… and clear my thoughts. Sometimes there’s a destination, sometimes there isn’t. Regardless, it’s just me.. the car.. the open road… and of course the soundtrack of my life. On this particular drive down the PCH, the road you see in pretty much any performance car commercial of all time, my mood was all over the page and so was my song selection: Some ZZ TOP, a little U2, hell… maybe some Keith Urban. I’ve been spending a lot of time out on the West Coast, trying to figure out where the road of life will take me, and who will be in the seat beside me. Now, after months of soul searching, I am beginning to think the answer … is no one.

At this point is when I crank up the volume. Ah.. Mr. Tom Petty, the only good thing to come out of Gainesville. And given the situation… how appropriate.

“She’s a good girl.. loves her mama… loves Jesus… and America too…”

I’m very selective about the people that I allow into my life. I’m not trying to be a @#$!%... It’s just my way of safeguarding myself while I sort out the real friends from the make believes. Very few people surprise me… but this one… caught me completely off guard. What’s a girl to do when she finds the people she’s allowed into her life are something other than they had pretended to be and let her down?... Maybe Chris Rock had it right all along. Maybe when you meet someone for the first time, you are really only “meeting their representative.” You meet who they want you to meet, the person they present to the rest of the world to hide who they truly are. Pretty soon, you get wrapped up in their lives, their situations, only to find out.. it was all a lie. A sham. And when you ask them why they involved you in their mess in the first place… they say because “they wanted to see if they could ever have an honest chance.” An honest chance?... But when do I get mine?...

After a long list of roads, whose names I can’t remember—nor do I have to thanks to the wonder that is the lady in the GPS box… my drive that day led me to Anaheim. Particularly, the “Stadium of Angels.” If the game of baseball was a religion, this would be its church. And like anyone searching for answers, this seemed like the only place to come.

Clear the Mechanism, Jenn.

I’ve taken chances on my career, on people, and most importantly on love, because while my last name may spell regrets backwards, it’s the last thing in life I would ever want to have in my final days. Most people that have experienced a loss like mine, would have given up. They’d say… “This game of love… it stinks.”

But.. not this girl. She’d say…

“It’s a great game, sir, and I will continue to play.
If for nothing else… but the love of the game.”

After all, you can’t win if you don’t play.

WHAT IF everyone took a chance on their dreams?... At least they could say they did it, and not have to look back years from now.. and just say… WHAT IF? Besides, having dreams is what makes life tolerable. Some people are born great. Others achieve it. Me? I’m not trying to make history here. I just want to matter. I want to be inspired. Sometimes life has a way of making dreams a feasible, yet distant reality… Chances that come around only once in a lifetime. Twice if you’re lucky. Three times… well… it’s either a charm, or you strike out. Life is all about transition. You can sit there and wonder “what if,” or take a chance, step up to the plate, and find a new adventure. So what if you strike out your first at bat?.. You’ll get another chance at the plate. My life has been anything but ordinary. Then again, I think I would be bored if it wasn’t. Things in life tend to happen for a reason… and most of the time the reasons are things we simple human beings just can’t understand. If things are meant to be, then they will be. Sure, there are times when I just want to give up… but since when am I the quitting kind?.. Never. There’s a rally on the horizon… and this underdog isn’t going home without a fight.

Looking up at the scoreboard, and then to the sky.. I was hoping the last of the LA smog would burn off and give me just a few more moments in the sun before dusk. Still, even through the haze, a ballpark is one of the most beautiful sights the eyes can see. This one however, has special meaning… this one… speaks to me.

:::Flashback::: The date is June 6, 2000. Bottom of the Ninth. The Angels were down by two runs… to the San Francisco Giants. The people operating the video boards that particular day, took a clip of a monkey jumping around from the movie Ace Ventura, and superimposed the words "RALLY MONKEY!" on the screen. Needless to say, the Halos rallied and went on to win the game.

The Rally Monkey proved her worth once again during the 2002 World Series. How appropriate that their opponents be none other than… The Giants. The Angels were trailing… after the Giants put up five runs in the top of the seventh inning, making the score 5-0. Just then, House of Pain’s Jump Around blares throughout the stadium, and there on the big screen appears the monkey. It’s Rally Time!!!... The team scored six runs in the seventh and eighth innings, winning the sixth game.

The following evening… with a 4-1 victory, they went on to win their first World Championship.

There’s something about Anaheim. Something about the Angels... that gives me faith. You've got to believe. You have to look inside yourself. Because when you believe, miraculous things can happen.

Walking through the corridors of Big Ed, I passed a large trophy case, and inside… The World Series Trophy. The Purest form of validation there is. Sure, it must feel great to prove to everyone else, that you’ve made it… but it must be even more rewarding.. to prove to yourself, that even when you’re down in the count.. anything is possible. As I drove back to LAX, I rolled the windows down, turned the volume up, and smiled. If this isn’t a sign for me… I dunno what is. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, pulled down my ball cap… and just listened.

“Just a small town girl… livin in a lonely world… took the midnight train going anywhere…”

Maybe.. Sometimes, you just have to trust that everything will be all right, even when no one can tell you it will. Maybe that’s why I keep on driving, and listening to my music. It comforts me more than a hug from a friend or late night discussion on the phone. After all, where words fail, music speaks.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Boobity Boobity Boobity???… Whatever.. Let’s Go Racing!...

Two weekend’s ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to experience the world of Nascar first hand. Although my trip to Daytona left me with high expectations, the people at Nascar assured me this experience would top them all - and they didn’t disappoint.

Saturday, my family and I flew into Atlanta and made the two hour drive to Talladega. Upon arrival I knew I was in Nascar country. There is just something about the cars, the fans, and the atmosphere that sets stock car racing apart from any other sporting event I have attended. The weather in Talladega was absolutely perfect. Not too hot, not too cold.. but juuuusstt right.

After parking in the infield lot, we were met by our Nascar representative, John McMullin Jr. He walked us around pit row and gave us a brief tour of the place, explaining that today was more about qualifying, and that a tour on Sunday would probably be more interesting.

However, the Busch series race took place that afternoon and proved to be a lot more exciting than I expected. Kyle Busch lost control of his car around lap 27, and began to flip end over end once his car hit the infield. He seemed to have escaped pretty unscathed despite the horrific crash, and was taken to the infield medic for evaluation and observation.

Saturday night was spent mostly choreographing my girls’ appearance for the next day. Their driver got lost, I was a bigger wreck than Busch’s car, and the girls were bickering. Sigh. No wonder the Spice Girls broke up. By the end of the night though, everyone was settled into their room, fed, and all was right with the world. And I… finally got more than an hour’s worth of sleep.

We left the hotel around 8 in the morning on Sunday.. and got to the track at 8. Ah.. the beauty of time travel. No seriously. We gained an hour crossing over the Alabama border. This proved helpful for the morning drive, and less amusing for the trip back.

Once we reached the track, my guests and I were greeted by the Nascar folks, who scooped us up in the pace car, and took us around the track at speeds I have never before been in my life.. well, not that my parents know of anyway. 150 mph on a straightaway would probably be intimidating enough, but put the same car, with the same speed on a 30-some-odd-degree embankment, and you better hope your Pampers can handle it.

The ride around the track was a pure adrenaline rush. The stands, the walls, and the infield were a blur of color. IT.. was awesome. No wonder Ricky Bobby liked going fast.

After my pace car experience I headed over to the midway to check on my girls. Decked out in their racing outfits, they stood among a huge crowd of people in line to take pictures with them. They politely posed for pictures all morning with people, and totally ate up the Nascar experience. While at the midway, I made my costume change so that I could visit the pits. They are pretty strict about dress code, something about safety.. Personally, I just think they didn’t want my airbags going off and causing a wreck. My new shirt was black.. with simple white letters across the front that said..




Now, I’m not quite sure what that means.. but it’s provocative.. and people seemed to really like it. (D. Waltrip used to say it before each race.. so much so it became his trademark.)

I got to walk through the pits and check out the team’s trailers and such. The DuPont pit crew leader was nice enough to give me a tour of their trailer. Now, looks can be quite deceiving. Despite appearances, these trailers are actually quite roomy. They not only have a changing area for the crew, and a lounge for the driver… but also house two cars in a higher panel above. So, they are far from roughing it. Waking through the trailer and squeezing past the pit crew members that are in the process of changing for the day’s race, we are led to the trailers lounge. There sitting in the corner of the lounge was none other than Jeff Gordon. If Nascar were the NBA, Jeff Gordon would be its Michael Jordan… or something of the sort. Mr. Gordon was super polite and hospitable, and surprisingly relaxed considering he had a race in a mere few hours. We thanked him for his hospitality and left him to his pre race rituals.

We also got to attend the drivers’ meetings, which was pretty interesting even for someone who is just getting to know the sport. Unlike many other sports, Nascar drivers have actual say and input into the rules and dealings of the sport. They are encouraged to voice their opinions and comment on policies.

Next came driver introductions and award presentations. I had the honor of being able to present a check to Mr. Tony Stewart. Stewart has kicked up some major controversy in the Nascar circuit as of late, making comparisons to that of the WWE. He of course got the Nascar equivalent of when your dad took the belt to your ass as a kid when you back talk your mom or do something terrible. Though we only had a brief interaction, he made a few jokes and seemed like a pretty decent guy. Further analysis will be required.

Turned out… Sunday was a bad day to be Kyle Busch as well. Kid simply could not catch a break, wrecking his second car in as many days. And that’s sad.. because he is one of my dad’s faves.

We left the track in the late afternoon hours Sunday, having to make the drive back to Atlanta to catch the 8:30 back to Tampa… only to get on the 6 am to Los Angeles the next morning out of Orlando?.. Tired?... Confused?.. Yeah, so was I.

So apparently, I missed the huge celebration the people of Talladega threw for Mr. Gordon’s victory on Sunday. I heard there was a ton of beer.. sheesh.. well, it could have been worse. At least they were cans instead of kegs. Regardless, congrats to Jeff Gordon on another great victory.. and best of luck to all the drivers the rest of the season. Hopefully I will make it out to another race or two before it’s up.

Thanks for the great hospitality Nascar!!!... It was a truly unforgettable experience.