This weekend I attended the Inaugural! Baltimore! Grand Prix!
The race itself was awesome. The whole getting there and getting back, however, was less than a smooth ride.
My friend J took me and I was put in charge of reading the directions from the website. And because the Grand Prix is a car race THROUGH the downtown of a city, they set up shuttle busses from satelite parking areas to get people to the race.
The directions were fine until the last task of "take the second right at Light Street."
We couldn't find a Light Street so ended up driving into an old Walmart shopping center where we saw a lot of cars parked, but no signs about why. Our directions said "the shuttle bus area will be clearly marked and there will be volunteers to help you."
i.e. "You'd have to be an IDIOT to miss this, it will be so obvious"
We see two young guys handing out flyers so we ask them. "Do you know where Light Street is? Or where we pick up the shuttles for the race?"
They hand us a $5 dollar off coupon for "Nick's Fish House" and tell us Light Street is across town.
Okaaay. This looks like a parking lot for something since there are cars PARKED ON GRASS everywhere, but we'll try this again. So we leave, drive around, make U-turns, finally find a lot that says it's for the race, and we pull in. And the guy asks for $20 bucks.
Huh? It's supposed to be free, this must not be the right lot. So we ask him where Light Street is.
He says it's across town.
So we nearly just pay the 20 bucks just so we can stop driving around but J and I are both of the "I'll walk 5 miles before I pay for parking" type so we decide we'll give it one more try before conceding.
So we head back to Walmart.
And get offered a coupon again.
But this time, we see shuttle busses and ask one of the drivers "do these take us to the rac..."
"Get on that one!"
We obey, and I start to show THAT driver my Grand Prix ticket and he waves me off with a "I don't need to see that."
So J and I take our seats, passing by rows of interesting looking people (some slumped over) and think "Ok! We're getting somewhere now!"
(...ooor we just jumped on a random bus that will take us Who Knows Where! Either way, it'll be an adventure, right?)
So we drive for a bit and the bus finally stops - and no one does anything. The driver doesn't say anything, the people don't move. Finally a lady yells "is this where we get off?" And the driver says yes. But still most of the bus doesn't move (particularly the slumped over ones). But whatever, J and I are getting off!
We look at our tickets which say Gate D. And there's a sign in front of us that says Gate C. So we figure that's close enough and start heading that way.
Our tickets were to get us into the "Infield", which is the large area of downtown that is in the middle of the course the cars are running around all day. And we can HEAR race cars, but can't SEE them yet, so we walk around trying to get "in" and No One Can Help Us. We ask no less than 5 different people how we just get IN, and we are pointed to a different place each time. We finally realize we have to go in a building, up escalators in a mall, and over a pedestrian bridge to finally get "in" the infield. (which is outside).
And after waiting in line, we finally get on the bridge and see a line of complaining people being held up by metro cops, going the other way. So J and I keep going our direction, and now we wonder "after all this to get in, are we not allowed to get OUT??" and that's when I hear a volunteer tell someone that the bridge isn't built to hold all the people that are currently trying to use it.
Oh neat! Good planning, Baltimore!
Needless to say, J and I picked up the pace.
Once we finally got IN, we relaxed a little, bought lemonade, and tried not to worry about how we were later going to have to get OUT. Whatever! We are here now! Onto the cars!
We stake out ground right in front of the start line and realize we are allowed to go down on the track to meet the drivers. So of course I have to take photos. And I really know nothing about this sport. But I get a photo with a car anyway. But that's not enough. I need one with a driver. So we find a guy who is half wearing a race jumpsuit thing, so I pounce.
Me: Can I take a photo with you?
Him: Oh, I'm not the driver
Me: Can you pretend to be?
So here's Fake Driver:
(Then I found a REAL driver right as the race organizers were pushing us off the track and I pounce on him too. So here is Real Driver:)
So then J and I take our place outside the protective fence and the cars start up and take off.
And here's where I black out from happiness because those cars are LOUD and FAST and I have a ridiculous half-mouth-open, half-goofy-grin expression on my face for the next few laps.
And I'm not alone. The people around me have similar expressions and it's funny how Mutual Excitement! makes everyone feel like we all know each other. So the little guy standing in front of J and I turns to look at us like "Do you see that man!!! Do you see that!!" Except we can't actually understand him, he's just excitedly mumbling and HITTING J repeatedly.
So I'm still gazing in awe at the cars, and J's trying to pry this man off of him, and the lady next to me feels she needs to let me know which car she loves the most, and the man next to her is yelling "oh he has that WIIIDE open, that is WIIIIDE open!!!"
So that's the little scene of our spectator group. I then attempt to actually photograph the cars. But did I mention they are FAST? Here is what I ended up taking like 6 photos of:
Yep. You can't actually see a car in the photo at all.
I eventually got a little better at it:
And seriously, besides the poor logistics (and the whole possible bridge collapse thing) this was a fantastic event. And we stayed for hours before finally heading back home....
...then we realize: How do we GET back home?
By now, we've wandered around the "infield" so much we don't know how to get back to where the bus dropped us off. So I remember we were near Gate C and we look at the map-
And there is no Gate C.
So we see a Gate A, and head for that. Eh, it'll lead OUT somewhere, right?
We ask YET ANOTHER PERSON to help us and after a long process, we finally find random busses picking people up in a parking lot.
So we start to get on one and I realize -- these are City busses. Not so much Free Shuttles. And I have no idea where they are going, since I don't live in Baltimore.
So I'm trying to explain things to the driver, who is giving me the "Blink....Blink...." face like he has no clue what I'm saying and thankfully two guys FROM NEW JERSEY that are sitting on the bus tell us they know exactly what we are saying, they are going to the same place, and to just get on.
So we all bond, talking about how poorly organized this whole thing was and how we all got lost getting into the event, and the bus starts driving into a part of town J and I have not seen.
But the Jersey guys are adamant and they assure us "it's fine, he's going to drop us off at the corner, then we walk to another corner and get on another bus..."
Oh dear. But since J and I don't have a better plan, we follow along. And guess where the random corner in this random part of town is that the bus drops us off at?
So we've now come full-circle in our frustration. And we head to this elusive Other Bus --
And we walk RIGHT INTO THE ORIGINAL PLACE THE SHUTTLES DROPPED US OFF AT EARLIER AT NON-EXISTENT GATE C.
No freaking way! We really just took a bus across town...to just get around the infield. Sigh.
Nonetheless, surely these HAVE to take us back to our cars, right? And we see a sign that says "Port Covington".
What tha? We aren't trying to go to A PORT, we are trying to go to the street -that isn't Light Street- where the old Walmart -AND OUR CAR- is!
But once again, J and I have no other plan. So we hop on.
And lo and behold, we DO end up back at the Walmart -- which we realize is part of the "Port Covington Shopping Center." Ah, nothing like labeling things in a way WE COULD UNDERSTAND, like, I don't know, "Shuttle Parking Lot A"??
And as the bus is driving, we pass ...."Nick's Fish House".
Ha! We really have come full-circle.
So we take our coupons and eat at that darn fish house and happily finish out our day of confusion.