Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Victory Lap

Memorial Day weekend means one thing to everyone who has ever lived in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis 500 has been called the single greatest sporting event on the planet. While I may not exactly agree with this statement, I do believe that experiencing the Indy 500 first hand is something that every single sports fan must do at some point in their lives. I have had the pleasure of attending three 500 races in my life.

The first time I was about ten years old. Just my dad and I went, and I saw it as an excuse to hang out with my dad, knock back a few IBC root beers (I thought I was a bad ass because they looked like beer bottles), and watch machines moving at high speeds crash into each other. I was young, my enthusiasm faded not too long after Stephen Tyler made up his own lyrics to the National Anthem, “AND THE HOME… OF THE… INDIANAPOLIS 500!” I managed to stick around for 100 laps, and we made it home in time for my dad to catch the last twenty laps on the radio.

The Next time I went to the 500 was two years ago, the summer after my senior year of high school. VIP tickets and a police escort into the race didn't discourage my friends and I from sneaking a cooler of goodies into the stands. The race itself was fairly unimpressive, and I drew Danica Patrick’s car in our group’s gambling pool, so I was forced to mask my chauvinism and pure hatred for Danica and not cheer when she crashed out of the race.

My last 500 was my favorite. The day after I got home from New York and three weeks before I moved to Madison, my friends and I rolled up to the coke lots around 9 AM. I was there to celebrate finishing a year of culinary school, kick off a three week summer vacation, see some of my high school friends for the first time all year, and make a damn fool out of myself just like 90 percent of the clowns that attend the race annually. It was a success. I enjoyed Bacon sandwiches that I had packed in a lunch box, burned in the hot sun, and shotgunned beers outside at tailgate parties and shouted “AMURRRRRICAAAAA” at the top of my lungs every time I did. It was without a doubt one of the most fun days of my life. Its very difficult to catch much of the race from the infield. But it was nonetheless fantastic.

But this year the Indianapolis 500 took on special significance. For the first time in my life I watched the entire race in its entirety, live on TV. It’s one of the things that gives me a strong sense of home. I watched the race full blast in my dorm, with my window open. As I listened to the roar of the engines, I envisioned myself in my driveway, 12 years old, shooting hoops, with the loud buzzing of the engines miles away ringing in my ears. I pictured my dog chained to the tree next to the driveway. I smelled smoke from the charcoal grill in the back yard. Nostalgia to the max. I can't remember the last time I missed my house, or Indiana in general more.

Im currently sitting on the train on my way back from a long exciting day in New York City. It hit me that this could very well be my last trip to the city for quite some time. So when Mary, my friend from home who lives in Madison, and her sister had to go to an engagement party, I decided to go on my own personal victory lap of NYC. It was a mix of the tastes that I loved the most, and the stuff I needed to try before I left.
I started off with dinner at ABC Kitchen. I walked in without a reservation, took a seat at the bar and immediately placed my order. I got a house made sausage with a spicy warm potato salad with mustard vinaigrette and pickled jalapeños, followed by a wood oven pizza topped with ricotta, wild mushrooms, parmesan, oregano, and a runny soft cooked egg. Both were really good.

I ran down past Union Square to the Lower East Side to Ssam Bar, where I picked up the obligatory pork belly steam bun that I had been craving ever since watching Kung Fu Panda 2 on Friday. I walked across the street to the new Milk Bar, grabbed a piece of crack pie, and chased it down with a cup of cereal milk soft serve. I could go back to Hyde Park now, satisfied.

You know, I’ve completed the requirements necessary. In less than three weeks I’ll be a graduate of one of, if not the most prestigious culinary school in the world. All that stands in my way is 12 days of serving tables. Twelve days of flambéing crepes Suzette tableside, chilling with the friends I’ve made here over the last 2 years. Two more weekends packed with a shit load of nothing to do. One graduation, one bittersweet goodbye to the guys I’ve cooked alongside for the better part of two years, and one twelve hour drive are all that’s left. And by 3 o clock, on Sunday the 19th of June, I should be pulling into that gravel driveway for the first time in six months. And one of my oldest friends will be at the back door, tail wagging ferociously, waiting to greet me with a drenching of slobber. In less then three weeks time, I’ll be Back Home Again in Indiana, Jim Nabors style.

Lets all just pray I don’t pull a JR Hildebrand and smash in to the proverbial wall.


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