Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Around the World In One Hot Weekend

Last year, by the time Labor Day weekend rolled around, we had managed to dig out from the moving boxes but we were still debating daily about where to put extra furniture and the most efficient use of kitchen drawer space. Finally, we all needed a break. It was a long weekend and the last task we wanted to cross off was unpack the house...some more.

So, like any Fort Knoxer worth their weight, we drove to Louisville. As it turned out, the WorldFest had come to the waterfront and it was free. Well, not the gyros. They weren't free. Or the fruity umbrella drinks served in a hollowed-out pineapple to give the illusion of alcohol inside...
they weren't free, either. Or nearly enough liquid to quench the 3 of us on what turned out to be a 95 degree day with 95% humidity. But what pineapple froth can't quell, bottled water will. Yay for Aquafina.

But the WorldFest itself, with its multiple tents featuring music, dancers, art and kids' activities, was all free. It kicked off on Friday but Saturday featured a parade, which we pretty much missed in its entirety because the LMPD officer standing next to us was convinced that we were camped on the corner of the end of the parade...instead of, as it turned out, the very beginning of the route. (In retrospect, it seems odd that we didn't figure this out on our own and much sooner. I blame the heat.) Instead of watching performers from various countries sing, dance and throw candy, we saw the straightening of costumes
the private discussions between the costumed and the non-participating friend
and little ones being little ones.
But we were fortunate enough to catch these guys in action...

 these poor boys...they were in long-sleeve shirts AND cable knit sweaters when it started. I have no idea how they were still in button-downs and chinos and caps when it was all said and done. I wanted to strip down to my underwear and I wasn't even in a parade. I did see Mama keep handing them the bottled water, though.
 This guy was from Trinidad or Tobago or maybe both. All I know is that someday, when I have zero responsibilities the next day, I want to party with him!
 She carried that child the entire route. I bet there wasn't a dry stitch on her by 4:00.

I mean, seriously, how do you not want to buy him a shot of rum and drink it in the streets? 

The festival schedule ran all weekend and included vendors for at least a dozen different cuisines, cultural dancing demonstrations on 3 stages, a global village that exhibited the cultures and customs of over 20 different countries, craft booths offering handmade items from around the world, a naturalization ceremony and a kids' activity area. Last year, we missed the naturalization ceremony, but got a good taste of the rest of it with the aforementioned gyros and pineapple umbrella drink, as well as teaching Blue about how his ancestors lived...
(although less of on the banks of the Ohio River and more in the allotted reservation in Tennessee)

doing a little shopping at the craft booths...
(if that sign had read Keep Calm and Sweat Your Ass Off, I totally would have bought it - just as a little reminder of the day)

and listening to some African drum music.

I thought I was being all Sally Subtle when I took these pictures. Apparently, I was so very, very busted. And I didn't give to their charity. I'm going to make up for that this year.

Speaking of which, if you are in the Louisville, KY area on Labor Day weekend (it's 29 Aug - 1 Sept this year) this is such a fabulous festival for the entire family. Bring bottled water. Bring cash because, let's face it, you are going to want some baklava. Bring your camera because even though I didn't donate to their cause, they were still pleased as punch to have an enthusiastic audience who might someday blog about them. And bring your sense of adventure. And maybe ask more than one person where the parade route is.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Champagne Friday: the Need for Speed

Every few weeks (oh, let's be honest...days), Shutterfly sends me an email with an offer I just can't refuse (if 10% off your next order is something you feel like you can't refuse) and that has me going through my 2013 pictures. I now realize that in the mad pace of Army school, master's degree, 1-year old going on 4 and the move to Kentucky, I've neglected to post and review many of our adventures over the past year. Let me fix that (until everything goes sideways again in 23 hours and this thing gets back-burnered for another month. I really don't want that to happen. No. For real. I miss this and you guys and having a place to write where the excessive use of parenthesis is encouraged and rewarded.)

So, not last Christmas but the one before that (because if we're starting from the beginning, let's start from the beginning...although not B.C. beginning), I bought Neal a "racing experience" on Groupon. It was one of the Rusty Wallace ride-alongs that they do in all of the major cities with a NASCAR racetrack. Actually, I think I purchased the driving experience and he ended up buying the ride-along as an add-on the day of the event. Race day arrived and although it was a bit chilly to start (Virginia in early April can either be kind or cruel), Neal was ready and I had a pit crew (Army Dad and Suzy Stepmom) for Blue.

I had hair...Blue would wear a baseball many things have changed. 
Neal spent the first 45 minutes or so in class, learning about how to handle the car and, most importantly, where to sign for insurance should he drive the thing right into a wall. We walked the track, watched the other drivers and one of us became an expert in sleeping through the revving engines of NASCAR motors as heard from the pit. 
Never again did I worry about running the vacuum during nap time. 

 When you arrive at the track on event day, they give you the option to purchase either a ride-along or a driving experience (basically, the one you haven't already bought) at a discounted price. They give you a line about how your driving will improve by x% if you do a ride-along first. Yeah, OK...sold. And while you're at it, go ahead and ring us up for that DVD you're getting ready to pitch next. So, first up after class and a snack of pureed beef stew and sweet potatoes (for Blue...who would eat that but now turns his nose up at my spaghetti. Wtf?), Neal hit the track for his ride-along. 
 Oh and there was some required Rusty Wallace Racing Experience gear that had to be worn...I'm assuming to protect my husband's innards should he unexpectedly burst into flames. Yay for protective gear. I'm all for that.
 Helmets on, big girl panties pulled waaaaaay up.

 He looks happy here. Not an ounce of anxiety. That would so not be me.

There's a trick to getting into a racing car. Basically it's the exact same way Blue gets into any wagon or riding toy. 
After about 5 minutes of watching Neal and his driver circle us (which is approximately as much fun as it sounds), he emerged...unscathed and pretty much vibrating from shear adrenaline and joy. 
Again, this is not how I would look after being hurled around a track at 120 mph with nothing but some ripstop seatbelt holding me in place. But that's why I get manicures and he gets this. 

And then, Houston, we had a problem. It was getting late in the day and somehow the Rusty Wallace crew was running short on time and long on paying customers. It probably didn't help that for some unknown reason, they kept thinking the entire day that we were supposed to be at the Raleigh ride-along 2 weeks later instead of in Richmond. So, if you take that issue and multiply it by even a few people, you have an event that's going to run longer than allotted. And apparently there's a rule in Richmond that unless it's race day, the noise from the track can't exceed 6 PM. It was like 5:15 and there was Neal and a handful of people in front of him. The pit crew worked as middle men between the remaining customers and the event coordinators to get everyone rescheduled for a later day. They offered free ride-alongs, longer drives, more laps...everything. And that worked for everyone but 2 of us. One couple had driven some ridiculous amount of distance to be there and we were set to leave VA in just a month. It was all or nothing and I hate to be that way, but as I tell Blue often, that's the way that cookie crumbles sometimes. Everyone else left and we decided to stick around...just in case. Sometimes it pays off. It paid off. At 5:40, they motioned for Neal to hop in a car for his drive. 
  Can I just say that Mama Virgo and I both approve of Neal getting the Coors Light car to drive? We will totally drink to that.

Time to roll. And I can see why there are pit bunnies (or whatever they call NASCAR girl groupies. That's hot. Like take-me-to-bed-or-lose-me-forever kind of hot). 
 And now some gratuitous pictures of Neal driving around in circles.

Bringing it in. They actually let Neal drive for about 5 extra minutes since we had the time. It was appreciated by all of us and I'm glad it worked out that way since it could have very easily have swung in the complete opposite direction. 
 The dismount is just as hard as the getting in. Honestly, I don't know how these guys do it. Anyone who contends that NASCAR drivers are not athletes is delusional.
A happy camper, all the way down to his flamed feet. 

So, is it worth it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? Without a doubt. Although probably only with a Groupon. It's not that the entire experience is over-priced, but it's just a little outside of our budget. The Groupon made it financially possible and allowed us to purchase the extras, like the ride-along and the DVD. The staff were accommodating and always very friendly, even when they ran into some time issues. The wife of one gentleman who was there to drive got a little Jerry Springer in one guy's face but he took it all in stride. He handled the entire situation very professionally although he couldn't have been a day over 22. And at one point, Neal mistook a driving cue that could have put himself and the other drivers in danger but the crew simply got him stopped and then re-started safely. They didn't flip out on him or even turn accusatory when it was all said and done. Lastly, our DVD arrived a week later and in about 33 pieces. I called the number in the package and explained what happened. In less than 48 hours, a perfectly new and in tact DVD was in our mailbox. The customer service did, in short, exceed all of my expectations.

May your weekend be wonderful, your days long, your car fast and your pants stitched with flames. That's just about the best anyone can hope for.