A rare video chat with some of my oldest friends, catching up over beers, across thousands of miles, sitting in Florida, Oregon, New York, Texas, and California.
The occasion was Dan’s 28th birthday, who I first met when I was 11 years old. His finance Dominique set the whole thing up and surprised him when she handed him a laptop with all of our faces on it.
Such a great feeling shooting the breeze with some of my truest friends.
Our self-professed full blown Formula 1 maniac of a friend, Duncan, had an idea to get the gang together for a Formula 1 race happening in Austin, Texas. He’s as old now as his dad was when he died, so he wanted to celebrate life, and we wanted to help him do that. Wasn’t long then till our friend Drew took the reins and made this seed of an idea into a full itinerary. The next thing I knew, I was dropping my bag in a hotel room at a city I’d never been before and heading to the rooftop bar to hug some pals who just flew in from about every corner of the country. Some of which I hadn’t seen in a long while. We were only in Austin 4 nights, and this was a few months ago now, but I’m still hesitant to say I’m fully recovered from it. To put it simply, we made it count.
Our first full day was as full it gets. This was the qualifying race day, and it started a little later than the actual race on the following day would. What this meant was, we had some time to fulfill a dream that many of us have harbored our whole lives. Having Texas Barbecue in Texas. We settled on Terry Black’s BBQ by recommendation of Drew who ironically doesn’t eat meat, but luckily happens to be an avid reader of the internet. It was a home run.
When it was time to head over to the track, we had a “party bus” take us there. A better description would’ve been “decommissioned public transit bus, with a few string lights.” It was perfect. Couldn’t ask for much more sipping a drink and watching the view through our windows grow increasingly more wide and rural with every passing mile. When we arrived at the grounds and stepped off our bus, we were still at least a ten minute walk to the gates. But the thing was, you could already hear the surreal harmony of engines in the distance. And it truly was surreal. Like nothing I’d ever heard. I turned wide eyed to Duncan to find him silently nodding with a smile. The feeling you get hearing those cars before you see them, growing louder with each step towards your destination, made me understand why people are into this. It’s powerful and it’s exciting.
Not only have I never been to a Formula 1 race, but I’d never been to any race at all. The track was enormous, with even more space surrounding it. This meant a lot of walking. Even with all that space we were still somehow just about bumping into people the whole time. Our friend Tyler put it well when he looked over at me and said, “This is very… covidy.” Apparently 400,00 people were in attendance that weekend. By the grace of God, we had seats with backs on them when we needed to seek refuge.
Although it was just the qualifying day, the powers at be upped the ante a bit and set Billy Joel to headline the night. I’m not a die-hard Billy Joel fan, but I know the hits and know how to have a good time at a show. His iconic Piano Man however, stands in a league of its own for me. I keep it in the company of some of my very favorite songs ever recorded. I’ve sung it at karaoke more time than I can remember, and hearing it live was really something. But what happened next could only be described as divine intervention, or just surgical precision planning. Just as he sang “It’s Nine o’clock on a Saturday,” I looked at my watch, and it was Nine o’clock and it was on a Saturday and then I lost my goddamn mind. The best example I can think of that captures the full range of emotions I experienced as this realization hit, comes from this masterclass of acting. It was a bucket list item I didn’t know I had.
Piano Man by Billy Joel
Our ride back from the track was what could only be described as a post apocalyptic party school-bus. The driver at one point asked if one of us could literally pull on some cables by his feet for him because somewhere along the highway the gas pedal stopped working. Hell of a ride, but we still managed to stop off at a barcade for some games and a few more drinks, eventually getting back to our hotel, all in one piece.
The next day, was the actual race. The stakes were higher, the crowds were denser and people were FIRED UP. Duncan guided us through the in’s and outs of the drama unfolding in realtime, while I asked him in what way was Harry Potter related to Formula 1, since the word “Petronas” is seen everywhere. As uninvested as I was in the sport, I still found myself on my feet and cheering like a maniac for the last few laps. It shaped up to be a pretty dramatic battle between the top two contenders. I knew it’d be a fun experience, but I was surprised at just how fun it all really was. Also didn’t hurt that Duncan’s team won, and really that’s all that mattered to the rest of us.
Race day started and ended a lot earlier than the previous day, so by the time everything wrapped up at the track we still had plenty of daylight to kill. Most of us spent it floating in our hotel’s rooftop pool, with more drinks than any of us probably needed. It wasn’t long then till we headed off to celebrate Drew’s birthday at dinner followed up by a fancy cocktail bar, flaming drinks and all.
On our last full day, I found a little time to explore the city on foot, making the capitol building my loose destination. About a mile or so in, I learned that “Texas Heat” is not just a marketing buzzword for hot sauces. Jeans were a poor choice that day. Luckily, we booked out an air conditioned theater to see Dune, as guys do on a guys trip. We had a food and alcohol limit to hit during the screening which basically equated to everyone eating and drinking way too much, and almost brawling discussing whether or not Dune was or was not a good movie. It was a great time.
For our last night, we went to an Idles show. Most of us didn’t know the band very well, but our friend Drew did, and it only ever takes one of us to care about something for the rest of us to get behind it too. Of course it was a fun time, and the braver among us even pushed their way to the front where things get rough. It’s a miracle we ever saw them again.
Our last morning was spent packing up and saying our goodbyes in the lobby. It’d be fair to say we were all pretty much just fantasizing about our couches and takeout by this point. It was a fun, exhausting, memory filled trip that could’ve only happened when you get this group together. Like I said, we made it count. Most importantly of all though, is that our self-professed, full blown Formula 1 maniac of a friend, Duncan, had the absolute time of his life, celebrating life.
Bonus: Michael surprised us all with a fun video he cut together on his flight back home, what a guy huh?