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Sunday, November 1, 2015


Why was it raining?  That was the question asked over and over, last weekend.  Austin had not seen rain for five months, and the weekend when Formula 1 was on the agenda, the heavens opened and it rained non-stop for at least 36 hours.

The downtown activities on Saturday morning appeared to be non-existent, and after driving up and down for a short period of time, Samantha and I returned home, and she gave me instructions to be at her house by 8:40 am, the following day.

Sunday morning started very early.  By seven o'clock, Dana and I were breakfasting at La Madeleine, where we had arrived in two cars, so that we could head in different directions once we had finished.  As we left, a light illuminated on my dashboard, indicating that one of my tyres was low and needed air.  This was not a good start!  However, I am not completely useless when it comes to the simpler mechanics of taking care of a vehicle, and once I had exited the Interstate, I pulled off into a service station, and filled the offending component, without the aid of a gauge, to a level that appeared to correspond with the others.  Arriving at Samantha's house at 8:30am, I decided that I would leave my newly polished boots at her front door, and wear wellingtons instead.  Her friends arrived at 8:45am, and five committed souls left in Samantha's car, and headed southbound to the Circuit of the Americas!  

The queue to turn on to the road that housed the school for which our parking permit was valid, was quite long.  Signs flashed along the way, announcing that the car park at the school was full, and it would be in our best interests to go 'downtown' and take the shuttle from there.  I was adamant that as we had paid for a 'spot', that 'spot' was where we were going to park!  An informational website indicated that priority would be given to those who had booked a 'spot' for Saturday, but did not attend due to the cancellation of some of the events, although it did speculate that those who had pre-paid would also receive preferential treatment!  We sat and waited.  Eventually, the line of traffic started to move and we headed at a snails pace to the entrance to Dell Valle High School. 
Using the phrase 'scare mongering' is perhaps a little harsh, but there were many spaces available when we drove in.  It would have taken us a considerable time to drive back downtown, and we knew the buses back to the track would be victim of a high traffic volume. 

The rain was pouring down at a torrential pace, and those directing the traffic were not envied. We were waved through and I suggested we drive to the end of the back row, thus starting a new line, so that it would be easier to exit at the end of the day. Samantha had the same idea, and backed into a space at the far end of the parking facility, and was followed by the stream of cars that came in after us.  

Dressed not in the latest fashion statement, but for the occasion, I wore, from inside out, a long sleeved sweater, jeans, a pair of wellington boots, a waterproof jacket, a plastic poncho and a hat! In my bag sat a spare pair of socks, an extra sweater, and a shawl!  I was going to remain dry and warm all day.  Our companions were not quite as wisely dressed, as although one had on a pair of 'wellies', none seemed to think a waterproof jacket, or in one case, any jacket, would be necessary!  Umbrellas opened, we walked to the bus stop and waited for our turn to board.  

The drive to the circuit was not particularly long, and the queue moved quickly.  We sat with some Scots, who were currently residing in Houston.  They said that the only people they had encountered were English, and none of those currently lived in England!  We de-bussed and headed to the entrance. There was no sign that the rain was going to end at any time soon, despite the prognosticators having said it would all be over by 9am!  Each time I checked the 'app' on my phone, the time the picture of rain drops seemed to disappear was an hour later than current time.  At ten, it showed it would be dry at eleven, and at eleven, it showed twelve, etc, etc!  As we were in a 'crowd', we decided to let the lone male choose the seating arrangements, and he led us to the 'general area', in between 'turns' nineteen and twenty.  The building directly opposite, on the other side of the track, blocked our view of the starting post, but we could clearly see the first bend.  The rain continued to pour!

Sitting on a 'picnic' chair, I wondered how far it would sink into the ground, and whether I would, indeed, end up with my derriere on the grass!  The area of lush green lawn had become a quagmire! Samantha's umbrella had been caught by a gust of wind upon our entry to the stadium, and had snapped the metal spokes, thus rendering the protective article completely useless.  We had come prepared, and the spare brolly was opened and we sat under a slightly small area of shielding.  The 'classic car' race had been cancelled due to the rain, but the 'Porsche Mobile 1 Supercup' race took place, much to the spectators' delight.  Several sports cars slid around the track, and eventually a winner was hailed!  More and more people started to appear and the small areas of grass that had managed to keep their original appearance, succumbed underfoot the spectators.  

Suddenly, there appeared a small area of blue in among the dark gray clouds, and the rain stopped.  Although the sun was not visible, the skies brightened slightly just in time for the competitors to be driven around the track in vintage cars.  The crowd roared and waved back at the drivers who were saluting the dedicated thousands who had braved the weather, and the soggy ground, to see twenty cars hurtle around a course, almost three and a half mile long, 56 times!  The National Anthem was sung, and the crowd roared again as the drivers set off from behind the building that was blocking our view, and we saw them enter the first bend and swing around into obscurity!  It was not long before they came into view again and sped round to 'turn 20' right in front of our eyes.  One of the cars did not make it to the next lap, as its tyre exploded and the whole wheel appeared to release itself from the moving vehicle. However, the safety car was not brought on to the track for another couple of laps, and we enjoyed the unhindered spectacle.  

Fifty six laps, despite high speeds, takes a long time to complete. The added impediment of being made to slow down and follow the safety car, adds more time to the competition, and having sat in the pouring rain for several hours prior to the start of the main event, I started to feel as if I needed to move.  My shawl had been placed across my legs, just as a geriatric would be adorned for a daily sit in the park, and I was comfortably warm, but I was also aware that I had consumed three cups of coffee and a cup of tea before arriving at the track!  

Although I do not intend to go into graphic detail about the toilet facilities, I would feel it almost a crime not to mention the fantastic job that was performed by the maintenance personnel in charge of the 'restroom' areas.  Considering the amount of people who were sifting through, the stalls were spotless and there was a never ending supply of paper!  Many 'porta-loos' were around, but most preferred to queue for the 'permanent'!  I was delightfully astounded at the state of the convenience when I entered, and would have thanked the people responsible if they were not so busy flitting in and out of each cubicle to spray their (presumable) anti-bacterial spritz upon the seats as each person left!  

Returning to my party, I tracked across the swamp and pushed my way through the crowds back to my chair, which was about six inches into the ground.  The race continued, the crowd roared, and the clouds started to disappear.  The temperature did not rise!  Lap after lap saw another competitor leave the race, as cars spun out of control or were 'clipped' by another when overtaken.  At the completion of the half century lap, it became clear that the British driver, Lewis Hamilton, was going to take not only the trophy, but also the championship.  Winning the first Austin Grand Prix, he won again last year, and was speeding towards a record.  Although a fan of the sport, (which was obvious as why else would I be sitting for hours under an umbrella in a bog, on a Sunday,) the amount of records being broken were, at this time, of no interest to me.  I was looking forward to a nice hot shower, some food, and a warm bed! 

Shortly before the end of the race, satisfied that there would be a British victory, and with a typical attitude of wanting to secure a 'good spot' for the post-race concert, we packed up our camp and set off over the muddy mess in search of the stage!  Many others had the same idea, and thousands of people headed away from the track towards 'turn eleven' where Sir Elton John was going to perform!  We waited patiently for an area to be cleared, and marched up to the end of a pathway, only to be told that this was not the entrance, and we would have to go back and around to whence we came!  Feeling like the children from the Inn of the Sixth Happiness, being led across China by Gladys Aylward, I turned and started to hum, 'This old man....'.  Samantha was the only one who understood my choice of song, but did not join in. Instead she was humming, 'The Happy Wanderer'! and we giggled at each other's choice, knowing that we were in a world of our own! Someone suddenly spotted a 'way out', and climbed over the metal guard rails that separated the crowd from the road that led to the stage area.  We soon followed suit, and I clambered (there is no other way to describe my actions) over the metal obstacle, sitting astride the three foot hurdle, wondering how to maintain my balance, and eventually brought my second leg over and pushed myself off to land, thankfully, two footed on the ground!  I then had to repeat the performance on the other side of the road, to get to another path that everyone believed was the right one!  It was not. It led to the exit of the facility.  Some scaled the fence, in the belief that they could get to the front of the stage, only to find that they were at the back of the stage, rather than the front, and could not re-enter.  Spotting a group of people wearing 'Event Staff' t-shirts, I asked one of the young men if he knew the best way to get to the stage.  He apologised, but said he had no idea.  A fellow member of the group, with a wry grin, told us to go back along the path, and over the bridge and to 'keep going'. Knowing that this was not the way, I told him that it was not nice to lie, and that I had his face indelibly printed on my brain, should it be necessary to report him! He thought this was highly amusing, and continued to insist we go back over the bridge!

None of the staff appeared to know what to do, or which way to go. Apparently, the stage was not quite ready, and they did not want the crowds to start filling the area before this was complete, but this was not conveyed to the crowd, and many assumed that there was a conspiracy to keep them out! I do believe that, for the majority, if we were told to wait in line, we would have done so.  This is Austin! Eventually, a 'supervisor' directed us back to the original place from where we were turned back, and we were pushed through a small entrance and on to the path towards the stage. Once through the enclosed corridor, the crowd spread out and I spotted a good place to set up our second camp, where we would not only have a good view, but would be able to sit!  Forgetting that two of our party were not equipped with boots, I led them through the mire, that enveloped feet, ankles and beyond, and fought with the marsh to escape to higher ground!  I had offered my spare sweater and even my socks to all members of our troop, but no one wanted to take advantage! My chair was once again cemented into the ground, next to a flight of steps, that led from the path that we had come from to the sodden field that led up to the stands that overlooked the track. With a side view to the specially erected stage, I was confident that we would be able to enjoy the concert and see the performance quite well!  As we settled down, with about an hour to spare, I watched as men, woman and children, some in pushchairs and prams, (the children, although I am sure some of the adults would have relished the respite,) went up the steps, stopped in the hope that they too could enjoy a 'good seat' and were moved along as it was an obstruction to stand on the steps, and I marveled at their attire!  Some wore wellingtons, some wore boots, some wore plastic bags over their feet.  Some wore flip flops!  There were a few women in stilettos! Some had jackets, some had coats, some had t-shirts and shorts! I had no concern as to my appearance, as I just wanted to stay dry. 

At ten minutes to eight, ten minutes earlier than advertised, the musical genius that is Sir Elton John, ran onto the stage, bowed, then sat at the piano and played one note.  The crowd roared and he continued to play the classic, 'The Bitch is Back!'.  We were, as I had predicted, perfectly situation, although there really was not a 'bad seat' in the house! The crowd that were seated rose in unison and the 'VIP' group that had been held back by a wall of courageous members of the Austin Police Department, were allowed to run to the front of the stage.  Many of the people who were on the slope, where we were situated, ran forward and once again, jumped the metal barricades to get nearer to the entertainer!  One of our troop exclaimed that we should have waited with the crowd, and wondered if we all wanted to jump the metal barricades again, so that we could be in the vast number at the front of the stage, but we pointed out to her that at a little over five feet tall, she would probably not be able to see anything as that particular area was not graduated, and she would be swamped, just as her canvas shoes had been in the mud! She agreed in principle but was not convinced that it would not be a better place to stand.  

The concert lasted for two hours, and after each song, Sir Elton stood and thanked the crowd.  After each song, there appeared to be a slight exodus, but the majority remained.  I danced and swayed, clapped and sang, whooped and hollered, and despite enjoying the concert immensely, commented that if I were to do this again, with the inclement weather and cooler temperatures, the post-race show stopper would have to be Elvis or the likes!  As I swayed to 'Benny an the Jets', a woman who was climbing the steps, stopped, moved her face to within a couple of inches of mine, and yelled, "I wouldn't leave early if you paid me!"  Totally shocked at this invasion of my space, I simple emitted a monotone laugh, and she left the area!  I turned to see if anyone had noticed, but everyone was too busy singing, 'I read it in a magazine'.  

As wonderful as the concert was, I was glad when it was over.  It had been a long day, and I was yearning for some dry comfort! We trekked back through the mud, over the cobbles, and finally to the exit, in search of our ride back to the school.  There was a line of people that led to an unseen end, and we soon established that it was for the 'downtown' shuttle.  Thankful that we had not adhered to the signs, and taken the advice that it was much better to park on 4th street and take the bus, we continued to march. Walking a little further on, we were asked, 'Can I help?', and we asked where the shuttles to the school were located.  He directed us over the bridge and down the slope, and we headed towards his pointing arm, albeit slightly dubious, especially after the previous experience. However, he was correct, and our line for the bus was not very long at all.  As we headed out of the area, I spotted the original crowd of 'Event Staff', and the offending youth who thought it was funny to lead us in the wrong direction.  "That's him!" I exclaimed, and pointed. He looked knowingly at me, but I doubt he found me intimidating!  

It took about five minutes from the back to the front of the queue. We boarded the bus which took us back to the school, and splashed through the puddles on the tarmac that led to the car. Samantha provided her passengers with plastic bags for their footwear. The drive home was not very long and the traffic was not on our route. I changed my boots when I got to Samantha's house, and called Dana to say I was heading home.  My favourite burger bar was closed, and as I am not partial to other chains, which remain open 24 hours, or at least until midnight, I decided that I would go to bed without any supper!  It was around 10:30pm, by the time I eventually fell under the warm duvet and off to sleep!

Despite the weather, the mud, the lower temperatures, and the long day, I would not have missed it!  The race was exciting (if you are partial to motor racing, which I am) and the crowds were very well behaved, us included! (Apart from jumping the barriers!)  The concert was the icing on the cake!  Sir Elton, in my opinion, is one of the greatest entertainers, and appeared to appreciate his audience as much as they appreciated him!  With a win for the Brits, and a concert from our former neighbour, (Sir Elton is from Watford, where Samantha was born, and where I worked before moving to the USA,) I could not have asked for more! (Metaphorically speaking of course!)

The rest of the week was somewhat of an anti-climax, despite being on tornado watch, and flash flood warning!  Dana and I watched the dog on Saturday night, as Samantha and Edward were at a party, and did not want him to be at home alone, while 'trick-or-treaters', pounded on the door!  We do not have any up and coming events of particular interest over the next couple of weeks.  Perhaps there is something coming up, something that I had forgotten about, and is very exciting, but I might leave that for ................ another story!

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