Austin – A Weekend of F1 in the “Weird” City

on

Thursday (Pre-F1 day)

The flight to Texas from California started with the coast, quickly transitioned to mountains (some of them snow capped), then it was desert with inverse canyons. Just before landing, I saw farmland that initially was laid out in circular fields, then all squares. Maybe the two counties had a difference of opinion about the pros and cons of field shape.

Unfortunately the last thing to see from the plane is landfill, which is poorly placed right before the start of the landing strip. I was however lucky and stoked to see the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) from my side of the plane! If I wasn’t excited before, I was now!

Within minutes of landing, I had seen my first cowboy hat, and not on some old guy with a white moustache either, he was a strapping young fellow. A few more minutes, and I’d run into live music. Austin is the live music capital of the world, so I would have expected nothing less.

Near the airport exit, I asked where I could catch the $1.75 bus into the city and a very helpful lady directed me, gave me a map (that would become well worn over the weekend) and a free F1 Racing magazine that they were handing out. Once in the city (around 5pm), I kept my backpack on and walked south through the Rainey Street District that was full of bars and restaurants that were beautifully laid out. Most of them were old houses with huge outdoor areas to suit the warm summer evenings. Food stalls were dotted throughout the street as well with everything from Mexican food to Thai. At the end of Rainey Street I hit the hike and bike trail that runs along the Lady Bird Lake (the river that runs through the city). It was populated by after work commuters and joggers, so I was a little out of place. I crossed the highway 35 bridge to the south side of the river then walked west along the boardwalk trail. As I did so, I called my friend Michael in Sydney and caught up with him. There were lots of apartment buildings along the river with many people on their balconies enjoying an after-work drink, or still working on their laptops.

I reached the Congress Avenue bridge at around 6:30pm in time for sunset. I was aiming to hit this bridge at dusk because there is a large population of bats that live underneath it and fly off in a big pack at dusk. Sitting on the grass below the bridge, there was a small crowd gathering, likewise on the north-bound side of the bridge. A man wearing a batman shirt and a bat on his hat signalled down to us from the top of the bridge that the view from where we were would be rubbish and that we should come up to the bridge. He looked like an expert to me so I followed his advice. I started the trend and the rest of the pack followed. And so the waiting game started. My definition of dusk is the hour or so following sunset but the bats did not appear until 7:30pm when it was well and truly dark. The tourist boats on the river knew what they were doing. They showed up and within 10 minutes the show had started. There were thousands of bats flying around in every direction below and above the bridge. You could just see them in the dim light, but mostly you could hear them. They had a pleasant squeak. I stayed for about half an hour watching, but it was a shame the bats weren’t bright yellow, you really had to strain to see them in the dark. Tip for tourists, stand under a street light then you’ll have a better show.

I wandered off towards SOCO (South Congress), a strip of bars and restaurants south of the city. I was way walking alone at night, but there was plenty of hustle and bustle to make me feel safe. I stopped at the Continental Club for some very country music, it’s one of the many live music venues around the city. I stayed for a couple of songs, then continued my exploration. I found out very quickly that SOCO is almost exclusively country music. There was tunes emanating from every bar and they mostly consisted of guitar and banjo twangs. Tummy grumbling, I was headed for a collection of food stalls a few streets over, but decided to stick to Congress Avenue because off the main street was dodgy walking at night. I found a Taco bar with an outdoor garden and a tiny caravan producing cheap food. I was starving so ordered pretty much one of everything and had a feast while watching another country band in full costume entertain the crowd. I had a Mexican can of beer ($4.50 thanks to the F1 circus) to wash everything down. The band finished as I was finishing my food so the place emptied a bit, but a group of guys sat down at my table and we started chatting. Turns out they were here for the F1 too. A few of them were from Ohio and the rest from Houston (a few hours’ drive south of Austin). We talked F1 for the rest of the night and when they found out I’d be on my own the next day at the track, we exchanged numbers to meet up the next day.

I walked the long way north through the city to my rooms. The main street was sleepier than I thought it would be, I’d just thought Austin was a party town 24/7, but it was pretty average for a Thursday. As I walked I heard music from every direction. It is definitely the live music capital. It probably took me an hour until I found Drifter Jack’s Hostel on the north side of the city across from the University of Texas (U.T.). It was an artistically painted building behind a 7-eleven that I found easily enough thanks to the instructions from my booking. I found a door but it was locked and looked like a back entrance, so I rang their number to find out how to get in. A few rings in, I was beginning to plan for where I would sleep if they didn’t pick up, but William did and unlocked the door I had been at and pointed out the doorbell that was right next to it. Haha, idiot. William was very accommodating, a British guy, he immediately extended his hand and introduced himself, as if I was a guest in his own house. I paid my balance and he gave me a tour of the tiny hostel. It was only a small building, but they had maximised the space. In the time between walking through the door and putting my stuff on my bed I’d found and talked to two Aussies. I was in a six-bed dorm that was empty except for a guy that was only staying one night for a work conference. We chatted for a bit before bed, we wouldn’t see each other again so it was a quick story swap. It appeared I was the only one in the building in Austin for the F1. I set my alarm for an early-ish start the next day, happy that everything had worked out so far.

Friday (Free Practice)

At breakfast (boiled eggs, toast and fruit), there was a lady asking a different hostel host what bus to catch to get to the F1 shuttle. I let her know I planned to walk to the shuttle and she said she’d be happy to walk with me. Chantelle is a South African lady in her thirties who owns her own travel business and has made it her mission over the next twelve years to do the whole F1 circuit. We made fast friends. I finished my breakfast and met her downstairs. I travelled light today with just a handbag since it would be the day of sussing things out.

The morning walk through the city was nice. We swapped stories all the way until we reached downtown and saw the shuttle buses lined up with not many people about. Chantelle had told me that the shuttles were $20 a day despite me thinking they were free. Apparently they were free the first year of the GP, but there had been ridiculous wait times, so the compromise was that you pay for it and don’t have the wait. So I forked out $60 for three days’ worth. We were on a bus straightaway. More making friends on the bus, getting some info from people that had been to the previous races at COTA. Thirty minutes later, the bus dropped us off about a mile away from the circuit. From here we followed a paved path up to the circuit while fending off vendors on trikes offering rides for $10 per head.

At the gate, security was typically American. No food, water or aerosols allowed! The gates had only been open for an hour and already that had huge piles of sunscreen, water bottles and snacks. How stupid. I’m glad I hadn’t bought more sunscreen for a second round of confiscation! Once inside the gate, we hit a map to find a first aid station where I got an early application of sunscreen in. We asked a few people about hydration stations since we’d just emptied our water bottles and got blank faces in answer. Bloody hell. This was going to be a tough weekend! Anyway, more important things to do. It was 9:30am and the first F1 practice session was due to start in half an hour. But first things first, had to get a photo with my man Dan!

img_0512

We snuck into the grandstand at Turn 15 for our first view of the track. Wow, what a circuit. The run-off areas were painted with stars and stripes and the network of turns in front of us offered a brilliant view of the cars as they slowly snakes through two tight hairpins after a braking zone at the end of the back straight. We were both buzzed as the session got underway and I got my first dose of F1 in over a year. It felt like medication! We soaked up the sound and the sight of these brilliant machines. Chantelle shouted Vettel’s name every time he went past. To say she’s a huge fan would be an understatement.

img_0476

Mid-way through FP1, we exited the stand so that Chantelle could go and line up for the Ferrari drivers’ autograph session. On the way, we asked a food vendor for some water and he told us about a hydration station. They did exist! En route, Chantelle saw the crowd already gathered for the autograph session and panicked. I offered to fill her water and bring it down to her, for which she was grateful so off she went. I filled our waters then dutifully returned to the autograph stage to find Chantelle. She’d managed to find a spot where the driver’s were supposed to walk out and had camped. I left her to it, no way I was standing in a crowd to have someone scribble on my cap. About the same time, the boys from last night had texted me that they were at Turn 1, so I wandered over there to find them. At the end of FP1 I found them at the top of the hill. They were suitable excited having just seen F1 cars in the flesh for the first time. They were all fans, but had never been to a race before. With nothing much on circuit, we wandered the track. At the stalls at the back of the main straight, the boys loaded up with Haas team gear. When the historic F1 racing cars started their practice session, we were at Turn 18. They sounded beautiful, but were far from full throttle, just moseying around the track. We ended up back at the autograph stage, where the Ferrari drivers were now twenty minutes late. We had a quick look and the crowd had increased ten-fold since I left Chantelle. Glad I wasn’t in it! We continued wandering and chatting then sat on some grass at turn 15 for a rest while some of the guys went and got grossly expensive beer.

img_0502

Chantelle messaged me shortly after asking where I was and she found us not much later. The look on her face told me she had got everything she wished for. After quick introductions between her and the guys, she showed me the selfie she’d gotten with Vettel and the signature on her cap. I think she almost died from the excitement. We all split off to find food. Me and Chantelle went to a huge BBQ place and got hotdogs for $15 but they came with heaps of vegetables and even a salad bar! We didn’t even try to eat them before we sat down in the Turn 4 grandstand for FP2. This was my official grandstand, but we snuck in here too. Security was pretty lax since it was only practice day. Not a bad view of the circuit, but I feared the best seats in the house were at Turn 1 and Turn 15. No matter, I was happy just to be here! The boys had wandered around the backside of the circuit for the session and Jason and John joined us for the end of the session. They’d balked at the security at first, but I instructed them to do a sneaky and they eventually found their way in. After that session, the boys called it a day, but I wanted to walk the rest of the circuit to get the whole picture. Chantelle was happy with that so she joined me as we walked around the backside of the circuit. We saw the stage where Taylor Swift would be playing and the impressive elevation change across the second half of the circuit. Along the back straight was RV parking which we found out was $5,000 per space for the weekend, complete with a view of the circuit! Not bad if you can fit ten people in an RV. They even had their own private swimming pool! On the way out, we both bought our only merchandise for the weekend from the Austin GP van. I needed something to say I’d been there, so bought a $35 t-shirt that read Austin GP 2016. It wasn’t a daggy F1-logo shirt either!

Our legs were thoroughly tired by the time we got to the shuttle stop where they didn’t check our tickets (tip for next year, only buy daily if you have to, otherwise sneak on). I had a powernap while Chantelle went mad on social media with her Vettel selfie. The bus stops in town only two blocks away from the F1 Fan Fest on 6th street. This is the main street of Austin. There was a cheap merchandise stand selling gear a few years old and sweet prices. The atmosphere was buzzing, but not packed. We hit the first rooftop bar we saw – the Blind Pig Pub. I was happy to have a cold beverage in my hand when we got to the roof. We sat at a table with an F1 couple and swapped stories of the day. It was such a great atmosphere with so many like-minded people about. Before long, the table next to us had joined our conversation and we couldn’t stop talking and laughing with our new mates. Chantelle was showing her Vettel selfie to anyone and everyone, it was hilarious. People bought rounds of drinks and I ended up drinking tequila as well as more beer. I was almost drunk by the time my California mates turned up! Mike, Keet and Gu had flown in that afternoon so hadn’t been to the circuit, but came into the city to meet me. We introduced them to our new friends and kept talking away. We finished our drinks and went to find a spot for dinner. Chantelle declined our invitation so it was just the Cali crew. It was great to see these guys again, I had worked with Mike at Tesla and him and his wife Keet are heaps of fun at all the motorsport and air show events we’ve been to. The airshow is where I’d met Gu too and he’s awesome fun as well. More talking F1 over a huge dinner at Campbell’s BBQ where I worked off some of the beer (while having more beer with dinner). The meat was salty, but deliciously tender. They cut off the chunks you want and dip it in sauce right in front of you.

After dinner was the main event for Keet – dessert at Voodoo doughnuts. This place only has a few shops around the world and is famous for their outlandish doughnut recipes. We stood in line for about 10 minutes, then were kids in a candy shop putting our hands on the glass case that displayed all the crazy options. We got “Dirty Old Bastard”, “No Name” and “Captain Crunch” dougnuts, each more glutinous than the one before it. Oh yeah… They were so sweet, but so good. A perfect end to our night.

IMG_0488.jpg

MK&G kindly dropped me home (they had a rental car) to save me the walk, then we parted ways. I hit the 7-eleven before going up to my rooms, refusing to eat shitty food for too much money at the circuit the rest of the weekend. I had a method to sneak food in. I had the intention of buying packaged sandwiches, which I did, then I noticed they had $5 large pizzas, so got one of them too. Cold pizza would be lovely for lunch on the grass!

Back in my rooms, all the bunks were now occupied, but no one was lying in them yet. It was only midnight, so it was obviously too early! There was one other guy there, another one in town for a conference and only staying for a night! We didn’t talk long because I was shattered. There were some crazy midnight antics with people yelling and carrying on, but that only woke me up briefly. Such is hostel life.

Saturday (Qualifying)

The alarm was a bit earlier today at 6:45am, but I still had to wait for a shower. The toilet/shower bathroom was shared between two 6-bed dorms. I met Chantelle at breakfast and we walked to the shuttles again. Still no ticket checking and we were at the track by 9am and went straight to Turn one for FP3 at 10am since Chantelle hadn’t seen that part of the circuit yet. It was a good session, with nothing surprising, but everyone was out doing long runs and the view of the pits added to the excitement, especially when Alonso nearly got run-over by a Manor as he exited his garage. I’d told the boys where we were and when the session ended and people cleared the hill, they appeared, sitting only meters away from us! As a team, we decided to save the camp on the hill for qualifying so Jason, John and I went off to get sunscreen and water while the others held the fort.

I’d messaged MK&G and they were on circuit for FP3, enjoying the view from our grandstand. I said I’d join them at the stand for the last half of qualifying. On the way back from our sunscreen walk, we actually ran into them! After the session, they’d come to check out Turn 1 and do a track wander. Jason and John thought I must know everyone at the circuit! Back at Turn 1, we relaxed there and watched some Porches do a qualifying session before the real excitement started at 1pm for F1 qualifying. I ended up staying at Turn 1 the whole time. The atmosphere was too good and the excitement too high for me to leave. It was a brilliant session. Everyone was on their feet, with huge support for the Haas team, Checo, Hamilton and the Ferraris. There was also dedicated applause and shouting from me every time Ricciardo drove past. Pity Haas didn’t get into Q3 and as usual, Mercedes pulled out half a second in the last session with magic button, but Dan was best of the rest! Very happy with the result! The crowd on the hill made it all the more exciting, we couldn’t believe an hour had gone by so fast!

The boys weren’t sticking around for the Taylor Swift concert, so we said our goodbyes for the day, then Chantelle joined me as I went over to Turn 4 to find my Cali crew. Between when I’d seen them last and now, they’d bought tonnes of merchandise. Senna cars to Kimi hats and everything in between. Mike looked thoroughly pleased with himself. Chantelle was busting for a cold drink and some shade, so we hunted that out while MK&G went to drop their goods off at their car which was parked close by. Chantelle and I made more friends underneath a marquee that had very crowded picnic tables, but the shade was a nice reprieve from the hot sun we’d been sitting in all day. When the historics came on for qualifying, I was keen to watch, but Chantelle was still in recovery mode, so she opted to stay in the tent. I watched from turn 4 and MK&G joined me towards the end of the session having unloaded and had disappointing over-priced brisket for a late lunch. From our stand we watched the porches have their first race. We all picked a random driver and were mostly disappointed with their progress. It was good racing though, all in identical machinery.

The on-track action finished at 4pm, so there was nothing much to do until 7pm when Taylor Swift was due to come out on stage. So we wandered slowly over to the back of the circuit where the stage was. We stopped for ice cream, which as $6 was probably the most value-for-money food at the circuit. I treated myself since I’d been successful sneaking in my food in the hidden pocket of my backpack. As we ate our icecreams, we watched the line for the concert grow and grow. None of us were interested in that line, or being on the grass and standing for the concert, so I hatched a plan to get us into the grandstand behind the grass. We meandered over and found that while security was checking tickets for the grandstand, there were gaps in the fences for bathrooms. Mike and Gu went first, the plan being to go the bathroom, then walk straight up the stairs into the stand. Mike chickened out, but Gu did it like a pro. Having seen that it worked, I did the same and Mike and Keet walked further down the grandstand to sneak in at a different place. Five minutes later, we were all together on the stand. Success! Great work team! And our timing was perfect. No more than ten minutes later, security had tripled, they even had guys standing in-front of the bathrooms. It was now a fortress. We had the best vantage point to watch the lines to get in grow.

IMG_0518.jpg

We were all in awe as one gate opened, then another, then another, and 80,000 people sprinted towards the stage. It was one of the most interesting things I have ever seen. By the time the sun went down, the whole field was full. Taylor was tardy and came on stage at 7:24pm (we’d been playing a game where we guessed what time she would appear, which comprised of two rounds, because all of our initial guesses came and went).

Screen Shot 2016-10-30 at 9.25.54 PM.png

She is definitely a good performer, I’ll give her that. She’s my age and makes me think that I haven’t accomplished much in comparison! The music was good, even though most of it I didn’t know. They had gone all out with the stage set up with lighting and massive screens. From where we were sitting, Taylor was a spec. One girl and she drew a crowd of 80,000 people. We left a few songs before the end, keen to beat the crowds. MK&G went to their car while I headed through the dimly lit circuit to the shuttle stop. All the screens around the circuit showed the concert and I could hear it all the way to the gate. Our timing was perfect. Taylor finished her last song just as I exited the circuit, so we didn’t miss much and I ended up getting back to the hostel at 9pm. I warmed up some pizza for dinner and chatted in the kitchen with other hostellers and the host William. William was heading to the race tomorrow and wasn’t sure of his transport, so I gave him two of my unused shuttle tickets which he was grateful for. About an hour later Chantelle walked in, looking thoroughly exhausted from the day. She’d managed to sneak into the grandstand also but had stayed for the whole concert and caught a bus back to the hostel after getting off the shuttle. She said a quick goodnight then was out. I was in bed at 11:30 and enjoyed more commotion in the early hours of the morning and a bit of snoring before race day came.

img_0559

Sunday (RACE DAY!)

6:30am alarm for race day! Straight into the shower, no one was up this early. Chantelle wasn’t joining me for the walk this morning since her feet couldn’t handle it, opting to get the bus to the shuttle. I walked past her at the bus stop, both of us challenging the other to get to the track first. I took a slightly different route to get to the shuttles today. The sun was rising and from wanting to get closer I ended up walking through the university and right past the state capitol building. Austin really is a beautiful city.

img_0554

The shuttle people were all serious today checking tickets, made me double check my food couldn’t be seen inside my backpack, expecting a crack-down at security. I was at the gate at 8:30am, only to find that they weren’t open yet! The 9am opening time had been an oversight. I was early because I was planning to be part of the Turn 1 team and get a good camp. Just after I got there, Jason texted me a photo of their “prime-ass real estate” right at the top of the Turn 1 hill. Security had stuffed up and let them in early. They’d been there since 6:30am and got in at 7:30am! No issues with security. Once I was in I headed straight for turn 1 where the guys had a piece of grass set aside for me. They’d even brought chairs that they’d found at their accommodation. And they’d snuck in a bottle of vodka and two red bulls which we drank throughout the morning. I’m so proud of these guys. Having never been to a grand prix before, they’d become masters of the trade!

img_0671

The hill was full by 9am and absolutely chockers by 10am. The circuit organisers filled time by showing a summary of the season so far on the screens which was great! It was nice to have a recap and remember where it had all started so long ago. Unfortunately it was cut short because some idiot decided that the Chelsea vs. Manchester game was more interesting. Way to ruin an event where people are there to watch RACING! The hype kept on increasing from 10:30am onwards when the drivers parade happened. The first climax was the helicopters, fireworks and national anthem. What a way to fill the heart with anticipation. I find the American national anthem on its own inspiring and uplifting, but to add flying sparks and army helicopters was just unreal. Jason was so caught up in the moment that he was frantic afterwards that someone had got a photo. The second climax, and this is a highlight of my weekend – the cars are on the grid with a few minutes to the warm-up lap and I am excited, very excited. I started clapping slowly, then I asked the boys’ for support. We got a slow clap going, then slowly increased, with the rest of the turn 1 crowd joining in. I think the whole mob had joined in by the time we reached the crescendo and the cars pulled off the line. Woo!! What an atmosphere! And we’d started it! The boys were pretty happy with it too…

IMG_0572.jpg

There was nervous tension in the air as we waited for the drivers to do their slow lap around to the grid again. Everyone was on their feet and I couldn’t stand still. Oh, the anticipation! The climax of the whole weekend came at lights out. I had eyes only for Dan and screamed him on as they raced up the hill to the first corner. He managed to sneak up the inside and split the Mercedes, much to my ecstatic glee. There was some tangling between Williams and Force India which unfortunately led to a retirement for Hulkenberg and a puncture for Bottas, but it was an otherwise clean start. The first eight laps were the best of the race. After Dan’s pitstop on lap 8, I said goodbye to the Turn 1 gang and raced over to my grandstand. I was amazed at the amount of people wandering around! Didn’t they know there was a race on?! I ran, weaving through the crowd to turn 4 and made it in by lap 12. I still didn’t use my ticket to get in. I hadn’t presented it once! I saw my crew, eagerly watching, Mike with a towel under his hat to protect his sunburnt neck that he suffered the previous day. With my hostel towel folded on my aluminium bench seat, I was comfy for the rest of the race.

IMG_0510.jpg

The atmosphere in the stand was nothing compared to the hill. Everyone was subdued, kept getting up and going for beers and food without cheering or any sense of anticipation. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson to stay with the plebs in general admission where there is a sense of dedication and comradery because everyone knows they’ve been camped since morning and close quarters brings everyone together. With Kimi retired and the race following a well-known script, we left the stand with five laps to go to get a headstart on the track invastion back at turn 1. En route, we stopped to applaud the drivers on their warm down lap. Another Mercedes one-two and a podium for my man Dan! We joined the small crowd that had gathered at the apex of Turn 1 to get on to the track. MK&G were planning to head to Turn 4 and pick up some debris, but I was keen to head to the podium. I never intended to sprint down there, but I saw a few guys go under a barrier and I followed suit and before I knew it I was sprinting down the tarmac, leaving the crowd behind. Caught up in the moment and my competitive streak coming out I guess. I didn’t stop running until I’d reached the podium where the crowd wasn’t as packed as I’d expected. I reached the podium just as Hamilton was being announced. I was surprised to hear some boos in the crowd for him. There was more booing for Rosberg amongst the cheers but when Dan came out, there was nothing but europhic cheer. They went through the presentations as people hung off the pit wall fences, trying to stay on and hold their phones up simultaneously.

When Gerhard Butler came on stage for the interviews, there was more cheering. I don’t know what Hamilton and Rosberg said but it was the usual boring stuff. When Gerhard got to Dan, he’d already filled his shoe with Red Bull (since GB doesn’t drink) and begrudgingly, Gerhard not only took a swig, but drained the shoe, much to the huge delight of Dan and the crowd. Following that, they both spoke in Texas accents for a while before laughing themselves silly. Brilliant. I milled around for a bit once it was all over, trying to soak up as much atmosphere as I could, then headed back up the hill towards turn 1 to find the Cali crew again. They hadn’t been able to go round to Turn 4, but Mike had picked up a small collection of clag (the rubber that is left on the track by the tyres) and a bolt covered in oil he was sure came from one of the historic cars. We mucked around getting photos (one of me doing a shoey of course!) then joined the masses leaving the circuit. What a wonderful weekend of racing we’d all had.

We jumped in MK&G’s rental car and listened to The Sleigh Bells in the traffic which lasted about an hour before we hit a freeway. We drove through farmland to get to Salt Lick BBQ for dinner, which had a beautiful outdoor atmosphere with buckets of beer (6 cans for $14), live music of course and a massive BBQ pit. We only waited half an hour to get a table (me and Gu enjoying beers during the wait time) and then proceeded to eat ourselves stupid. So. Much. Meat. Keet and I still saved room for dessert, enjoying chocolate pecan pie to top it all off. We had another round of beers so I was quickly transitioning from buzzed to drunk.

img_0613

We laughed the whole way back to the city with Mike making F1 racing noises to match the boring driving. They dropped me off at 6th street, where the Fan Fest had been packed up so was a bit slower than normal. We said our goodbyes, which was sad! We’d had such a good weekend together and I wouldn’t see these guys until the next race (maybe Montreal next year?).

I’d messaged the boys and they were headed into town too, so I went back to the Blind Pig for a drink. While I waited, I made more friends, talking to a couple of guys from Holland who were in Austin for the first time. I expressed my condolences that they’d come all this way just to see Max park his car on the side of the circuit. I did mention that it had cost Daniel second place, but tried not to emphasise it. The boys found me easy enough. They’d been home, showered and changed so were looking very civilsed, next to me proudly wearing my racing rags! We pub crawled up and down 6th street with Eric playing the local since he’d been to Austin many times from Houston for music festivals and all sorts of partying. There was jenga, a loop on a hook game that is too hard to explain in words, cheap cocktails and endless laughing. By 2am we were winding down so went back to the Pig for one last beer to wash everything down where we got kicked out for last drinks. Beer skulled, we walked back to the boys’ car, which was on my way home. They said something about walking me, which I gratefully declined. I had my second round of goodbyes for the night, another sad one since we’d all had such a good time together! Maybe we’ll meet again at another circuit…

I called Kevin on the walk home to keep myself a bit sober and laid my head down at 4am without waking any of my roomies. My head was spinning even with my eyes closed, I dreaded my punishment in the morning…

Monday (Post-Race Recovery)

Up at a leisurely 9am for a shower and a less-than-expected hangover. I would find out later that I had a late-blooming hangover, instead of the initial shock feeling. Pancakes for brekky since I now had time, I was chatting to other hostellers and another host over my yummy food. I asked the host what I should do with the few hours I had before my flight and he suggested the graffiti wall, which was great advice. I said my goodbyes to everyone and with backpack on, hit the streets for the last time. It was strange to see so many people around! My Austin city life so far had consisted of early mornings and late nights so I wasn’t used to the crowds! Today was the first day of voting for the presidential election and so all buses were free for the day, which was nice, not that I made much use of it. I wandered through the university again, this time through a few buildings to get a feel. I reckon I blended in, I feel like I could still be a university student. Towards the south end of campus I walked past the Turtle Pond, which I initially thought was a cool sculpture in the middle of a shallow pond, but turned out to be real turtles sunning themselves on a log! So cool to have this micro-habitat in the middle of a bustling university, there must have been about fifty turtles in the pond and loitering around it.

IMG_0618.jpg

My next stop was the state capitol building which has gorgeous architecture and huge grounds surrounding it. En route I had gone into the Texas History Museum and had a bit of a wander, but declined to pay the entry fee for the exhibits. At the capitol visitor’s center, they advised me a free tour was starting in 15 minutes, so I hotfooted over to the south entrance of the building and walked past a guard with a sem-automatic rifle across his torso to get in. It is such an imposing building, it doesn’t look like a place you can just open the door and walk in to. I put my bags through security then wandered in the foyer until the tour started. The tour guide for our small group of around ten was Esther. She was a nice lady who spoke loudly over all the noise at security.

Around the walls of the central column and dome of the building are portraits of each Texas governor, including George W. Bush. Esther explained how they all get moved around when a new governor is elected because they all have to stay in the same order and they’re running out of space. Esther took us to the Senate, a room with green floors where she explained the ridiculous rules of debate where senators are not allowed to sit, or lean on their chairs, or pause while they speak, or get let back in after exiting (which means not going to the bathroom). The House of Representatives was closed, so our tour was concluded. I wandered the remaining two accessible floors, which were mostly just foyers leading to offices where people did actual work.

Back outside into the heat, I walked along 12th street to Lamar Avenue where I found Castle Hill, otherwise known as The Graffiti Wall. VERY cool. There were multiple concrete walls leading up a hill to a private castle at the top. I imagine the now-coloured walls were once foundations for buildings, but now they were art. There wasn’t a single blank space and the place had a lingering smell of spray paint. As I hopped over the concrete walls at the base of the hill, a guy handed me a small paint can, which I gratefully accepted, then got a bit excited as I did my first ever tag. I wandered up and along the concrete walls admiring the different pieces. What a huge range of taste and talent. Some were not worth mentioning, some were offensive and others were just breathtaking. The view from the top of the hill was also stunning, you can see all the highpoints of the city. I took a lot of photos, all of them bursting with colour.

I had wanted to go to the Barton Springs, but time was ticking away and I had to get to the airport. My hangover was really coming on now, with an empty stomach and a lot of heat acting as catalysts. I was thoroughly tired, hot, hungry and sick of walking by the time I reached the bus stop. I got talking to Dave, a fellow F1er from Indianapolis who was also waiting for the airport bus. He’d camped at the track in an RV (not in one of the $5,000 spots), an adventure that had cost around $600 for the full weekend, which is not too shabby!

On the bus, I got a message that my flight was delayed an hour. It would be the first of many. Inside the airport, there were no confiscations through security this time. I had a crappy burger that didn’t make me feel any better, so I bought a cup of ice cream which did help a little. Delay after delay, I slept in the very uncomfortable chairs at gate 16 amongst disgruntled passengers. Windy weather in SF was the culprit for the delay. After a few winks, I got up, walked around then hit the floor behind the United desk for more napping/reading. It was bloody freezing the whole time thanks to air-conditioning (story of my life).

When we eventually boarded 3 hours late, the flight was full with rammed overhead space. As always with United, no food, but entertainment on your phone through Wifi. I tried watching a move called “Lady In a Van” but got bored so settled for a crappy American movie that passed the time well enough. Disappointed that there was still an hour of flight time left at the end of the movie, I drifted in and out of sleep the rest of the flight.

Off the plane, onto the airport shuttle, then onto a Bart train straightaway, then only a five minute wait for a Caltrain. The last thirty minute walk to Derek & Kylie’s house was the last thing I felt like doing at 11pm on a post-GP Monday night, but I got there and when I saw my van parked out front it made me smile. Starving, I had some cereal for dinner, brushed my teeth then felt thoroughly grateful to lay my head down on my floor bed.

Epliogue

I woke up the next morning with Derek at Emma at my bedside saying “Wake up! Wake up!”.

This had been one of the best grand prix of my experience. Hanging out with good friends and making new ones, I felt lucky to have been a part of it. All F1 fans spend their season watching intently and talking about it with a few friends if they’re lucky. At a race, everyone is a fan, you can walk up to anyone and start talking F1. It is a special feeling and that only a select group know.

img_0656

One Comment Add yours

  1. Colin Edwards says:

    What a wonderful world welive in. So much fratenising with people like you with their deep interests in some aspect of life, you worked so hard and now reaping the benefit of the money you earned.What will the future bring???? Love you Gran and thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *