On Some Faraway Beach, Dreaming

It’s $25, but money’s money and if the government reaches out to let me know my phone battery is so bad they affixed a “-gate” to the lawsuit, I’m not here to argue. If you own an iPhone of a certain vintage, you likely already know about Batterygate because you didn’t delete that email from the feds. I didn’t either, though I also don’t think it makes much of a difference at this point — I’m only using my phone for one thing most of the time. My dad would like to introduce you to an app you never knew you needed: Plane Finder.

In among the seemingly endless barrage of film noir recommendations and attention-starved trainbound YouTube travel vloggers I get every week when I call, dad occasionally drops one worth writing down. Plane Finder is one such example. I ignored the rec at the time; the last thing I needed was another app for a phone I was struggling to keep a charge for, hoping my provider would discount the reintroduced iPhone SE so I could order a new phone that wasn’t the size of a phablet. (I’d like us to collectively pause here to roll our eyes at that sentence so hard they almost fall out of our skulls.) I also thought there was a charge of a different kind: cost. This was when I was cutting any excess purchase amid the initial threat of job loss.

Turns out there is a free version, though I probably would’ve caved and paid by now anyway either out of simple curiosity or a numbness to the idea that I can lose my job whenever. In any case: If you want to get the 3D view and a little extra info on your flights, help yourself to the upgrades. But I’m here to tell you that the free version will be more than enough, a soothing, silent tracker that uses GPS to follow the route of pretty much any commercial airline on the planet. It also shows helicopters, military planes and private jets, though those routes obviously aren’t marked because there’s no reliable schedule for those the way there are for airliners. In the truest sense of the term, it is a dad app. Dads love this kind of thing. I get most excited in the mornings and late afternoons when the international flights take over O’Hare’s airspace and I can track them lining up or rolling out: KLM, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, JAL, all the hits. The cargo planes going to Luxembourg or Azerbaijan are the really special ones to catch, though. No telling when they’ll take flight. And I’m just accounting for everything I can actually see overhead; the app allows you to tap and drag anywhere in the world. Does that sound cool? Of course it does. And it is, a rare instance where the billing lives up to the hype even in its basest form.

And if you, too, have a phone like mine that you don’t feel like spending battery life on the visual ASMR of watching airplanes serenely coast from place to place a pixel at a time, good news: There’s a desktop version. Go on, have a look. Have a look and share some coordinates with your dad and get lost together wondering who might be on board all these planes.

– – – – –

In the same way I know all the words to “Tonite Reprise” and can recite the Soviet premiers in chronological order, there’s space in my brain better served for something else that can’t get rid of a story from 2004 about Makoto Tamada. It probably came by way of Dennis Noyes or Julian Ryder, journalists both working for Eurosport at that point I think, and though I can’t verify it now, I also can’t unremember it. Tamada was having his best ever MotoGP season then, thanks mostly to Honda’s post-Valentino Rossi disarray, but also because Tamada was the only Honda rider on Bridgestone tires that year — this was long before they introduced control rubber for the whole field and ended the tire wars in 2009 — so while he wasn’t usually much more than a midfield threat amid a phalanx of Hondas trying to upend Rossi’s title bid for Yamaha, when Bridgestone got it right, Makoto could suddenly surprise as an interloper.

The stars aligned for him twice in MotoGP, both in ’04. The first was in Brazil, the second late in the season at his home round in Japan at Motegi. I’m going to recount this story as though it were the latter: On a track he knew intimately in fair weather, Tamada took pole by nearly eight tenths of a second from teammate Max Biaggi on Saturday and won the race from Rossi by more than six seconds on Sunday. It wasn’t really close. But the anecdote that’s stuck with me is how he called it quietly to the press even before first practice on Friday. Such was Tamada’s comfort and confidence that he was fastest only in the two sessions that mattered: qualifying and the race. It was the high point of his season, and of his international career: He left MotoGP at the end of 2007 with no more wins, just one more podium, and the distinction of being the last Japanese rider to win a race in the premier class, which holds.

– – – – –

It was a foregone conclusion even before first practice on Friday. First or second in every session, pole, a clean getaway at the start. The win that came was a given.

That describes the weekend Sam Lowes had at Aragon, anyway. But an hour before the Brit closed out the Teruel Grand Prix weekend with a Moto2 win that put him convincingly in charge of that championship (MotoGP having run earlier than usual to avoid a TV conflict with Formula 1 in Portugal), Takaaki Nakagami similarly sat on the grid at Aragon with his first MotoGP pole behind him and empty track ahead, the outward comfort and confidence of a rider whose race it was to lose. Alongside Alex Marquez (who also looked threatening after a second successive second place the week before), he was the only rider to finish every round this season; that put him in the precarious position of being only 29 points adrift of Joan Mir for the championship lead, though he’d told inquiring journalists he “wasn’t interested” in such trivialities, only a first podium. Teammate Cal Crutchlow, hardly Nakagami’s biggest cheerleader in the past, said it was his race to lose by 11 seconds. On paper, there was nothing to debate; his race pace was unrivaled and a ninth winner for the year was on the cards. Sometimes you can look at a weekend and know from the start how it’ll end.

Or you think you can. I’m not saying Taka would know the Motegi story about Makoto Tamada if you told him, but the way he was talking after a race in which he had a perfect start and then proceeded to crash out of the lead two corners in (“I don’t need to be cool or lie about it, so I’ll just write it. Before the race, I felt tremendous pressure. It led to a mistake that my feelings were exceeded by the pressure.”) suggested a lot more was weighing on him than the prospect of a first career podium. He was thinking a win, the first for a Japanese rider in MotoGP in more than 15 years, a championship, the insane prospect of having never finished better in his top flight career than a distant fourth in Andalucia at the start of this year leading to the ultimate prize aboard a year-old bike that’s ostensibly secondhand compared to his fellow Honda riders. He was thinking history. He was thinking too much.

Taka Nakagami is somewhere on this planet right now, of that I’m sure. And as Spanish provinces roll out more restrictive measures and the prospect of a curtailed season looms, it’s likely he’s somewhere in Spain, left to train and condition and think over the last weekend off before the scheduled final three races of the year. Maybe he’s not thinking they won’t all happen. That maybe Teruel could’ve been it, the moment he’d savor for the rest of his life. Maybe he wishes he could be anywhere else on earth or off it after the humiliation of an unforced error. A ghost hotel wandering derelict rooms like a stray dog, a quiet shoreline laughing at sandcastles, a distant star ignorant of any impending election shedding finite radiance waiting for the heat death aligned, anywhere. Maybe.


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