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Auto Racing

I was probably 15 when I first heard of Kimi-Matias Räikkönen. I couldn’t tell you I was definitely 15 because F1 Racing was the kind of magazine that acted as part high-quality reporting, part UK tabloid fluff; you could read a diary of Peter Windsor from his time as Nigel Mansell’s manager at Williams one page and fawning blurbs on otherwise anonymous child karting stars the next. Sure, I learned about Lewis Hamilton when he was1 12. I also learned about Timo Scheider. That’s what happens when print magazines have pages to fill. Or had, rather.

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He was all smiles atop a snowy Andorran mountain when the cover officially broke for his 2021 look, full of ebullient chatter about Repsol Honda’s loaded history and the on-track challenge of a new bike and the ultimate teammate that awaited him. Any idiot could see it, any child could tell: Pol Espargaro was ready, practically jumping out of his seat with nervous energy at the chance to wring its neck, the neck he’s been hearing and reading and seeing he might be pretty good on for years now. “If only Dani would retire,” messageboards clamored. “If only Honda hadn’t thought of Jorge first,” journalists mused. Through it all, Pol shrugged, smiled, overdelivered. Then came the offer. Now comes the reckoning.

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The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur.

If you watched the MotoGP season finale at Portimão in Portugal, you saw two titles decided by razor-thin margins in Moto3 and Moto2. Congratulations to Albert Arenas (who felt like an inevitability despite his tenuous grip on Moto3 all season) and Enea Bastianini (who never felt like an inevitability on his way out of Moto2 until he suddenly became one), two guys who had to fight every lap to manage not just their race positions but also their points gap over their respective pursuers. They were both enthralling races that ended with champions as worthy as any of the alternatives. Good for them.

Then there was the MotoGP main event.

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“A man is severely injured in a mysterious accident, receives an outrageous sum in legal compensation, and has no idea what to do with it” is a pretty simple story idea, but that’s verbatim the pitch for Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. The publisher’s blurb is elegantly written around what he does wind up doing with it, so if that doesn’t sound like something you want to know, it’d behoove you to stop reading here. The real spoiler that’s not a spoiler is that if you’re reading this, you already know everything’s going to end in motorcycle racing anyway.

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Monday

It was already daylight by the time I got home on Sunday. That meant I spent half my weekend sleeping, which I might’ve done anyway thanks to the bonus hour and also because I’ve grown increasingly slothful as my brain prepares for the cold, barely able to reset the clocks that hadn’t already switched automatically. Which is funny, sort of — temperatures were supposed to be in the 70s all week. For most of my life, that wouldn’t have been unusual. I had no excuse other than the one everyone uses: psychic browbeating.

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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.

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The last thing I did before was visit a library. The Friday ahead of a citywide stay-at-home order, I cut out of the office early and ran over to Harold Washington to pick up Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc, a book you would’ve heard me relentlessly shoehorn into conversations at parties for weeks after had there been any to attend. I did this counting on the idea that 1,600+ pages would get me through a good chunk of quarantine while the libraries were closed, but it turns out there’s a lot of negative space in that thing; I read it in six days. To balance it out, I spent April reading — and I promise this is the only time you’ll see me talk about this unprompted — Infinite Jest. It’s fine. Also, the only other people I know who’ve read or own this book are women. Just saying.

But that Tuesday, the last night out I had before was at a brewery. Beer and books, books and beer. Bikes. This is, fundamentally, all I have been for seven months. Maybe longer, depending on who you ask.

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I.

It’s no spoiler to tell you a dark sky reserve is exactly what it sounds like. As more and more of us get born and more and more of us die slower, more and more of us generate heat, emit light, pursue both. It’s bad for nature (which you knew and didn’t care about, really), but it’s also bad for us (which maybe you didn’t, fully; just think of the heartbreaking anecdote about LA residents who couldn’t even recognize their own Milky Way). That’s why the International Dark-Sky Association has worked since 1988 to preserve places on the map where light pollution can be minimized and space can be seen with the minimal effort of tucking away a phone, turning off your car, putting out the fire.

Only 48 officially designated International Dark Sky Parks exist right now. One of them is about four hours from where I live, a straight shot north past Milwaukee, past Green Bay, past acres of rolling Wisconsin farmland and out to the tip of Door Co. at Newport State Park, Wisconsin’s only wilderness-designated state park. There’s nothing up there. That’s the point.

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To anyone walking in on the scene, it’d look like I was about to throw up my last meal and then some, but all I’m doing here is clipping my fingernails. I can hardly believe it, I think to myself (or maybe said aloud, I don’t remember and annoyance clouds the memory). I can hardly believe it because I feel like I just fucking did this like two weeks ago. Unlike hair clippers, I can trust myself to trim my nails — but like a jailed scrivener, I’d really prefer not to.

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