When I married Bill almost thirty years ago now, I had no idea he had a lifelong interest in automobile racing. And he, most likely, had no idea that my favorite sandwich in the world was brown sugar and butter on white bread. (The Lunch Room Police would have a fit about that!) So those details of our previous lives were things that gradually made themselves known. We soon had a “date” each year to watch the televised version of the Indy 500. In 1995 we made a pilgrimage to Indianapolis for the race. I was excited. It was going to be my first “live” auto race, but then it rained. Like crazy! Because our relatively expensive seats were under a broken storm drain, even though we were supposedly under cover, we got soaked. Not only that, the race was postponed for two days. By the time they finally got around to running it, the race track simply opened the gates and let people come in for free so it looked as though there was a crowd.
That’s about the time Formula 1 racing began being routinely broadcast in the US. And that’s about the time I started paying attention and LIKING Formula 1 racing because, guess what? They raced rain or shine. They also raced all around the world, which meant that if you didn’t have your DVR set to record at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, you would miss it completely.
Then Bill’s 65th birthday came around. I decided to surprise him with a trip to Monaco. One day, while he was out of the house for a couple of hours, I contacted a Formula 1 tour company and snagged tickets. I was on the phone with Air France when Bill came home an hour or so earlier than I expected. I hid out in the powder room to complete the reservation process. Then, realizing that the AmEx bill would hit sooner than we were going to the race, I decided to tell him that night. Had he seen the bill with no advance warning, he probably would have had a heart attack.
We went. It was fun. No, it was magic. We watched the race from the pool deck of the Fairmont Hotel, overlooking Monaco’s famed “Hairpin Curve.” By then I had learned some of the drivers’ names and a bit about the various teams. (That year it was Fernando Alonso and Renault all the way.) I had also learned some of the Formula 1 traditions—how the after the trophies are handed out and the national anthems are played, the top three drivers go to war on one another—and anyone else who happens to be on the podium—by spraying champagne out of magnum bottles. I had also learned how, in the post-race interviews, the drivers—in gentlemanly terms, to say nothing of perfect English—discussed details of the race from their individual points of view.
In 2007 we saw the final Formula 1 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The guy who won that year was a relatively new driver, Lewis Hamilton, and the new kid on the block that year was a kid named Sebastian Vettel who had moved up from a test driver position into race driver that day when someone else was injured in a previous race.
Since then both Hamilton and Vettel have moved on to become major forces and multiple world champions in Formula 1 racing. For the past couple of years, Hamilton and his teammate, Nico Rosberg, have been in a class by themselves, finishing races in first and second positions over and over, sometimes with one leading and sometimes the other. They may be on the same team, but as the driver-to-driver rivalry between them has grown, it has spilled out into post-race ceremonies as well as into the racing world at large.
This week in Monaco, with a caution from a previous crash late in the race, Hamilton’s team made a strategic miscall. Although Hamilton had started from pole and led most of the race, due to that call he ended up finishing third behind Rosberg at first and Vettel at second. During the post-race interview session, one of the reporters asked about that miscall. A grim-faced Hamilton answered in nothing short of a non-gentlemanly growl, “We’ll be discussing that later in the garage.” I suspect that one of the mechanics was taken to the woodshed.
What’s funny is that his answer transported me away from the televised race, down decades of memory, and into the childhood of my first husband. Mary Grandma, my first mother-in-law, was one of those “just-wait-till-your-father-comes-home” kinds of mothers. Since her husband spent his weeks toiling a hundred or more miles away from home at the Nevada Test Site, punishments for previous infractions arrived only on his days off and also days after the event in question.
There were a lot of troubling issues in my first husband’s early years, and this was only one of them. As with Bill and me, with automobile racing and brown sugar sandwiches, those issues revealed themselves slowly and over a period of time. But after hearing Lewis Hamilton utter that thinly veiled threat in those words, I suddenly found myself wondering if my first husband would have been a less troubled adult had his mother stood her ground and delivered her own punishments to her wayward son back when he was a kid.
But then again, I have to remind myself that Mary Grandma was very young when her son was born. She was a product of a broken family at a time when divorce was still a very rare occurrence. No doubt she did the best she could under very difficult circumstances.
And I’m sure the mechanic in Monaco did the same thing.