America 2016: Day One (26 May)

It’s a high school prom, it’s a Springsteen song, it’s a ride in a Chevrolet
It’s a man on the moon and fireflies in June and kids selling lemonade
It’s cities and farms, it’s open arms, one nation under God
It’s America!

– Rodney Atkins

Thursday 26 May

America! So good to be back (for the eighth time, no less). It’s been nine months but it actually feels like only a few weeks have passed since we boarded a flight home from Los Angeles to Sydney. As per usual, I’m with Nathan, my constant American partner in crime, and this trip is one that has us both excited. Why, exactly, are we here so soon after going to the Longhini wedding last August?

The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. And, not just any running of the famous Memorial Day weekend IndyCar race, but the one hundredth running. Ticking off a major Bucket List item this weekend in the American Midwest, alongside my best mate (and fellow motorsports tragic) and more than 300,000 other folks who’ll cram into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday morning to witness the sort of racing history that comes once in a lifetime.

It’s amazing to be here. This is the greatest race in the world, and the oldest, and, with the whole world watching, we’ll see one of thirty-three men and women in the starting line-up race their way into motorsports immortality on Sunday afternoon. Knowing that I’ll be in the stands, down in the E Grandstand in turn one, makes me ridiculously excited. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Home of the Indianapolis Colts.

First things first: getting to America. It’s been a long day! We left Sydney at 10:00am Thursday on a Virgin Australia flight (where the entertainment choices drove me to my eReader and iPod for the majority of the nearly-fourteen-hour flight) and arrived in sunny, warm Los Angeles at 6:30am Thursday – the International Dateline thing totally trips me out, every single time – and had three hours to clear customs, drag our tired selves through the labyrinth that is LAX International Airport and board a 4-hour Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago.

So, Southwest flights are the type where you don’t have a reserved seat, and we were near the back of the boarding process, meaning we were in separate seats and I had an uncomfortable journey in the middle seat. As a result, and as you can probably imagine, I was very glad to arrive in the Windy City.

We flew into Midway for the first time, rather than the mammoth O’Hare International in the Windy City, picked up a hire car, bought a SIM for my phone – thanks to the very wonderful customer service at AT&T in Oak Lawn Village – and got on the road for Indianapolis, Indiana. Unfortunately, a three-hour drive adds an hour because of the change from the central time zone back to eastern, which saw us arrive at just before 11:00pm – after a stop for dinner at Cracker Barrel. Their Campfire Chicken is unbelievably good!

A staple of my American eating experience now (Thanks for the recommendation, Will!)

America is a different place to nine months ago. I mean, back then, the idea of Donald Trump becoming president was something of a joke. All the talking heads on cable news guaranteed that the next poll would be the beginning of the end for Trump’s campaign, yet here we are, about six months from election day, and Trump (along with his horrendously bad hair) is likely to be the Republican party’s nominee for the presidential race. Actually, it’s pretty much a fait accompli at this stage of proceedings.

Realistically, there’s a good chance he’ll actually be voted the next President of the United States. and whilst I’ll steer well clear of politics in this forum (and most others, for that matter), there’s no doubt that, if Trump is elected, there will be some serious change in the way the United States have done things under President Obama’s leadership.

Downtown Indianapolis

Driving south from Chicago to Indy is fascinating, as you transition from the big city through the outer suburbs, into the Illinois countryside and across the border into Indiana, where there are as many endless cornfields as there are IndyCar fans. The countryside in the Midwest is incredibly flat and endless. And beautiful. The sunset tonight was something to behold!

The entire city of Indianapolis is buzzing. You could feel it on the way in, so many restaurants and bars open, overflowing with people. You can’t go anywhere without seeing something connected to the race. Our hotel, the Omni Severin, right in the heart of downtown, is overflowing with fans from across America and around the world. It’s an electric place to be! It’s also a very nice hotel, with the tallest bed I have ever slept in. I reckon you’d be in some strife if you rolled over and fell out!

The Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis is ready for the hundredth running!

A huge night of sleep tonight, after not very much of it on either of the two flights today, then out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time tomorrow morning for Carburation Day, the last chance for the field of 33 for Sunday’s Indy 500 to find speed.

Cannot wait!

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