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Racing Cars and Horses and Riches

November 13, 2012

Having relocated back home to Melbourne in Australia, after my year in Ireland, the UK and France, I’ve been picking up some work in the hospitality profession. I’m pretty good at this stuff so it’s a quick way to make money and pay bills. I ran a marquee at the Phillip Island MotoGP, the gran prix for very fast motor bikes. It was a legendary event where the great Australian rider Casey Stoner won his 6th event in a row. My friend James at  beyondthecall.wordpress.com would be right into this – a great rider on top of his game bringing the hero myth to reality. I am not always so easily convinced. (In a funny moment, a fellow hospitality worker asked of the race, “Is this the one on two wheels called Casey or Cadel?”) I like sport but react negatively to the Australian media attention to its mythic aspect, wherein the hero is the athletic champion of the people, while the arts and real politics (as opposed to sensationalist or populist conservative hype) get shafted to page 17 right next to world news.

So, i worked my guts out to satisfy my 160 head room full of heavy drinkers and eaters, until a great man in the audience forced me to watch the main race. It was awesome – the speed of the bikes, the way the riders held their knees and elbows an inch from the ground at over 100 miles per hour around corners, the insane speed on the straights. I had shivers up and down my spine watching them up close, right in front of me, in real time, in physical proximity, with the smell of petrol fumes and under the kiss of the sun on the island. My ecological self sat somewhere in the back of my mind saying – aren’t you supposed to be concerned about the stupid waste of fuel and ultra competitive masculine bullshit going on here? But i couldn’t help being impressed by the speed and skill. It was as if the dream captured me against my reason. Which is exactly what the dream is designed to do, of course.

The next week i ran a VIP bar for Crown Casino at the Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington, home of the Melbourne Cup. The high rollers are polite, compared to bikers. They don’t drink so much, preferring control to bacchanialia, measure to ecstasy. They don’t want to convince you they deserve special treatment because they paid a lot for these tickets; they already know they will get excellent service or someone will lose their job. Most of them are quite polite, not displaying the arrogance of the middle ranking business man who wants you to know how important he is (ie isn’t). They don’t need to prove anything and don’t care who overhears conversations about whether or not they’ve owned a diamond mine.

Horse races are strange at a different level to motor sport. The horses are beautiful. The bar i ran was just after the finish line, where they slow down a bit and gallop past, still close to full pace but not under the whip. I couldn’t help but imagine how it would be to see them running across open fields, without riders, champing not at the bit but at the rush of tearing up the long grass under a blue sky with the mountains in the background, no barriers guiding them around the circular track, no trainers forcing them to go faster for the win, no crowds fanatically fixated on their ability to beat the horse next to them. Some ecological writers want to focus so much on the specifics that they forget the thing we romantics call nature has a spirit and this spirit is in the wild horses and the long grass and the sunset and it resists the commodification culture of modern humanity. This is what i imagine when i see these great spirits of the animal world rush past me after the race is won; freedom from the restraint of expectation.

I went out with the people from the casino after the carnival finished and had fun. They were invariably polite and enjoyed quality. I drank and danced – two of my favourite things – and didn’t judge them for working for a business that also convinced many other people who couldn’t afford it to gamble their savings away hopelessly. The house always wins. We can be open about this and still realise it won’t change a thing.

It’s a bit like the whole inevitable tragedy of large scale settlement civilizations. We all know they end, usually in ecological disaster as well as all the other ills that accompany bloated beaureaucratic nightmares and centralised authoritarian systems. But we are still willing to gamble on our ability to avoid disaster, as if our lucky number is the one that will come up, against the ever vanishing endpoint of destiny, the black hole we know awaits us at the end. Somehow we believe that hope – the never dying beauty that shines beyond such finality because it arises from the land before any end can be conceived – lures us on towards a final recognition and approval of our own unique ability to cheat death and win over timelessness.

The dream never ends. The race is always there to be won. Our talent screams against mediocrity. And we strive on, every day.

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