Friday, May 13, 2022

Hello from my office at the Speedway

 The month of May at Indy starts now. I’ll be waving the flags for tomorrow’s NTT INDYCAR Series race. It’ll be on NBC tomorrow!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

“So what about the eye brows?”

On Sunday there was an advertisement for Klondike bars and the eternal ads of, “what would you do…” It was a good bit as they track down people that tweeted what they would do for one, and put them to the test to see if they’d do it. Well, there was this one that said they’d shave their eye brows and my girlfriend said, “No!” to which I stated at the screen and said, “what’s so bad about that?”

It was unique to have two completely opposite reactions to the same event. My girlfriend, I think, could almost feel the loss of the eye brows as they were shaved off, and I stared blankly having no response. I mean, why is it bad to lose an eye brow? Working outside the sweat would surely get annoying, but why would or should there be any emotional response to losing something that just provides a function of blocking sweat?

As I questioned this, and my girlfriend mentioned that the person on the screen would “look weird” until it grew back, it finally dawned on me as to why we had such a different response. You see, I do everything I can to avoid looking at a person’s face. I shy away from eye contact therefore, naturally, I don’t typically notice things like eye brows. Whether they’re there or not, odds are I won’t take notice of their existence.

I’m confident in saying that the ad agency that made this ad had no intention of creating an ad that led to such an interesting discovery and conversation, but they certainly did so. It was great being able to have a conversation that led to discovery for myself and for my girlfriend. I’ll be curious to pay attention to more advertisements to see if there are other ads that may have a message that may not fully be understood like the Klondike ad and if so, what could be learned from them?

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Toca Race Driver 2

On January 8th, 2005 I started the "All Series Championship" on the Xbox game of Toca Race Driver 2. I've written about that game several times on how it greatly aided my ability to speak and have conversations but in all of the times I've written on this topic I never have written that I wrote about that game.

Toca Race driver 2 came out in April of 2004 and the competition was thrilling at the start. To this day this game, along with its sequel, Toca Race Driver 3, remain my favorite console racing games of all time. However, as with most games, the user base begins to dwindle as time goes on. Full grids started to become scarce and just getting a room going with more than five other racers proved to be a challenge. That said I had to do something that brought back the notable names, the racers that challenged me, so to do so I started a league that would go through each championship the game offered and I also came up with a point system to determine the overall champion.

In that first week the races were awesome. It was great once again battling hard for victories, but now it was even sweeter with the point system that I created. However, I realized I had to do something more than just offer a series as anyone can do that. What could I do that would make people want to come back the next week? My answer was to write a recap of the day's action. But, I couldn't just say that driver X won race Y and has a 10 point lead over driver Z. Nope, that just wouldn't do. I'd have to write it as if these races were on par with the Indy 500, or the Grand Prix of Monaco, or the Daytona 500.

When the final race of that first week was over, which I'd say we raced for about 90 minutes, I assembled the score sheets and headed to the computer to write about the day's action. This, at that very moment, would be the first time I wrote willfully with no assignment being given, no due date, and no reason except to do it. Well, I guess I had a reason and the motivation was to keep the great racers interested in the game. 

I spent about as much time writing as I had racing and when I was done I uploaded the post race report to the Toca forums and the write-ups were a hit. Week after week drivers would ask if a certain moment would make it into the race recap reports. The goal I had set out to accomplish had succeeded.

Now why am I writing about a game and the write-ups I did a 17 years ago? I do credit February 8th as being the first time I wrote, and it would be the first time I wrote on the emotional level, but the writings I did on Toca gave me confidence that I was able to write. Had I not been spending the hours I put in to write the race recaps I don't know if I would have started writing about myself on the emotional level. There was a big difference there; with Toca I was writing about facts and points and passes. That was easy for me as I was motivated because I wanted to keep the game alive. Would I have invested the same amount of time on any other topic? Ha! Absolutely without any doubt in my mind the answer is the biggest no possible. With that, this is why I stress to teachers the point of needing to start from within Kansas and expand outward. 

It was a total of five weekends of writing recaps before I would sit down at my computer, in the still of the midnight hour, and write about myself rather than an online race. With each week I became more and more confident and eventually it spilled over and allowed me to write about myself. It's odd to think of how seeds in our lives get planted and that hobbies, events, chance meetings, a word of encouragement, or any random event can lead to another thing that puts a person on the road to something else. For myself, that's what Toca 2 was. I loved that game so much and the competition that I was willing to write to keep the fast people on the game. That's saying something because before that, as I would say, "writing is the most awful, painful thing imaginable!" It's amazing how things change and that change began with this game 18 years ago. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

It's the Textures!

My tastebuds are recovering, and I've got a bit of my taste and smell back, but two days ago when I had neither was one of the most surreal days of my life. 

I've been hypersensitive with those two senses my entire life. If there's a pungent smell around, I'll be the first to smell it and all my attention will be on it. Focusing outwardly won't occur until the smell is gone. As for tastes, that too has been a challenge my entire life and I've been one of the pickiest eaters anyone in my family has known. However, I always thought it was about the taste, but losing the sense of taste shed some light as to what was really going on.

It was odd debating what I was going to eat on Sunday because taste was not a factor. Why was I saying "no" to some things? It didn't make much sense, but my tendencies were to get what I had always got. When I tried a couple new things there was one thing I enjoyed and one thing that made me have a snap "no" response. No? How? If taste isn't a thing what caused it? It was the textures of the food.

I wish I would've been able to verbalize this as a child, or even a dozen years ago. When I don't like a food, it isn't so much the taste but rather it is primarily the texture of it. It does make sense though, now that I've experienced it, that since certain fabrics gives me a negative reaction to my skin it would make sense that certain food textures would have a similar reaction.

Having those words and understanding as a child would've made a gigantic difference. "But it tastes like your favorite..." was a common sentence opening, but when one is just looking at it from a taste perspective and not a texture perspective there is no chance for understanding.

I'm anxious for my smell and taste to return. I always said I wanted a filter but after experiencing a full filter on those senses, I never want to go back. It can be distracting at times to be hypersensitive, but that's what makes me who I am, and I would much rather live life unfiltered than to have a muted sensory system that provides a filter.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Having Covid

I had what I thought were allergies on Tuesday of last week that persisted through the week. I took s COVID-19 test on Thursday and was negative, but at the advice of my INDYCAR supervisor, I retested late Friday and the second line appeared. It was positive. I had covid.

It was a long weekend, and Saturday was one of the longest days of my life. The worst part for me has been a completely different set of emotional responses to things. It's hard to explain and living in the moment of still having it has made it difficult to write about. More on this in coming days.

My taste and smell are gone, this too will be written about in a later post. The reason for the brief post today is that setup has begun for this weekend's INDYCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I should be there, right now, helping setup and yet I'm home, in my basement, with the lights off because light hurts. 

The fear of not being in the stand for Saturday's race is immense. It's even more fear inducing thinking on what would happen if this is a long term covid case. What if I miss the entire month? I know, I should be focused on my health, but the Speedway in May is the highest of all my Kansas's, it's everything to me, and now I must wait and hope my immune system and full vaccinations take care of it and I'm ready to go as soon as I can. 

Being powerless is something I'm not good at being, but all I can do right now is to do nothing and rest.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Reason I Wrote

A common question I get at presentations is, "Why did you start to write in the first place?" This post will be the written answer to that question.

When I answer this question, I start by stating that there was no noble cause in the genesis of my writing. I didn’t seek out a book and I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m an author by accident. In fact, writing was one of my least favorite things in the entire world to do. However, I got my Asperger’s diagnosis in December of 2003 and there wasn’t much information about it back then like there is now. My doctor didn’t know what to make of it and told me, “Good luck” so I had to look it up on the internet where I found the worst information possible and sadly, I believed it. At the same time my racing career was falling apart, and I lost the only girlfriend I had ever had up to that point. My life, despite the answers I finally had as to why I am the way I am, was in shambles and quickly getting worse.

There was a period of hideous stagnation as I stayed in a state of supreme depression for 15 months. The ill-feelings toward myself and the misunderstanding the world had about Asperger’s grew and grew and I had no outlet except to stay silent and feel miserable. This went on until one evening in February 2005, just past midnight, I decided I had to write about the relationship that fell apart but not just write about the relationship in a narrative but write about the mechanics in play. If anything, I was writing as a way to justify my actions and to explain to her should she ever read it which I doubt she would but I had to get the words out.

I ended the last paragraph with a major phrase of, “get the words out”. I always had emotions but lacked the ability to fully express them. If you asked me anything remotely close to requiring an emotional response you’d get a generic answer of, “I don’t know.” Did I know? Most of the time yes, sometimes I truly didn’t know, but when I knew I still was unable to put it into words and get over the fear of speaking about emotions. This is what writing allowed me to do; it bypassed the need to process and bypassed the instant reaction from the person I was speaking to.

The weeks went on and I started coming up with concepts. This was shocking to me as I never had come up with something new much less coming up with a way to describe the mechanics behind the reasons why I do what I do but these concepts, be it Kansas or Film Theory or Alias, would just all of a sudden appear in my head. There was no conscious thought to these concepts and there was nothing one second and the next BAM! There was a concept and then I’d rush to the computer to write a chapter.

Again, through the whole book writing process, I wasn’t intending on any accolades or anything to come of it as I was writing as a way to express myself. I said there was nothing noble in it but then, perhaps, that’s what in the end makes this noble because I wasn’t seeking out a job, a career, or a passion but a way for someone, anyone, to understand me. I felt alone, isolated, and misunderstood and I wanted above anything else for just an ounce more of understanding.

To this day I still write from that same voice; that voice of wanting understanding. Writing now is different than it was when I began in 2005 and I know things in my style have changed from my blog posts in 2010 to today. The voice though… the voice is still the same and maybe it isn’t all that unique because everyone probably has that voice that they had when they were younger seeing the big world outside and fearing it; fearing being misunderstood; fearing not fitting in and most of all fearing a life of solitude wanting nothing more than to be a part of the world. Maybe most lose that part, but I still feel it, I still have those fears and that’s why I continue to write because even with the million or so words I’ve written across all the things I’ve done the goal is still the same, the fears are the same, and this is still the best way to express who I am and why I am.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Dreaming of Locations Afar

People are coming, people are going. I've heard four different languages in just the past minute. I'm sitting in one of my happiest places on Earth, an international terminal at an airport. 

Across from me is a flight to England. Down towards gate F1 is a flight going to Amsterdam. I was on that flight seven years ago during a life changing time. At the gate I write this is a cargo plane getting loaded and about to head towards Seoul. 

I walked past the duty-free shop which sells perfume, and it seems every international terminal smells the same, and that smell brings a smile to my face. I remember all my previous adventures in the air and abroad. 

It's odd I love travel so much seeing that I'm a stickler for routine and sameness. When it comes to travel nothing remains the same. However, if something is always changing does this mean that within itself means there isn't change? 

When traveling there's always that edge of unknown, which I love. Reading this it might be hard for you to believe that, while jumping on any of these planes would be easy for me, the flight home and the need to get a new cell phone terrifies me. 

This is the unique peaks and valleys of the autism spectrum. The first four paragraphs of this would make me seem like an adventurer akin to Indiana Jones and yet the everyday stuff of life is difficult for me. This has been such a hard thing to relay through words and presentations because I understand the difficulty in understanding this dual being of sorts.

A passenger is being paged over the PA. It would be unfortunate to miss a flight, much less one going to Paris. I've only been to the airport, and I do have a trip there planned in about 260 or so days, but that is so long away. I wonder what types of lives, and stories those getting on the planes have. Just now a Virgin Atlantic plane has arrived, and I wonder where those that will get off the plane have come from and what type of travel adventures they had or will have here. It may be a bit still, but that'll be me sooner than I know it. I'm blessed to get to travel around the US working races, but the travel bug is a real one and I want to once again experience the smell of the air in a town I've never been. I want to experience an airport delay leaving a country that allows me to have an experience I'd otherwise not have. I can't wait for that day, and sometime, hopefully soon, that'll be me boarding one of these planes here.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Process to Acceptance

April is over so the ribbons will disappear, news stories will stop, and for a big chunk of society the terminology of the autism spectrum may not be heard until April 2023. The words may be spoken around them, and there may be a single news story they see, but they won't hear it in the ways I see the pathway to acceptance.

A decade ago, we said "Autism Awareness" month. Some are now against that word of awareness, and I can respect their reasons, but we had to start there. I tend to take words on a more literal level so before one can accept something they must first be aware of it. When I was born in 1983 there was zero awareness as the rate of autism was somewhere around 1 in 1500. I wasn't aware of the autism spectrum and what Asperger's meant and neither was my doctor back in 2003 so that led to a horrible introduction to the autism spectrum. Even in 2009 there was a long way to go to garner the level of awareness we needed because, and I remember this vividly at a GameStop when I told someone I had Asperger's, they said, "Wait, did you say you ate a hamburger?" Sad, but true.

The word used now is that we've gone from awareness to acceptance. Other advocates look at this from an angle that over usage of autism awareness will lead to the problem of typical stereotypes and that it could create a perception that we are a mystery to be solved. I agree with this because a blanket statement will completely disregard the "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." However, and this is the way I see words, the word acceptance makes me a tad bit uneasy. Why? First, go back to the night of my diagnosis; I've told this story 1,000 times and I'll probably share it 10,000 more times in that the doctor told me "good luck" and a website said that I would, "never have a job, friends, or be happy." I accepted this life sentence of misery. In the original manuscript of Finding Kansas, I used that exact word usage that I accepted this sentence. 

Secondly, the word makes me worry as to parts of the world that are lacking in the awareness area. How can one properly accept something that isn't known whatsoever? If proper awareness is given without blanket statements that speak for all then the pathway to acceptance can happen. However, there's a word I'd like to see used over each of those words and that word is understanding.

In the first generation of my, my motto was "understanding is the foundation for hope." Perhaps understanding and acceptance are part of the same family but, if we are looking at the literal way words would work and the steps it would take, it would go like, "We need awareness to build understanding to gain full acceptance." 

I don't think we are anywhere near the point of a world where we can say without hesitation that we have acceptance in all corners of society. I firmly believe we can get there, but until there's a full representation of the autism spectrum in writings, and in media portrayals, how can the person I started this post by mentioning, the person that hears about autism once a year, how can they possibly understand and then accept? Of everyone in society they are the ones that need to know the most. One random encounter can cause a short term, or perhaps a lifelong fear of others. And what if they're an authority figure. A teacher? A police officer? A doctor?

We can get to the world we need to be and whatever word someone wants to use, well, I think it depends on what the level of knowledge around them is. I hope we can drop the word awareness soon, and then focus on autism understanding, so there's full acceptance of autism so those on the spectrum can go through life in school, at work, with friends and family, and have whatever growth they'd like to have in life without the constant frustrations of a world that has no acceptance or understanding.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Memory in Senses

“Standby starter…” those are the words I hear over the radio each time a practice session is about to go green. I had the green flag in hand eight days ago for the Indy 500 open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I get the alert with ten seconds to go, and I looked up at the pagoda, which now had sunlight reflecting off of it. I get chills each time I step onto the grounds at IMS, but when I heard “green flag starter, green flag” and as I let the green flag fly, the smell of the race fuel hit me, and I was… I was brought back to 1987, and my first-time seeing cars at the track going faster than my childhood brain could have ever imagined.

I felt a sense of warmth unlike anything else. I smiled with a peace that was almost to the point of being unexplainable. Thankfully I can, and the smell brought back memories of my favorite place on Earth, but also of those that I've been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with.

The few cars that stayed out on this opening lap got my waving green and as I put the flag back in the holder and listened to the cars going through the south chute the sound, as well, took me back in time. Yes, the volume, and pitch of the engines have changed over the years, but the sound of engines echoing off of the stands is a sound that hasn’t changed. Once again, an overwhelming sense of emotion flooded over me. I looked over my shoulder to the spot I sat in 1992 when I had one of the best seats in the house to when Unser Jr. just barely edged out Goodyear in the closest finish of the 500. This made me remember the man that was flagging that day, Duane Sweeney, and all that he did for me in the kindest act I can ever know, and can never repay.

As the hours progressed and I allowed myself to fully be immersed in the senses I couldn’t help but tear up. This wouldn’t happen in the middle of the race mind you, as that’s a full on assault of focus, but as there were just a few cars on track I was able to reflect on what I was experiencing and I smiled as the near irony that I, for once, wasn’t looking at the senses in a negative light like I so often do, and many of us on the autism spectrum will as well, but the memory in these senses brought back the warmest and safest of thoughts.

Time was running out on the session, and the smells of race fuel once again fueled my memories. The smells kindled up memories of my dad, and all the years we’ve been going to the track together. I smiled as time expired, and the cars flashed underneath me, almost in a mock finish as there were a lot of passes for a test session, and as the final car went by and disappeared into turn one, I finally allowed myself the full immersion in these emotions.

I smiled. I believe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of, if not the most magical places on Earth. Since 1911 people have been making the trek to the Speedway for the 500, and the love of the place and race has been passed down through the generations. I thought back to Sweeney, who had his last race in 1997, and that his legacy will live on forever. I thought about my dad and when he’s no longer here I know that each time I get the whiff of race fuel I’ll be taken back to cheering the cars going by in 1987. His legacy will live on.

In one month the 106th Indianapolis 500 will be run and as hundreds of thousands of race fans gather, I know there will be many, many thousands that have an emotional response as I do. We will remember those that came before us be it those that first showed us the track, those that attended with us, journeyman drivers that tried, and the champions that excelled. We will also be cheering on the drivers competing that day, and perhaps some will be sharing the Speedway with those that will be exposed to the place for the first time. This will be my girlfriend’s first 500 and I hope there will be dozens to come thereafter. And of course, for someone like myself who tends to think way too much, I will be thinking about what is to come. Someday, maybe, there will be a fan like I was that will take my spot in the flagstand and maybe, in 75 years, they too will think about those that came before them, they too will be taken aback by whatever the smells of whatever energy is powering the cars, and they too will become lost at the most magical place on Earth.