Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gas Man and a "Birthday?" at dinner

Home. Home? Yes, I will be headed home later today. Once again it is going to be weird to be going home after 11 days on the road. And what an 11 eleven days it has been!

The past two days I have been flagging the USAC Mopar .25 Midget series at Orange Show in San Bernadino, California. Saturday was a long day thanks to my inability to apply sunscreen (I have the burns on my arms to prove it!). Yesterday seemed longer than it actually was thanks to a stubborn morning mist. Yes, even though I was in Southern California the temperature was in the mid 50's and it was spitting a fine mist that delayed us for an hour.

Once the mist departed I had a new experience at a race track. In 16 years of flagging I never had this happen, but yesterday I had an honorary starter. For those of you that don't know what that is, many times at races there is an honorary starter. This person waves the first green flag of the day and is usually a sponsor, or in this case, as it was yesterday, a celebrity or person of fame within motorsport. Who was this person? As the title of this post says, it was The "Gas Man". For those of you who know racing you probably already have guessed it was Tom Sneva, the 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner.

At first I had no idea what to say or what to do with an honorary starter. He came up into the flagstand a couple minutes before we started and I was standing there in a heightened state of awkwardness. I mean, what do I say? Here I am and here he is, 1983 winner of the Indy 500 and also the 1st man in Indy history to qualify in excess of 200 and 210 miles per hour.

What I decided to do was ask a question I already knew the answer to. To start the conversation I asked, "Was Duane Sweeney the flagman when you won?" I used this line to establish a conversation and explained how I started flagging. After this the awkwardness went away and we conversed for the following few minutes.

As the first race rolled out on the race track he asked me a very important question, "Any advice for waving the green flag?" I stumbled for an answer and I answered with the #1 most important thing to do when flagging, "Don't drop it and it'll be great!"

The first race field got lined up and I gave the signal to let the drivers know that the race would begin the next lap. I handed Tom the green flag and as they got to turn three I yelled, "Green green green" and he waved the flagged with much enthusiasm and the race was on. The yellow flag would fly quickly and Tom Sneva thanked me and I thanked him for being part of the event and I thought to myself what an honor it was to share a flagstand with the "Gas Man" himself.

The rest of the racing went by quickly and if you have followed my blog a long time you know that when I flag there is nothing more important than perfection. Perfection isn't aimed for, it is expected and this weekend perfection was achieved. It was a great weekend!

Last night we had dinner at a restaurant near the hotel and the total group was thirteen people. The tables they gave us were in the middle of the dining hall and instantly I was outside my comfort zone. It was noisy, and there was so much going on. I could hear so many conversations and I could see so many staff walking about.

At the track I feel invincible and my posture is great. I guess you could say there is a confidence about me. However, at this dinner, I was as opposite of confident as possible. Now, before you start, don't think that this is the most horrible thing in the world. This is simply the challenges of the autism spectrum. I used to avoid these situations at all costs, but now I am opening up so even though I will write about this challenge, I face it openly.

So anyway, there was much noise and many different conversations and I instantly fought the "positional warfare". To make matters worse I had a short sleeved shirt on. I hope to explain the clothing thing on a blog post later this week as I feel this is an important thing. Anyway, I kept moving my arms about and the level of worry about the space I was in was at an alarming level.

The more I experience it the more I am in awe of the power of the positional warfare. In my presentation I state that it is the old saying of, "uncomfortable in one's one skin" and like, "an itch one can't scratch". The level of ill-comfort grew and grew until the food arrived. As soon as I started eating I had direction. I opened up and started to talk much more than I was. Having the simple task of eating gave me enough direction that I no longer could feel the space I was in. I didn't question the angle of my arms, or my posture, but I was free in the simple task of eating.

The sense of relief while eating and dissolving the position warfare was something that unless you have felt it my words would simply be empty. In an event, dinner went on and when it was over I was slowly creeping back into worrying about the space I was in. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flickering much like a candle. I looked over and indeed it was a candle. It was a waitress walking over with a cupcake. I thought it must be someone's birthday and the waitress, as she neared me, looked at me and said, "So, it's your birthday?" What?!

I was already in a fog, and now it suddenly was my birthday. For the record, my birthday was three months ago. Nobody else believed this and suddenly, "Happy Birthday" was being sung. As this was going on I still had a dumbfounded look upon my face, but I think I still had a smile on my face. The smile grew as I thought to myself that a couple years ago I would have adamantly protested such an event. However, how often is it that I get the chance to have Happy Birthday sung while in California on a day after an amazing race weekend?

Why was it my birthday? I don't really know, but it was a great ending to a great trip. I am on my way home now and will be in my own bed tonight. It's going to be somewhat weird, and somewhat sad as this trip, this amazing trip that I have felt such a high amount of growth, is going to be over. Again, thinking about how I would react to this several years ago, an ending like this would have depressed me greatly. Now? I am not sad because I know a trip like this will happen again and when it does, well, I can't wait for the next one!


  1. I think it would've been hilarious if you just spoke out after "Happy Birthday" was sung and said "Thanks for the belated birthday wishes, but my birthday was 3 months ago!" Imagine the look that would've been on everyone's face :o

  2. If people with autism comes to me and wanting help in this department, I would give them 2 options- a fallback method (if applicable) and the "neurotypical" method.

    The fallback method is- if you can be with people you know, do this and try to socialize with them. (I personally use this a lot!)

    The "neurotypical" method is- if you happen to be with people you don't know, have a few conversational starters and talk to the person next to you. If you are stuck, then we can work out together (though I expect you to give a genuine effort).

    You do it as long as you can tolerate the first time. Then, like workouts go, I would like you to make some effort to challenge yourself on subsequent times.