Tuesday, September 29, 2015

After the Race

For about a as long as I've been flagging racing events I have always wanted to catch the first ride away from the track. This may seem odd because I anxiously await the moment I'm back at the track, but this is due to the fact that once the final checkered flag has flown my job is over and the only thing left is socializing which is something I try to avoid which makes what happened two days ago at the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster odd.

First, I love that event because it is a street race in the BLVD district of Lancaster, California and there are thousands of spectators for the event. There are many more elements but to put simply it's unlike any other event I do in a season. It was a long weekend, though, with back to back 13 hour days on track. Then, on Sunday, it was only eight hours and when finished I could've taken an earlier ride back to the LAX area, but I wanted none of it because I wanted to hang around.

Hang around? Myself? Is this the same blog from five years ago? What was going on? Maybe it has to do with the blog I did a couple weeks ago about the throwback announcers on NBC during the NASCAR race, or realizing the personnel I work with today won't always be around, but I know time is the enemy that creates change and I wanted every second just being in the atmosphere of the track with the people I've worked with for many years.

On the flight home yesterday I have to admit I was brought to tears thinking about the inevitable change that comes with life. On both series I do, USAC .25 and SKUSA, the people I've worked with have become an intricate part of my life. Now here's the thing; there are some out there that believe ALL people with Asperger's are incapable of caring about those around them but that's not the case. Would I be able to admit it on the spot? Probably not, but I'd give about anything to freeze time and go back and work with everyone I've worked with before.

Because of these emotions I felt more than comfortable in this random socializing event after the race with several of the staff, the owner, and one of the city managers. It's not something I would've even been capable of five years ago but two things here; the first shows obvious growth, but within that growth shows that I have a deep caring for those around me. Sure, part of that is that if people I know around me change then there is change and change is bad so there is a hint of self within this but I believe it to be much deeper than that. I've always wondered "whatever happened to that person which..." and at a race when they're there I don't have to wonder that. There's more to this than what I am able to describe, but nonetheless I can't believe I willingly went into a social situation after an event.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seeing Understanding In Action

Recently there have been many, many viral stories about flight attendants and airlines having misunderstandings with either special needs or individuals on the autism spectrum. For a while it seemed like it was one case of misunderstanding after another with humiliating results for all involved so the the flight attendant I saw today I must say thank you and this blog post is dedicated to you. 

I fly a lot and if you go back in my archives of posts there's some really big highs, and some stories I'd most certainly like to forget, but today's experience takes the cake for most important and memorable and it's fitting that I ended a radio interview last night by saying, "10 years ago we needed awareness but I think we are beyond that now as now we must focus on understanding."

I was en route to LAX to work a race Lancaster and the taxi process began at an airport and there was girl, perhaps four years of age, that would not leave her mom's grasp and anytime the mom tried to put her in her seat it was met with adamant protest. When the flight attendant did he final pass through she said, "you daughter must be in her seat with her seat belt on." The attendant said this in a firm tone and the mom tried to comply but the attendant could see that this wasn't going to just simply happen. Instead of reiterating the command to the mom the flight attendant went from a firm tone to a gentle tone and talked directly to the daughter saying, "I don't know if the pilot will take off if you aren't in your seat with your seat belt on as he wants everyone to be safe so I think it would be really great if you were in your seat." 

The tone was amazing as was the compassion but there was still no willingness to comply and then the attendant leaned in and whispered something to the mother. I can only speculate on what was said and the mother whispered someone back and using logic I can only come to the conclusion that something along the lines of autism, or another developmental disability was said, and immediately there was a change of tactic and the flight attendant made it where both the daughter and mom had a seat belt on but the mom still had the daughter in her arms. 

This story won't go viral, and maybe autism wasn't in play at all (I suspect it, however although I could be way off base) but witnessing this, oh my, witnessing this is exactly what is the foundation for hope for the future. Some people think we need to reinvent everything to make the world a better place but in that flight attendant's compassion and empathy to the situation the chance of a humiliating and dehumanizing experience didn't happen and all went throughout their day as if nothing had happened, but here's the thing; something spectacular did happen and it will be a story few will read, there won't be a controversy and there won't be calls for reform, instead there was a mom caring for her daughter and a flight attendant simply doing her job to ensure the safety of the crew and making the needed accommodations without demanding obedience of her first request. There will be no fanfare but as a witness to this event my hope for the future has grown so to the flight attendant that did this I say thank you. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The season finale and what is, in my opinion, the most important statement about the autism spectrum. One note about this: in all the other episodes the statements used were created by me, but I wasn't the first one to say this; but I'm thankful this knowledge is out there.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Throwback that Transcended the Event

Sunday night was a special night and one I won't soon forget. The NASCAR event at Darlington, the Southern 500, became a throwback night. Throwbacks in sports have become popular among stick and ball sports where the teams will wear uniforms of years gone by. I can remember a Cardinals broadcast from about a decade ago in which the Orioles played the Cardinals for the first time since the O's were the Saint Louis Browns and the broadcast for the game started out in black and white and each inning progressed to what a modern day broadcast looks like. That was neat, but what NBC did Sunday night, for myself, transcended the sports world.

I am really enjoying the new NBC announcing crew and it's neat to hear Jeff Burton after seeing him at several USAC .25 events. However, for this throwback race in which many of the teams ran paint schemes from years ago NBC brought in Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, and Dale Jarrett to call part of the race. When I first heard of this I didn't think much of it, but when Rick Allen handed the call off to Ken Squier I froze.

Many classic races can be viewed on YouTube in their entirety; races I grew up watching with Ken Squier doing the play-by-play and Ned Jarrett either in the pits or in the booth during the CBS years and Ned was a mainstay in the booth on ABC/ESPN with Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons. Those were announcers I heard on the weekends which, when I was growing up, it was the weekend races on television that motivated me. It was all that I cared about, really, and I dreamt of the day that one of those announcers would make the call as I took the checkered. Obviously that dream of mine didn't play out (and thankfully so or I wouldn't be what I am doing) but the memories of those men in the booth are a strong part of my childhood.

So again, one can watch many classic races but it just isn't the same as watching an event live and as Ken, Ned, and Dale took the reigns from Rick, Jeff, and Steve I got goose bumps and it was a feeling as if I truly had gone back to a time when all things were possible and I was naïve to the world. Does that sound like I'm over selling it? If it does I can assure you I'm not. To add to the emotions of the race my dad was over at my house to watch the race so it felt like 1992 which sort of gave me a sinking feeling I had to get up to go to school the next morning.

It's rare in life that one can feel as if they've gone back twenty years. While a team wearing retro uniforms may give the appearance of years gone by the ability to suspend belief is simply not there. Sunday night, though, I closed my eyes and it felt like so many of the Daytona 500's, or a race from Talladega, or many of the other weekends I spent listening to these great announcers call a race.

There was a touching moment when Ken and Ned talked about Benny Parsons who passed away about a decade ago and that's when the scope of what we were watching truly hit me; for myself this wasn't simply about revisiting the past but it was also a reminder about savoring what is in the current because it isn't going to last forever.

Times change, announcers change, but the memories we have of events are there. 25 years from now I'm sure kids of today will have memories of races Mike Joy and Rick Allen called, and 50 years from now Sunday night's throwback event will maybe just be a footnote somewhere. However, that's a long ways off and I know I won't forget the 30+ minutes NBC gave to two legends of the sport. As Ken Squier started to hand it back off to Rick I noticed a bit of cracking in his voice that gave a strong hint that he was doing everything he could to hold back the emotions. He gave a most heartfelt thanks to NBC and that was it and the normality of what is now came back. I don't know if there were actual emotions in his voice, but the magnitude of that sign off was not lost on me. Will we ever hear Ned and Ken on a broadcast like that again? This isn't to take away from the current crew, but when one hears two people sign off that they grew up listening to it, for myself, evoked a strong emotional response.

Sure, in ten years we can go back to YouTube and re-watch that segment but there was something about watching it live, to hear two legends talk about the sport they love, to hear their voices after not being in the booth for 15 years, and I'm sure across the country others were doing what could, much like I think Ken was on his sign off, attempting to hold back emotions because, just like everything in life, we just don't know if we'll ever get to experience it again.