Friday, May 31
Warm, Sunny, High 96
Today is a non-traveling day. I am spending it at Watkins Glen. My campsite in the woods is a delight. The endless variety of green dappled light is a salve for the soul. Birds outnumber campers 1,000 to 1. Their songs dance through the canopy. At dark they are accompanied by low deep throated frogs.
I ate breakfast at Curly’s – breakfast-lunch-dinner – Restaurant at the south end of town. I say the following with absolute sincerity: Curly’s is the cleanest restaurant I’ve ever been in. I only saw the dining area, I can’t vouch for the kitchen, but the the dining room and everything in it was spotless. It can hold 96 patrons. (I count seats. I do this in theaters too.) The six diners this morning were evenly spaced, causing the elderly waitress to walk vast distances keeping coffee cups filled. I complimented her on the cleanliness of the place. “Thank you sir, that means ever so much to have someone say that. It means everything to us.”
From Curly’s to Dunkin’ Donuts where I wrote yesterday’s journal entry. Then back up (the State Park Campground is high above the lake & valley floor) to my campsite for a change into lighter clothes and preparations to walk Watkins Glen Gorge. The Gorge is a 12,000 year old narrow cut in the escarpment above the lake. It is 1.5 miles long with many waterfalls. The walkway is damp and slippery. Cliffs tower above as you walk along, sometimes in deep darkness, other times in brilliant sunlight. Water cascades from above. It is primordial and inviting.
Although it is not advertised, there is a spring along the walk with the purest water imaginable. It has no trace of minerals whatsoever. It is the taste of water by which all other water is measured. A welcome refreshment on a day becoming blazingly hot. As State Parks go, Watkins Glen is a must see. I think the gorge is that impressive.
Afterward, I putted around town doing a few unnecessary errands and then back up to the campsite for a rest in the shade. Next on my agenda was heading out to the Watkins Glen Racetrack. It is high on a hill a couple of miles southwest of town. The track is in the middle of a four day Porsche club race. The town is filled with Porches. My nearest camping neighbors, Regina & Peter are down from London, Ontario, Canada to watch. Peter is an amateur racer himself.
I followed the highway south out of town and up the hill to the track. I came to entrance #2. The roar and vibration of engines was palpable. No one was in line to get in. I cruised up to the gate and a man ambled out to greet me. I said I was just there to see what I could see and get a few photographs. I didn’t say this, but I was hoping not to pay an entrance fee. The fellow was very accommodating. He said I could go in to the grandstand area. I was not allowed on the infield. He pointed to a massive grandstand just up the hill and then said I had to sign a release form. I did. No charge. Up to the grandstand I went. Except for the roar (now considerably louder) of engines, the place was eerily quiet. There just wasn’t anyone around. I parked, collected my camera and entered the grandstand. There were two people sitting there. It could hold 4,000. We waved. I walked to the top and began watching what had been vibrating in my bones since I arrived. Porches. Porches going fast, very fast. They swooped out of a turn high to my right, downhill in a counterclockwise direction into a sharp righthand turn going uphill. At the top was a left turn taking them out of sight.
These cars are going frighteningly fast. Testosterone permeates the track. As best as I can calculate it takes them just over a minute to get around the track. I don’t know how long the course is. After several laps I could make out the truly fast aggressive drivers and the more timid ones. Some cars were adorned with sponsor names, others had only a number on the door as if it were put there after they drove in from a daily commute. All drivers handled their cars well, some were just plain faster than others. All were coming into that low tun at over 100 miles per hour. The possibility of a horrific crash was ever present.
I stood at the top of the grandstand trying to photograph the speed I experienced. I am no action photographer. You’ll have to take my word for the roar of the engines and smell of testosterone. I saw the brake lights of a car climbing the hill come on. Then I saw a flagger put out a yellow caution flag. Cars coming into view were all slowing down. All the Porches came to a stop where they were on the track. A big pickup truck entered the track from the infield. A minute later a large tow truck got on the track and headed up around the turn out of sight. The ambulance I could see, did not move. There must have been a mechanical breakdown.
Later that night I was talking to Peter. He told me it was a crash. On a steep downhill section a car became airborne doing several barrel rolls in the air and landing on its wheels. The driver was stunned, but uninjured. I’m glad it had a good outcome and that I did not see it happen. There is a morbid spectator fascination with this sport I do not wish to indulge.
The two other people in the stands left and I decided to do the same. It was unclear whether the race would restart. Later, again from Peter, I learned this was just warm up for races over the weekend. Wow, some hobby.
I found a quieter way back down into the town of Watkins Glen. I found the public library and the local secret street to use for avoiding traffic on Main Street. The air conditioning was seductive. Around the corner was a supermarket and next to it an auto parts store. Before I got some food for the evening, I thought I would try to find a particular item to make my travels more enjoyable.
Here’s the thing: I am carrying an extra two gallon gas can. I just purchased it a few weeks ago. If you haven’t purchased a gas can recently you may not know there has been a change in gas can technology. No, not the shift from metal to plastic cans, but a change in spout technology. Spout technology? Yep. Gone are the long narrow open spouts you screw on the end of your gas can. They’ve been replaced with a two-piece, spring-loaded, capped end contraption. You must place your hand on the far end, twist a little, then push the end back toward the can (with resistance from a spring.) This exposes a plastic tip designed to dribble out gasoline once the can is turned upside down. Why the change in spout technology? Flame broiled yahoos. You can find videos of this on YouTube. Some drunken fools (more than one it appears) decided it was a good idea to pour gasoline from a can onto a campfire or barbecue. Flames ran back up the gas stream and set them on fire. They hired a lawyer and the lawyer sued the gas can manufacturer. They won. Millions in damages and the company went out of business. So a new nozzle was engineered that would allow gas to come out, but not in a stream. New spout technology.
Okay. I have one of these new spouts on my can. For the sober non-yahoo it is a pain in the ass. When I fill Ruby’s tank I get gas all over my hands and on top of Ruby. At first I thought it was me, an old man with new technology and all that. No, anecdotal stories confirm the new nozzles are universally disliked. My solution? Throw the nozzle away and use a funnel. I haven’t tested this yet, I don’t know how pouring gas directly from the can’s opening will work. Keep watching YouTube for cataclysmic updates.
Next post: Why John has so much time to write a long journal entry…