Friday, November 27, 2009

An Annual Heartwarming,yet Pathetic Thanksgiving Tale

This isn’t a Thanksgiving recipe. It’s more a series of events that became a recipe for disaster.

You see, my wife and I like to spend weekends on Eastern Long Island. It’s nice to get away from the concrete jungle of NYC for peaceful time at the beach. Nothing beats salt air and the squawk of the sea gulls, especially when the beach is empty.

Out east, our place is tiny. It’s about as big as the bathroom in Dale Jr.’s motor coach. Our kitchen is tiny, and we no family in the Hamptons. So one particular Thanksgiving, for turkey dinner, we headed to a mom-and-pop diner we’d patronized before near Riverhead Raceway. Viviane likes the diner’s rustic feel, and I prefer the small-town prices compared to Southampton’s shi-shi designer joints with small portions on the plates and large portions of jewelry on the patrons.

That particular Thanksgiving, as my wife and daughter and I settle into our booth, things feel disjointed. The restaurant seems...different. Two cheery squeaky clean peach-cheeked clear-eyed buxom-blonde teenage Christian girls immediately slap down with sympathetic smiles plates of steaming turkey, spilling over with rich gravy and fluffy trimmings. No menu, they just bring piles of food.

Looking around, the other patrons quietly enjoying their dinners are a bit, well...different. Disenfranchised, could you say? Now, my family isn’t dressed for the Prom; Riverhead is still largely a blue-collar town, and yours truly has on old sweats that have been near the tide but not the Tide, if you know what I mean. I’m in dire need of a haircut, presently resembling Boris Said with Bed Head.

But even I look more formal and generally presentable than the others. The men wear greasy caps and scraggly growth on sad faces. The women appear as if they’ve been around the block several times at a high rate of speed. We are in Kansas no more.

Indeed, as our wide eyes scan the room, it soon becomes very clear the Giangolas are enjoying a soup kitchen Thanksgiving dinner with the homeless.
Andrew Giangola's book, "THE WEEKEND STARTS ON WEDNESDAY: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans" is available for pre-order on the and the NASCAR.COM SuperStore

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Can a Stereotype be Funny?

I attended Gaby’s middle school graduation earlier this week. I was dressed nicely (upon my wife’s strong suggestion.) As an aside, some of the girls were dressed as if they were getting ready to sit in a storefont window in Amsterdam. Gaby had on a sensible black dress and flats.

Today, a boy approached Gaby and asked, “Was that your dad with the glasses at graduation?” (Everyone in NYC has Lasik, I’m the last person in the Manhattan under 80 yrs old left wearing glasses.)

Gaby says, “Yeah, why?”

Kid goes, “Doesn’t he work for NASCAR?”

Gaby says, “Yeah, why?”

The kid says, “Because he looks like a classy New Yorker, not someone who’d work for NASCAR.”

Friday, March 27, 2009

I've Died and Gone to Sports Bar Heaven

It’s the biggest calendar-related news in NASCAR since Darlington’s Labor Day race migrated westward. Maybe bigger, because when the crown jewel is involved, people talk.

As any die-hard sports fan with calluses on his butt knows, the NFL is considering moving the Super Bowl, also known as "the Daytona 500 of football," back two weeks, to accommodate more new games on the pro football schedule.

The “Big Game” would potentially fall on the date of the Daytona 500, traditionally scheduled for the Sunday before the third week in February. (Not to be confused with the third Monday of February, which is Washington's Birthday, or the second Tuesday in November, which is Election Day, or the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox, which would be Easter.)

A possible NFL schedule change probably won’t happen until its 2012 season. But already, sports pundits writing for the newspapers still in business are pushing for NASCAR to move the Great American Race.

Since I’ve been on Facebook all day, I haven’t had a single conversation with anyone at NASCAR about this. I came up for enough air to see the news, and immediately thought, Did I just die and go to sports bar heaven?

With absolutely no inside knowledge because I have a big mouth and who would trust me with anything, I’m reckoning what we have here is the looming, blooming, booming specter of the most spectacular double-header in sports history: The Daytona 500 leading into the Super Bowl.
I hope my TV screen doesn’t burst in all the excitement.

These two action-packed sports have a lot in common. They’re number-one and number-two in ratings, draw the biggest live crowds, and are marked by intricate strategy, violent hits, yellow flags, pomp, circumstance, a heckuva National Anthem, and new commercials. NASCAR and the NFL are made for one another.

Double up their marquee events on the same day, and the other networks might as well go off the air or run a yule log.

I know what you’re asking: What about the Super Bowl pre-game show? Let me ask you, have you met a single person who’s watched the Super Bowl pre-game show?

But won’t the Great American Race overlap with the NFL title game?

The green flag would have to drop at the Daytona 500 a few hours earlier. But the massive exposure produced by the double-header would be worth it. Take Coors Light, the official beer of NASCAR and the NFL. Imagine the gargantuan Coors supermarket displays. Race cars will be flying through goal posts made of Silver Bullets all the way into the frozen food aisle.

This dynamic doubleheader would be an absolute bonanza for Sprint, too. The title sponsor to NASCAR’s premier series and official partner of the NFL would own the day. A company would basically have to rename itself “Thanksgiving” to reap this level of overall branding dominance during a single day on the calendar.

Undoubtedly, dozens of thorny logistical and contractual details lay in the way for scheduling these behemoth sporting events on the same day. I’d bet they could be worked out. I wish I had the time to consider them myself, but I need to get back on Facebook.

Andrew Giangola is writing a book on remarkable NASCAR fans titled, THE WEEKEND STARTS ON WEDNESDAY. He posted this blog merely to get you to read that last sentence, as he attempts to secure a book deal, and the whoring of the entire project begins.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jennifer Hudson and Serial Killers

Super Bowl Sunday, lots of teenage girls are getting ready for the Big Game and a glimpse of Jennifer Hudson lip synching the National Anthem. But G wanted to hit Barnes & Noble.

She asks for money for the bookstore. The wife gives her 80 bucks. I’m secretly having a heart attack, though G is good about bringing back the change.

She leaves the house with black jeans covered in menacing silver zippers, high shiny black books with a mile of laces, and a skull-and-crossbones hand bag. I’m wondering how G got so sleek and tall and where this child actually came from.

Later, she arrives home with a thick book about Serial Killers.

She spends the whole afternoon reading it, mostly serious – really studying the content – but occasionally smiling and giggling.

I slept OK that night, though the bedroom door was locked.

Lately, V and I hadn’t had much luck talking with this infinitely complicated 13-year old girl. But the last few nights, G is an ocean of words. She's giving us detailed psychological explanations of the serial killer nature v. nurture argument (as kids, most serial killers were pyromaniac bed wetters who tortured animals); knocking back the myth most serial killers are caucasian (they pretty much mirror the population, you just don’t hear about black people getting killed because blacks tend to kill blacks – just as whites tend to kill whites – and the media will put the murder of a rich white socialite on the cover but a dozen black girls disappearing in the projects doesn’t rate), and making the case that believing there are very few female serial killers is wrong (the first woman serial killer dates back to the 15th century.)

So next time you see gruesome pictures of body parts preserved in some quiet dude’s fridge, there is a silver lining.

That usually white male former pyromaniac animal torturing bed wetter is bringing my daughter and me closer.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Springsteen Belongs in Daytona, Not Tampa Bay

Who isn’t lost in the flood of hype about Bruce Springsteen performing at the Super Bowl halftime show?

But it’s all wrong. The Boss should be playing two weeks later, across the state at a much bigger live event, The Daytona 500. This great American rocker is made for The Great American Race.

It's simple. Bruce is a car guy. His songs take place on Rattlesnake Speedways in the Utah desert, not football stadiums. He sings of wrecks on the highway, not fumbles in the end zone. His honey is working it in the back of a pink Cadillac, not the sidelines of Lambeau Field.

Springsteen wants you to strap your hands cross his engine, not his shoulder pads. He’s never written about flea flickers and high ankle sprains. He’s asking you to crawl into his ambulance, not a golf cart headed to the locker room following a helmet-to-helmet collision. He wrote a song called "Stolen Car," not “We Illegally Taped Your Practice.”

The Boss's own heart is disconnected from this Super Bowl. He says he knows nothing about football. Whereas the inaugural ball performance of “The Rising” was pitch perfect in performance and context, the 12-minute halftime show isn't fully relevant to the Boss. He admits a strict marketing play.

Some fans are crying “sell out,” but that’s harsh.

In this iTunes era, to have a successful release an artist has to basically shut out the struggling corner music store and sell his exclusive soul to a big box retailer (which Springsteen did, with great regrets in placing a recent Greatest Hits disc). The Boss admitted he brought the band to Tampa Bay only to do “something big” and draw attention to his new CD, "Working on a Dream."

Springsteen is rock’s most enduring and legendary performer, an indefatigable showman still giving sweat-drenched three-hour plus acts at 59 years old. (In fact, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have been to a Springsteen show and the uninitiated.) To know and appreciate Springsteen is to experience him live. The Boss will play to, what, 80,000 people at the NFL championship? Tickets for this game, and the crap shoot of whether the fourth quarter will even matter, will run fans the rough equivalent of the GDP of Honduras.

The "Big Game" -- the sport refered to is known without even mentioning it -- is one of the world's great sports spectacles. But in the grandstands on Sunday, it's doubtful there will be very few of the common, working class folks inspiring the Boss's songs and accounting for millions of his album sales.

Had Bruce waited two weeks, at Daytona International Speedway, he and the E Street Band would be playing to nearly 200,000 hard-working Americans more worthy of his amazing blue-collar energy and durable songs about the redemptive power of the automobile. A $55 ticket to the Great American Race can be had for about 1/20th the price of the cheaper seats at the Super Bowl.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll tune in and crank it up. I had the black and gold jacket as a kid on Long Island and will be pulling for the Steelers. But half time is what's attracting me to this game. While the prospect of seeing McCartney, the Stones and Tom Petty on the world’s biggest TV stage since four mop tops from Liverpool brought their glorious “yeah yeah yeahs” to the Ed Sullivan Show had been pretty cool, the Boss brings the whole halftime rock show concept to new levels.

In fact, many people are more psyched for Bruce's mini-concert than the game itself. The brief song lineup is shrouded in complete secrecy. Odds-makers had to shut down a site taking bets on the song selections, so many people had flooded it.

On a grand stage, when the Steelers and Cardinals take a break, it will be 12 unforgettable minutes of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But the Boss, car guy at heart on a last chance power drive, should have chosen Daytona on February 15, where he wouldn’t be the only hot rod angel rumbling to the promised land.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dog Face

My wife was speaking French to her Belgian relatives. She is a bit out of practice. She wanted to say a young boy has strong character in his face. Instead, she told her cousin her son has dog features.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Am Not A Superstar

As I squeezed into rented boots, my daughter G warned, “Papa, stay away from black diamonds with a menacing name.”

The precocious 12-year-old knew her dad and the mountain. She knows me from years of listening to my inane comments. She knows the mountain after hours of studying the Killington trail map on the drive to Vermont. Indeed, trails named “Panic Button,” “Devil’s Fiddle” and “Vertigo” can be menacing to a sporadic intermediate skier with no business attempting steep runs on notorious east coast ice.

Following the longest season in sports, the only real vacation any of us in the industry get is around Christmas. (I hope I can say that word that without offending anyone.) After that, everyone’s preparing for the new season in Daytona. The current season ends, then come the Series banquets, then Daytona looming over your head like a safe dangling on piano wire. A late-December respite in Vermont with my family is the so-called much-needed battery charge.

The day after Christmas, we were enjoying light lift lines. The mercury was hovering at a comfortable 30 degrees. This was my trip to move beyond an “intermediate” level of skiing; I’d have four more days to distinguish myself and get better.

For the proverbial Last Run of the Day, my wife and I came across a black diamond called “Superstar.” Certainly, this name would pass a concerned daughter’s muster: strong and confident with notions of red, white and blue achievement, Wonder Woman, Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps in their USA Speedos.

V is smooth and light on her skis. She describes my style as Jean-Claude Kiley on the green bunny runs and Jerry Lewis on the blacks.

Today, Jerry is absent. I haven’t gone down once. The legs feel good. It’s time to master the elements, move past the fat part of the bell curve for skiing proficiency, and enter the rarified realm of the expert. I am a super star.

I point a pole to the beckoning trail sign: Superstar. V nods, and a bad idea quickly builds momentum with the trail’s steepening decline and slick surface turning into wind-blown moguls. (Are the scary bumps called “moguls,” because they resemble the shape of Donald Trump’s hair?)

My wife is out in front, finding her way down the suddenly icy difficult slope. I pick up too much speed through the bumps, heading left. I try to cut back in a groove between moguls. I’m off balance. The skis hit a rut and pull to the side. The physics are all wrong. My top heavy body surges forward as if launched from a circus cannon. Except my arms aren’t planted stoic at my sides. This is a flailing, out-of-control, agony-of-defeat cartwheel.

NASCAR drivers have said they see crashes happening in slow motion. Wayne Gretzky once explained when he scored a goal, time slowed, the puck looked to be the size of a pizza pie, the goal as wide as the Hoover Dam. None of that for me. The Fall happens fast – an instantaneous, oh-snap blur. I see nothing but a glittering white canvas screaming toward my face. Greg Louganis couldn’t have hit the surface at a more precise 90-degree angle. The snow goes crunch. I bounce like a Super Ball. On the second revolution, my head smacks the rock-hard surface like a bowling ball dropped from your roof. Finally, silence.

It is a sad reflection of our You Tube culture that sitting there, thankfully breathing albeit stunned though reassured my skull was not split like a rotten pumpkin, I wonder if the spastic circus-act flop was captured on video from the chair lift. I’m destined to be an internet laughing stock. Without royalties.

No cameras. No laughing. I’m alone, in one piece. This can’t be that bad. The morning papers said a Manhattan window washer survived a 47-story fall.

All my digits are moving, but I can’t get up.

I realize that initial crunch wasn’t the give of snow. It was a bone breaking.

My wife kept her wits and balance, and had pulled to a stop below. The grade was too steep for her to ascend the hill to help. All is OK, I reassure her with a lefty thumbs up. The right arm is dead. No worries, I’m cool. The covenant of marriage allows you to tell your life partner things you do not believe. She tells passing skiers following her gaze up the mountain, “Oh, he’s fine. He’s just catching his breath.”

All I can do is flash a dumb smile and that thumbs up with the arm I can move.

“Baby, just put your skis on and ski on down!” she urges.

Maybe an expert skier could do that. I’m just an eternal intermediate, forever checking that middle box on the rental line, a reckless overachiever who flirted with bragging rights beyond his proficiency and has paid the price. As the commercial says, I’ve fallen and can’t get up. I’m not a senior citizen yet, but should have Life Alert. Why couldn’t the run have been named “Devil’s Emergency Room” to scare me away? I try to stand, but the shoulder is shot and powerless, and I slide on my ass across the slippery surface, faster and faster down the hill, ah shit, I am picking up speed, until I can dig boot heels into the ice.

I catch my breath. The slope is quiet. I crawl, inches at a time, across the mountain, toward the woods. Isn’t that where animals go to die?

A ski instructor waves his poles and calls down from the lift. “Do you need me to radio for help?”

On those lifts, I’ve looked down at the powerless humiliation of the injured, the daring, the clumsy, those unfortunate skiers who are strapped in and carted away on the Red Cross snow sled stretcher. Yeah, call it in. Now I’ll know how it feels to be present for your own public funeral procession. Like driving a stock car at the track in Charlotte, I’ll check off another bucket-list experience.

V says they closed Superstar after my crash. Too treacherous; some intermediate from New York City took the black diamond and nearly got killed on the lower moguls. My fast-fading manhood is revived. It was the ferocious mountain, not me. Mother Nature won today’s battle, the war is mine. I am a superstar. Of course, V was probably conjuring a well-meaning fib, something a married woman says with the best of intentions but not a shred of truth.

The doctor examining me says he’ll take x-rays but it looks like a broken collar bone. “What do you do for a living?” he asks.

I’m with NASCAR, I tell him. He makes eye contact for the first time and asks if Jimmie Johnson is going to win a third championship.

I see in the mirror I basically have no right shoulder. Its disappearance is a sickening sight. My arm is dangling low like an ape’s, the shoulder completely gone. I want to puke.

“This looks pretty bad. Do I need surgery?”

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I want to know this. Earnhardt moving to Hendrick: is that going to change the competitive balance in the sport. I mean, Dale Junior, Gordon, Johnson – that’s like a Murderers Row or the Purple People eaters. What a lineup! They’re gonna dominate!”

I’m in starting to shiver, slipping into shock maybe. The pain is starting to spread to my chest. I’m wondering if they’ll screw rods into my body, and I’ll be limping around like Evel Knevel.

“Do I have to stay in the hospital?” I ask.

“We’ll fix you up here, and you’ll be out in just a few. You did hit pretty hard. How about those HANS devices and new softer walls? They really have made NASCAR much safer, haven’t they?”

“Doctor, I’m on the first day of a five day vacation. Do I have to go home? We can get back to New York in about five hours.”

“It’s up to you. Frankly, you’ll at first be uncomfortable wherever you are. You can stay in the lodge. Hey, speaking of New York, is it true that track’s not going to happen?”

This dance goes on for a few more minutes. The doctor gives me a Velcro controlled sling and a bottle of horse pills for the pain. He tells me to see an orthopedic surgeon back in New York. As I'm walking out the door he asks if I'll be in Daytona in February. I keep walking, looking forward to the first handful of pills.