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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Does This Ferrari Make Me Look Fat?

Fifteen years ago this weekend my boyfriend and I were ensconced in a shabby, bleach-scented Econolodge in Monterey, California. The shower was crusted with the mold of decades of foggy coastal summers, the only memory of a sink stopper was a dangling, rusted chain, and the carpet was a cratered landscape of holes and cigarette burns. Tossing fitfully on the sagging bed, I wondered if we had made the right decision to leave our peaceful home in the Seattle suburbs to come here for an annual event that had lofted the price of our dreary room from two to three figures per night.
The answer came the following morning. Dawn had not yet pushed through the soft blanket of clouds that covers the central California coast in late summer when we were awakened by an otherworldly rumbling vibration that sent thrilling shockwaves through our chests and up our spines.
It was neither an earthquake nor a coin-operated vibra-bed. Hurriedly pulling on our sneakers and fleece jackets, Steve and I ran to the balcony and surveyed the parking lot below. In a space usually filled with muddy pickup trucks and undistinguished rental cars like the Olds Under-Achieva we had picked up at the San Jose airport, we saw a museum’s worth of vintage sports cars. We counted three Ferraris, two Lamborghinis and a Bugatti. All were in various states of undress as owners pulled off the car covers, wiped dust off the windshieilds and fired up the engines in a symphony of cylinders.
They say there’s someone for everyone. But by my early thirties I began to suspect that my parents secretly regretted allowing me to pursue any interests and adventures that could reasonably be undertaken. While liberating for me, this approach had left them with more than their fair share of sleepless nights. I snuck around the Red Zone roadblocks at Mount Saint Helens two weeks before the eruption, nearly overturned their sailboat in a Puget Sound storm after borrowing it with a group of my teenaged friends, and spent part of a night wandering around the Oregon desert after being inadvertently (I think) abandoned on a river-rafting trip. Most of my books were about travel adventures, and I knew more about housekeeping techniques in New Guinea than how to get rid of the dust bunnies in my apartment. I loved fishing, football and car racing.
Boyfriends came and went. Some were put off by a girl who, when told that he was going out for a beer with the guys to watch the Indy 500, responded with a gleeful smile and “Let me grab my coat!”
But just when it began to look as though I was going to spend the rest of my life alone with my cat, my passport and my foul-weather gear, along came Steve. He had a 24-foot sailboat. He had owned a succession of sports cars from an MG Midget to a Triumph TR6 and posessed a seemingly encylopedic knoweldge of every Italian, British and German car ever built. And as the son of a Pan Am flight engineer had traveled the world, sometimes riding in the cockpit. It was love.
One day, Steve announced that we were going to Monterey Weekend, an annual automotive Woodstock comprising collector car auctions, the Pebble Beach Concours antique car show, and vintage sports car races at the famous Laguna Seca track. I was thrilled, but quickly overtaken with anxiety as I studied the brochures. I clean up fairly well, but I was never going to posess the glossly radiance of the women pictured, who were as polished as the gleaming multimillion-dollar rolling sculptures among which they strolled.
I also quickly discovered that the event, centered around the luxury resort town of Carmel, was a sort of Burning Man for the hedge fund set: We parked between two Jaguars on Carmel’s main street and poked around the jewelry shops and art galleries looking for a sandwhich while Maseratis and Porsches cruised up and down the main drag, their drivers honking and waving at each other and passerby like some weird upscale small-town Saturday night. Entire clubs took over most of the local hotels: One bed and breakfast had a parking lot filled with nothing but bright red Ferrari 308s (the “Magnum, PI” car for those of you who remember). Another was completely booked by Alfa Romeos. The Porsche Club filled a third.
But a sense of wonder quickly overcame my misgivings. Everyone was having a marvelous time, from the Hollywood stars whose antique Duesenbergs and Ferraris were arrayed on the Pebble Beach greens for the Concours de Elegance, to the orthopedic surgeons and dealership owners whose vintage race cars roared around the track at Laguna Seca, to the average Joe whose $700 Fiat was consigned for sale alongside $250,000 Mercedes Gullwing. Steve and I dressed up and bought horribly overpriced catalogues so we could watch the auctions (“Do I hear a $300,000? Anyone? Ah, $350,000 from the phone bidder in Geneva”). We put on shorts and t-shirts and ate hot dogs and curly fries under the broiling sun at Laguna Seca, shouting to be heard over the angry hornets' nest of twenty 1960s-era Formula One cars tearing through the Corkscrew Curve. We donned straw hats and polo shirts for the Concorso Italiano and rambled among the color-coordinated displays of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Alfa Romeos at Quail Lodge, imagining ourselves driving home in this one or that one. And we spread a picnic blanket under the live oaks between families dressed in 1920s or 30s period costume, drinking Champagne while we watched the gleaming ocean-liner-like pre-WWII luxury sedans parade past in a hail of flashbulbs on the velvety grass in front of Pebble Beach Lodge.
One evening after an Italian dinner in Carmel, Steve said he wanted to walk down to the beach. It was dark and the evening’s chilly mist had already descended on the deserted shore. We took off our shoes off and trudged through the cold white sand. “Let’s climb up this hill and look at the ocean for a while,” said Steve. We scrambled up a short cliff, only to find ourselves on the edge of the very golf green on which we had watched the Concours earlier that day. By now the socialites, celebrities, automotive journalists, bankers, brokers and ordinanary spectators were safely ensconced for the evening in their B&Bs, luxury suites, or bleachy motor lodges. We gazed out over the foggy sea. The clouds parted briefly, revealing a crescent moon dipping toward the horizon. Steve took my hand. “Will you marry me?” Utterly flumoxed, I blurted out, “Can you repeat the question?” Instead, Steve handed me a ring, and I said “Yes!”
We walked, or rather, glided as though borne on the pillowy suspension of a custom Delahaye, back up to the Hog’s Breath Inn. In the central couryard, under an immense oak tree and surrounded by a half-dozen roaring gas fireplaces, a resilient Alfa Romeo club was making a boisterous last stand againt the damp chill. When they saw us and heard we had just gotten engaged, they erupted into cheers. One member yell to Steve, “You can still get out of this, I’m a lawyer.” Steve politely declined the offer of legal advice, pointing out that his lovely bride-to-be was also an attorney. We celebrated with these strangers late into the night.
The next day it was back to the San Jose airport rental-car return lot, a plane back home, and the rest of our lives together.

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