He staggers, feet tripping up, clothes disheveled, eyes glossy, a low growl coming from his throat. Behind him, three young ladies, a cautious laughter to their lips as they keep a safe but curious distance from this strange creature. He clutches an off-white bag in his left hand. Grease darkens the bottom.
"Is that his house?" one of the girls says to the other two, more giggles. He stumbles towards steps of a house as if it is his house but just as he makes the bottom step, he darts left, quickly, but without aim and continues down Fowler just right of the sidewalk towards Northwestern.
The zombies have come to campus. Farther down Fowler Avenue, right from there on N. River Rd. and another left you find yourself in the Levee. The parking lot has undergone a transformation. That morning around 5 am students started lining up in front of the doors. What they left behind at noon was a scene of apocalypse. Literal piles of garbage lie around the building, in the parking lot, and more was being created by a staffer with a shovel scooping up the debris of debauchery and empty bottles.
Neon Cactus, the host of this bedlam, has never been the purest of places. The place is often a mess of messy people, but even for them this seemed indecent. There was a darkness hanging over the place, a loose drunkenness that combined with the heavy fog of sleep-deprived twenty-something year-olds to create a general foreboding like you'd find in the silence of a scene in a horror movie.
Jimmy Simpson has now won 4 of the 59 Grand Prix's at Purdue. This will probably be the only time I write his name. The only time you'll ever read it. If you weren't at the track or didn't watch online, it'll mean nothing to you. It shouldn't mean anything to you. Glorified Go-Kart racing is hardly a sport that draws much publicity or attention.
However, if you were there, you'll probably not ever forget his name.
I don't know anything about racing. I have never driven a go kart or know the proper name of what they're driving. I can't even drive a stick-shift, let alone race around a track with a bunch of other cars in my way. What I know, is that greatness does not need explanation or an introduction. Michael Jordan walked onto a basketball court and everyone in the building knew he was the best player on the court.
Here's where you worry that I'm gonna go on a tirade about Jimmy Simpson being the Micheal Jordan of Irrelevancy, but I won't. What I'm going to say is that what makes sports not just beautiful but transcendent is these tiny moments of glory and greatness. They don't exist in trophy cases. They don't show up on stat sheets. They do exist on tiny race tracks in West Lafayette. They exist on basketball courts during pick-up games. They exist on tiny mounds with little kids trying to find the corner of the plate.
If you've played sports, chances are you've experienced this phenomenon. It comes together on a perfectly executed step-back jumper. It exists there as you recognize the spin on a baseball and wait for that breaking ball to fall right into your sweet spot. It erupts from your arm as you toss that perfectly placed go route to your receiver. It settles into your fingertips as you place the perfect chip shot.
Today, if you were at the race track, you saw it as Jimmy Simpson perfectly braked going into a turn before exploding around it with just the right subtle touch to keep him out in front most of the race. That was his glory. That was his zone as Blake Griffin would say. That's the beauty of sports. The trophies are great. The Glory is great. But it's that feeling that transcends past the spoken, past the understood, and into a realm of such pure delight to watch and experience that made going to the track worth it. Those are the moments that will stick with me after everything has been written.
It's an hour walk back from the track to the Neon Cactus. The clouds have lifted. The uneasy quiet gone. Ackerman's laid out before me, bare, being reanimated, too. She is still carved up, showing bones and work lines, but between all that is hills and green and beautiful views. She'll breath again, too, for the better. I was struck then by an urge to walk in the middle of her and just lay there, stretching out, breathing and being. A strange sensation, particularly so, considering the alcohol I managed to consume on my earlier stroll had worn off after the two hour race.
I checked my wrist. 18,000 steps. A few thousand more and I would cross that imaginary line where the party vibe would start again. There would be large houses, with old ancient letters and ridiculously tall chairs, and there would be music bouncing out windows. Footballs would be tossed. Slip n Slides would be stretched to their limits. Two people will kiss for the first time.
I will walk home and write this. I'll feel as if despite my now attending 'Grand Prix' for the first time, that most of it has passed me by. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I'm too isolated. Maybe it's just not my thing. That's how life works. Not everything is global. It's not for everyone.
But I'll think of the race, of Jimmy Simpson, of those turns, and appreciate the shared experience sports can give you when you feel other things passing you by.
So thanks, guy who wasn't letting anyone pass him by today.