Thursday, November 19, 2009


In honer of Jose Montoya, who passed away yesterday.

Last Saturday though, Jose and I did do something interesting. We attended the Red Bull (the tasty energy drink (I've never had one)) Soapbox Race, held right here in downtown Los Angeles, at the intersection of Fifth and Grand, right near the Central Library and my bank. That area is also known as Bunker Hill, where all the bunkers are, and which has a steep incline on Fifth from Olive St up to Grand, and an even steeper incline from Fifth and Grand, on Grand up to Fourth St. As chance would have it, the organizers of the event took advantage of the natural street topography, and set the race course exactly along the lines just mentioned, only in reverse. Gravity being rather intractable, the event planners, quite rightly in my opinion, planed to have the 40 soapbox contestants begin their short, crazed journey from the highest point at Fourth and Grand, speeding down to Fifth St., where a large platform was erected to make a radical left banking turn onto Fifth, and finally down to Olive and the finish line. Bales of straw were placed on each side of the projected racetrack, marking the boarders, and two ramps were located along the course, acting as a jumping obstacle. The time it takes to finish this short tract would probably be about sixty seconds... if you finished. Of the six races Jose and I viewed, two thirds of the racers did not complete the course, either crashing into the straw bales, losing a wheel, or toppling over while turning. Several of the small, human powered vehicles up-ended entirely, briefly trapping the drivers underneath the cars. No serious injuries were reported however.
Jose and I arrived about an hour before the race was to begin. There were a lot of people already there, lining the race course, and generally making a nuisance of themselves... or at least for me and Jose. I thought at least several thousand were in attendance, only to learn the following day the crowd was estimated at 111,000. Plus me and Jose. This puzzled Jose.
"That puzzles me," Jose said to me on Sunday. "How do they come up with that number? Is someone there counting everyone?"
I told him I didn't know for sure, but that the police probably had some experience in estimating the size of large gatherings. I asked him if he wanted to visit the police station and ask them.
"Do you think they'd tell us?"
Jose and I slowly made our way through the crowd. He wanted to go up to the staging area near Forth St. to take pictures of the soapbox cars. It took a while to get there, and by the time he was finished taking photos of half the cars I told him we should go find a place to watch the races.
As it happens, we found a place right at the starting gate that wasn't too crowded yet. A large monitor stood nearby which would allow us to see the remainder of the course when the races began. The local affiliate of Fox was here covering the event, with the saucy co-host of Good Day L.A., Jillian Barberie Reynolds, and some other guy announcing the race over very loud speakers. The comedian, Paul Rodriguez was up on the stage near us, telling jokes, sometimes, quite often it seemed clear he was having difficulty thinking up things to talk about. When the race began he eased into his duties of introducing each team, and seemed more at ease.
Former C.H.I.P.S. star, Erik Estrada, and American Idle runner up, Kimberly Caldwell (lovely woman) were two of the three judges. I don't know who the third was. Ms Caldwell also graced the crowd with her rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, doing an excellent job singing that very difficult song.
Before everything began, before Kimberly sang, and the first soapbox took off, two morons jumped out of a hovering helicopter, 5,000 feet up directly overhead, who seemed to be on fire. At least smoke was trailing close behind them. I'm not kidding! There's a picture of them above!
Fortunately they remembered to wear their parachutes, and safely landed down near Olive St. I think.
Soon the race started. Jose and I witnessed the first six races, drivers 2, 3, 4, and 5 crashing before the finish, with number 6 actually judged the winner of the day.
We had to leave when Jose began to melt in the hot sun (it was hot and sunny that day), and we waded back through the crowd, back to our respective boxes.
Although this is not an annual event, I will be on the lookout for the next time Red Bull produces this contest, so I can get to work on the Skid Row Housing Trust Razer Striped Aero Speed Bomber.

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