Southern food & supercars

Southern food and supercars 3

The Ferrari & Maserati dealership on Capitol Hill has been an oblique part of my community the entire time that I’ve lived in Seattle: always there in the background but entirely out of reach, something I interact with only through longing glances and idle daydreams. I’d wanted to make the experience that they sell a concrete part of my world for a long time—“drive a Ferrari” seems like too pedestrian a term to really do the concept justice—but supercars, as $200,000-plus exotic sports cars are known, are generally inaccessible to anyone but the ultra-wealthy. I’ve owned an S2000, which is among the best real-world driving cars ever built, but Ferraris and Lamborghinis specifically had always been my Platonic conception of automotive perfection. They functioned, for me, as little more than blank canvasses on which to paint all of my hopes and desires about what an automobile could be. In my dreams I’ve tricked salesmen in that little showroom into letting me go on test drives and then proceeded to lead police on beautiful cross-country manhunts into Mexico and beyond, but in the real world I’d only stopped to stare as they passed me on the street or admired them through the glass windows of a showroom…until this past Saturday.

The trend of drawing comparisons between supercars and supermodels is wildly off-base for a number of reasons, but one thing it does speak to is the fetishization of an unrealistic version of perfection and happiness. “If only I had a supermodel girlfriend/wife and a couple of supercars, then I’d be really happy” is the hyperbolic form of a consistent message that’s delivered to little boys starting at a very young age—my favorite Hot Wheels car when I was in third grade was a little yellow Lamborghini with working gull-wing doors, and I don’t think I have to convince anyone of the unrealistic body standards that dominate depictions of women in global media. I set up my life in opposition to perfection and exoticism immediately after college, which for me has meant experiencing as much as possible of the world around me for myself and learning to see things for what they really are rather than for what I want them to be. My relationships to women have improved dramatically since my younger days, but I’d never really stopped carrying around that little yellow Lamborghini inside my head and waiting for the opportunity to experience the real thing for myself.

I’m not alone in my fanatic “brand identification,” as a marketer would put it, and there’s a whole cottage industry that’s sprung up around slaking the desire to experience the pinnacle of automotive perfection for oneself. My point of entry was a LivingSocial deal that popped up a few months back, offering three autocross laps in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini—your choice—for just $150. I jumped on it immediately, not because I wanted to take the exoticism off of the experience but because I hadn’t yet realized my own lack of self-awareness around the issue. Should I have known going in that the experience was bound to disappoint me? Should I have seen it for what it really was instead of for what I wanted it to be? Probably—but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Tacoma, in addition to being the location of the apartment I lived in for the first 7 months that I lived in the northwest, is home to Southern Kitchen, a little hole in the wall that serves the best southern food I’ve found in this part of the world. It’s one of my favorite restaurants, but it also functions as a kind of liminal space—between the cultural traditions of my old life in Texas and my new life in Seattle, between the two locuses of my personal history in the Pacific Northwest, and, since going there for breakfast has generally become a birthday tradition since I moved back to Seattle in 2009, between one year of my life and the next. I stopped there Saturday morning en route to the peninsula for catfish with fried okra, collard greens, sweet tea, and a corn cake to start my day off right—solely because of the food, if I’m being honest, but in hindsight I like to think of it as an ontological checkpoint on my way to debunking one of the Platonic forms that I’ve lived with since I was a kid.

That debunking happened in Shelton, Washington, at the southeastern part of the Olympic Peninsula in a huge parking lot on a small airfield that seemed to be used primarily as a base for several skydiving operations, one of which was practicing jumps while I was there. I showed up not really knowing what to expect but excited at the idea of F1-style paddle shifting, 500+ horsepower and ungodly amounts of torque, the most precise handling and most responsive brakes imaginable, seats that would conform perfectly to my body, cockpit ergonomics that would feel like an extension of my soul…a holistic experience, in other words, that would perfectly match the dazzling visuals, impressive powertrain stats, and astronomical price tags that were heretofore my only window into this world.

I wasn’t alone, either. The faithful had come from all over the region, including one family I met who had driven up from southern Oregon just for the occasion and another guy who owned a vintage Dodge Viper but still couldn’t resist the call—tales were swapped of the best on-track driving experiences in the country (the  Richard Petty Driving Experience in Orlando and the Poconos Raceway in Pennsylvania both got high marks), we were upsold extra laps and ride-alongs with professional drivers as we were waiting in line with our helmets on and our adrenaline starting to kick in, and permeating it all was the sound of 560 horsepower in second gear accelerating down straightaways and swerving around turns. Lamborghinis became “Lambos,” a steady procession of skydivers circling down into the field beyond the track served as an interesting backdrop to the main action, and the GoPro on the right side of my helmet pulled my head ever so slightly to the right as I stood under a canopy waiting my turn and not even trying to wipe the smile from my face.

The rules were simple: three laps around a makeshift track made out of plastic traffic cones in the car of your choice, with a professional driver in the passenger seat. When I checked in they offered me an extra three laps for half what my Living Social deal had cost me (which itself was 70% off the general rate), so being an easy mark I went for it, and got to drive the course first in a Ferrari, then in a Lamborghini…and then, when the video from the Ferrari didn’t come through, once more in another Ferrari :)

It was surprising to me how spartan the interiors of both cars were—much more S2000 than Model S, which I suppose makes sense given the focus on performance over creature comforts—but my heart was beating so fast when I sank into the driver’s seat that I really didn’t notice much aside from the steering wheel and the pedals. That first time around in the Ferrari was fantastic, mostly for the sheer amount of power that I suddenly had at my command; it’s really too bad that was the video that didn’t take (I’ve embedded the Lamborghini video below, but it was already old hat by then). The most interesting thing about the whole experience, though, and something that I never stopped to even consider as a possibility until I was right in the middle of it, was that it wouldn’t live up to my outrageously high expectations. When all was said and done I couldn’t help but think that for all practical intents and purposes there wasn’t all that much to separate my little S2000, which I bought for $14,000 when it was 7 years old, from one of these $200,000 lifestyle accessories.

Was it fun? Absolutely. But more importantly, driving 9 laps in a couple of Ferraris and a Lamborghini served to de-exoticize exotic cars for me, something that will be much more valuable in the long run. In the same way that I discovered a while ago that I’m more holistically attracted to a lot of different types of women than I am to supermodels and others who fit the general cultural norms of physical “perfection,” last Saturday I was forced to accept that in the great wide world of cars there’s no such thing as perfection, just different types of cars for different types of people…and I’m not really a supercar kind of guy.

After my last lap I returned my helmet, checked in my GoPro, and smiled as I got back in the driver’s seat of my little Fit, happy to be back home where I belonged. If I had to guess, I don’t think I’ll be dreaming about driving Ferraris to Mexico again anytime soon.

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