Monday, May 16, 2005

I want one of those, please

I have always been an admirer of beautiful cars, but I never realised how few really expensive cars I had actually seen until I joined the boy racers at the start of the Gumball 3000 rally on Saturday.

Considering it involved very expensive cars, celebrities and quite possibly scantily clad girls, I borrowed a man for the afternoon so I would look as if I actually had an excuse to be there. I am very glad that Matt did come along too, because not only was he able to tell the difference between the makes of Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis (I only had the badges to go by), but he actually made sure I got a private viewing of the cars.

The race started at 6 so we arrived at 4 and joined tens of thousands of panting boys lustfully oogling the 100 cars entered in the race. I had such a hard time trying to decide whether to

a) watch some playboy slide into a bucket seat to warm up a Pagani with a roar that nearly flattened the people standing at the rear of the car or,

b) rest my eyes in lazy appreciation on the fine specimens of wannabe-playboys holding up their camera phones to capture the beauty of the car.

Strangely enough, I think the cars won on Saturday. Even some good looking playboy drivers couldn’t distract me for long, including one strapping man whom I dubbed ’Hollywood Central Casting Hot Guy’ and a man dressed up as Marilyn Monroe who sported a spectacular tan and muscles that were somehow more masculine because they were under a platinum blonde wig and a white dress.

Anyway, at about 5 they cleared out all the fans and stacked them seven deep around the enclosure, Matt and I among them. The drivers were coming out and the cameras moved in – Darryl Hannah was doing interviews, Caprice was lying on cars and little slices of LA Gangstaland were posing with cigars, diamond earrings, topless models and tiny pet white guys in front of their Hummers.

Then Matt decided that since the plebs had cleared out, he wanted to have a closer look at the cars. So he stepped over the flimsy plastic ropes holding the well-behaved English crowd back and 'we' became 'them'.

I am not the most experienced of gatecrashers, though I have managed to get in places I shouldn’t have a few times, but Matt was doing a supremely good show of looking like he belonged with the drivers and the support crews. I think I must have been a little un-cool in comparison because I would look at some guy with his expensive car and his huge ego and just start giggling at the pretentiousness of the entire situation and the fact that I was standing in the middle of it.

It was nice to see all the cars with no crowds, and really weird to be standing four feet from the disappointingly short Darryl Hannah and feel the weight of thousands of eyes on you. I think we were about 15 minutes in the enclosure, just strolling around, admiring paint jobs, cracking jokes at the expense of men with too much money and fat rolls on their necks and models exposing themselves in the middle of London.

Finally, tearing ourselves away from those metal beauties because we were fast approaching the moment when we would be the only people in the enclosure without branded clothing, we left, not even intending to watch the start of the race.

The weird thing was walking away from those gorgeous cars and seeing normal crappy cars crowding the streets we walked. It felt like we had stepped out of real life and into a grey one.

So we decided to watch them all roar off on the first leg of the race, just to get one last fix. Once again canny planning led us to the best vantage point in the city, for while the huge crowd thronged Pall Mall about 15 people deep this time and had to try to see over police and camera crews etc, we stood at the lights at the end of the next road and the cars all stopped about 30cm away from us.

Seeing them in motion was even more pleasing, both the racers and their support crews cruising and dragging, playing up to the crowd and generally just showing off. This time we had a leisurely viewing of the 100 competition cars and their support crews in cars that were just as expensive.

Entertainingly enough, since we were in St James at the time, there was a smattering of similarly gorgeous cars driven by posh civilians with twin-set-and-pearls blonde wives next to them, looking a little put out that their Aston Martin was sitting at the lights next to one with crass branding all over it and driven by a MTV host with his flashy LA blonde next to him.

As the last polished exhaust pipe rounded the corner, Matt and I wandered off to find food in a state of suspended lust for chrome, leather and pistons. It took about three hours for me to stop sighing over the machines and, two days later, the cars on the street still look disappointingly like Tonka toys.

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