My decision to move southward was a swift, abrupt choice. My best friend, Heals, had moved to Charlotte, NC a few years ago. As we do practically everything together, I assumed that one day, I would follow her like I have followed so many of her random whims. One such whim prepared me for southern life better than any other, her instance that I be present for a Nascar race in Watkins Glen, NY. Understand, dear reader, that this was my pre-hunting days. I had dabbled here and there in the outdoors but this was pre-Writing Huntress, hence I loved all things camo, cowboyhatted and country but had not dedicated myself to the life of a deer-killing, duck-eating, goose-hating huntress that I would eventually embody. And as quick as I am to bring up hunting when meeting a new southerner, if I drag my solitary Nascar experience in with it, I’m immediately accepted for the southern-spirited girl I just happen to be.
The whole saga began months prior to the race. I was attending college over an hour away from home so Heals and I communicated mainly through quarter-hourly texts. This was the greatest deviation we had ever faced as we acted like sisters for years. Heals and I met young while playing hockey for the same team. After years of sharing tears over lost games, bear hugs after reigning victorious and living less than 5 miles from one another, we were not ready to be so far apart (this conditioned us when Heals moved to NC, abandoning me by leaving me alone, surrounded by Yankees who looked at me weird each time I stepped from my abode clad in cammo.). That’s why our Summers were key for our young lives. We ritualistically took 6-hour long road trips to a lake 45-minutes away, went to the only beach in Rochester (a beach where no one actually swims), and frequented skate and shoots (essentially open hockey that not only kept our bodies in shape but our hockey-playing attitudes as well) practically every weekend. It was after one of these hockey sessions that I stopped by Heals’ house. Her dad, Poppa Heals, had over-imbibed and was under the curious impression that I was the pizza girl. Wearing my old crimson life-guarding hoodie, I understood his initial lack of understanding but the fact that he, after fully becoming aware of my identity which had been essentially living at his house for years, continued to call me Pizza Hut was a little concerning. The hour become late and I went to retreat to my homestead, my narcoleptic mother at home, surely sleeping away my curfew. As I left, Poppa Heals asked if I wanted to come to Watkins Glen with them for the race, I nodded in the affirmative then left.
I had figured that Poppa Heals has forgotten about the invitation until the day Heals informed me that the tickets were here and we had to prepare for the race. At the time, I did not understand fully why people loved Nascar so much. There are a bunch of cars that go in circles for 5 hours, some crash and some go fast; but they all find themselves on the receiving ends of extremely quick oil and tire changes. Intrigued I was; prepared I was not.
Heals and I have had a lot of signs in life that we should cease whatever activity we find ourselves engaged in and swiftly run away. (The most startling one occurred with a stolen Camden Military Sign and the silly boy who stole said sign. He left us alone with the sign after telling us not to take pictures with it. Of course we did and one of many, many memorable nights ensued) However, not once in our relationship have we ever taken this divine advice. Our heavenly sign came in the form of an 18-wheeler that was overturned in the highway, blocking any way into the Glen. We looked at one another then at Heals’ teal Saturn, the epitome of an anti-off-roading vehicle, and decided that we should go down winding gravel roads until we eventually find our way. An hour later, we emerged from the dusty road, the old Saturn visibly angry with having to brave the rocky conditions. We entered the Glen and then it happened, the moment where the course of the movie changes, the mood goes from somber to electrified; we had arrived.
Being as late as it was, Heals and I were ready to join in on the fun going on at the camp ground. Surely as we set up shop within Poppa Heal’s camper, the party came to us. The details from the night are fuzzy but I remember thinking that Nascar was awesome when I caught sight of a man wearing a confederate flag as a cape, running laps around the campsite like a crack-addled greyhound. The night turned more interesting when we grew bored of our immediate surroundings and ventured out. As we met rednecks and country folk of all kinds, I grew more smitten. Sometime during the night we met a man who we called (and still call) “Canadian Husband”. Canadian Husband was just that, a man from the way north who, for reasons unknown, kept telling people that we were engaged. I’m assuming I egged this on at some point because I vaguely remember meeting his family, a lovely group of Canadians who seemed happy with their son’s quick decision to marry outside of their nationality. I found this entire situation puzzling but who was I to challenge wedding proposals from men who I’d met only an hour previously, surrounded by Nascar-loving, beer-drinking partying individuals?
The night passed by in a haze. Morning happily greeted us with a glorious sunrise that tore through the camper like laser beams, searing the inside of my dehydrated head like a perfectly caramelized pork loin. We staggered to the bathroom, begging passerby for aspirin or the equivalent. We cleaned ourselves up and spent the hours till the Saturday race guzzling down as much water as we possibly could. When I figured that I could not possibly have more fun than the night previous, reality smacked me across the face as we entered the race. The vendors shouted from the outskirts of their respective hollers, pushing wares on the masses, hoping that an Earnhardt Jr. fan would miraculously transform into a Kahne groupie just through the purchase of a hat. We watched the cars fly by, their engines filling my ears with the sounds of more horsepower I had ever heard, connecting me to the race in a way unanticipated.
By the time that night rolled around, I was a fully-fledged redneck, Nascar lover. It seemed that all those interesting, back-woods individuals who never frequent any watering whole in which we’d ever happen to meet all come out en masse during a race. We met the “Mayor of Watkins Glen”, a drunk, aging man who bequeathed orders upon his loyal subjects, directing his peons to drink more beer or start a BORIS-SAID chant. A very nice, also inebriated man wielding a cowbell made our acquaintance and performed his chosen instrument whenever demanded. We had the pleasure of befriending a Boris impersonator and the “Brooklyn Cowboy”, a poor boy whose passion for Nascar and all other things country (ie- cowboy hats and torn-in-half beer cans) made him an outcast in the first order back in New York City. Interesting person after interesting person passed, a conga-line of people who I would never meet had I not turned away from my previous preconceived notions of Nascar-lovers and embraced my inner, backwoods, country self.
As we left the race that Sunday, I didn’t want to leave. I felt as if I had left a big part of myself back there, a place where I could be myself without criticism. As I grew into my huntress self, I wore more camo and became an advocate for hunting but in New York, the platitudes fell on deaf, dumb ears. It was only when I moved to North Carolina that I found my Watkins Glen self, full of life and vigor, surrounded by people who were themselves, unencumbered by societal conventions. Here, I wear my camo, shoot my guns without a backward glance and write freely of the wonders of the outdoors.
I found my voice here. But that never would have happened had I not been open to experience life outside of all I knew; back in Watkins Glen, my own brand of Nascar Enlightenment.
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