A Dream Vacation
By Patti Murawski
The start of our vacation was no indication of what was to come. Just days before we left for L.A. United Airlines decided to strike and we were left to fend for ourselves for a rebooking. It did no good; even though we were rebooked with TWA, flights were running late and we wouldn’t get our New York connection. As it turned out, we were Chinese-checkered across the U.S. via Atlanta Georgia and Dallas, Texas, and had to call our friends on the coast to give them the new flight numbers. As I said to Jennie, “You wanted adventure? You’re getting it for free.”
Saturday of the race weekend was a beautiful sunny spring day but not without its faults. Karen and I had to park downtown as we’d had our parking permits stolen on the first day of qualifying and it seemed forever before we found a suitable space.
Our hopes were not too high where George was concerned. We had come to see our favorite drivers compete here at Long Beach, but having heard George had skipped town in March we weren’t counting on him to makshow at all. I was hoping he’d just go off to Maui for his annual seaside holiday and come back for the race, but no one had a clue even if he was back in L.A. He hadn’t shown up for the first day of qualifying; not to say we didn’t keep an eye out – it was an F1 race. The weather was nice and there was still some time. We could not let down our guard for a minute. Anything could happen! We had walked down to the Queen’s Hairpin and the Esses for morning practice and were fascinated by the maneuvering talents of the drivers; they always make handing those cars look so effortless. We were totally absorbed and loved every minute!
We decided to start back for pit road before practice ended; as we walked, practice was halted to remove a vehicle on the circuit. Someone either had a breakdown or an accident and the track had to be cleared before practice could carry on. As it turned out, poor Jean-Pierre Jabouille had a frightening high-speed crash. Thank God he wasn’t seriously injured. As we arrived on pit road, practice resumed. We decided to check out approximately where our race day seats were, and then sat in the grandstand to sun ourselves and watch the rest of practice. As the teams started to come in one by one, Karen and I decided to take a walk or take pictures, leaving Jennie, Kris, Kim and Kathy up in the stands.
I paced the Wolf-mcLaren-Ligier area along the fence and contemplated a walk to Ferrari, while Karen took in the sights at the Wolf pit. I had stopped a few minutes at McLaren when Jennie came up from behind me and grabbed my arm. I froze. “He’s here; isn’t that him over at the timing table??” I looked over; George was leaning on the timing table, talking to the officials. I didn’t even have to see his face. Yes, that’s him!” We had just about convinced ourselves that he wasn’t going to show up, hoping against hope that he would, and now there he was! I walked over to the grandstand where Karen was standing and quietly tipped her off. We stood on the steps and took some photos. Jenn, Kris, Kim and Kathy joining us. After a while people began to notice we didn’t have our lenses aimed at the cars, and George began to realize it too! He pointed to us, all lined up on the grandstand steps with our cameras focused on him.
His hair had grown so much since the press conference in March, and this longer style looked great! He was so tan. He must’ve had a vacation. I have never seen him look so brown in my life! He was wearing a light brown corduroy jacket, a blue plaid shirt, beige trousers and running shoes – quite the opposite of last year’s attire of blue jeans and racing jacket, and fortunately for us, a bit more distinctive; it make it easier to keep track of him in a crowd.
Word must’ve gotten around the pits of George’s arrival, as many of his driver and mechanic friends came to great him. Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian driver who had invited George to South America in February, came over to shake hands and embrace George, each looking the other over with approval. The handshaking, back-clapping, and embracing continued as various friends approached him. Jody Scheckter made a beeline from the Ferrari pit to the Wolf-McLaren area. It was a bit funny how he avoided everyone until he greeted George. When James Hunt came over to talk, George pulled a little square piece of paper from the inside of his jacket and held it out for James to see. He smiled as he handed it to James, James holding it out in front of him in a gesture of admiration and appreciation, also with a huge smile on his face. Judging from the reactions and the expressions from their conversation we figured it must’ve been a photo of Dhani, but we never found out.
Jacques Laffite came over eventually too, creating a little clatch of drivers and mechanics around George, conversing with him and with each other. It was quite a set up for the scads of photographers, as well as for females with an appreciate eye. Four of the world’s most handsome, desirable men standing together on one little piece of God’s earth. It was just too much!
At various points we could hear George’s voice, but most of the time we couldn’t make out part or all of what he was saying. It was so nice to watch him being himself, conversing with his friends and having a marvelous time. He didn’t seem to mind the photographers at all and even signed for those who came up to ask.
George and Jody started walking up the road, George stopping along the way to greet more friends. He came all the way over to the barrier when he was in the Williams pit (he had the sunglasses off then), facing the fence and not more than 5 feet away from us. He was all smiles!
He went up the road alone towards the Brabham pit, ad stopped for a moment, looking a trifle lost. He started to cough, a wretched smoker’s cough, and even though we were standing so far away from him (a good 20 feet) his awful cough made our throats hurt just listening to it! He came over to Brabham and one of their entourage came over to explain the aerodynamics of the new design. Niki Lauda came to greet George, patted him on the back and stepped away to look him over as if to say “you’re looking well.” The conversation was short; it seemed the drivers were anxious to have a rest before the final and perhaps the most never-shattering qualifying heat, and the mechanics needed to get back to work.
In between the practice and qualifying the Toyota Celebrity race was to be held. George went over to the wall adjacent to the track to speak to someone, oly to be cornered by the CBS camera crew. We were watching him being interviewed and wondered if they were live or on tape, and what was being said.
After he finished his bit with CBS, George walked over to the barrier, jumped it, and started walking along the fence, just a bitty bit of steel mesh between him and Jennie and I. He stopped short, finding himself in a blind alley, which sent us scurrying up the hill again, but he doubled back and came through the gate. Kris and I hurried down the hill to meet him, as we had a present for Dhani which we’d been wanting to give him for a long time. That morning I had tucked it inside my purse on the off-chance of having the opportunity to deliver it to Dhani’s dad. It was a teeny t-shirt with had a picture of an F1 car on it and read, “Watkins Glen Grand Prix Pit Crew.” Kris grabbed the shirt from me, and a Blue Brothers button she had for George, as I steered her in front of me over to him. He was walking so fast. “This is for the baby, “she said, handing him the shirt, “and this is for you.” He seemed bit surprised the larger of the two was for the baby and said, “Oh! Oh, thank you!” He scrunched the shirt up in his hand so tightly you couldn’t even tell he was holding anything!
A reporter stopped him in a parking lot, and we had a chance to take a few photos, say hello, etc. Someone asked him about his foot and he said it was just fine, thanks, that he had had a vacation and got some rest. We later found out he had indeed been on holiday in Maui. When he finished with the reporter he began to walk away and he said, “bye-bye” as if to say “that’s all for now” not wanting to impose on him anymore than we already had, we said goodbye and thanks, and began to walk in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for George, a group of girls followed him.
Generally the afternoon was much the same, Kris spotting him after qualifying, and we watched as he made his way up the road, stopping along the way to converse with Jody Scheckter at the Ferrari pit. When he reached the gate he was walking with another person, and I could hear them exchanging bits of information about qualifying times, George consulting a little notebook that the guy had given him to look over. After the day’s qualifying, there’s always a rush of people towards the garage as the crews tow the cars in. More people noticed George, but this time with such a large crowd of people, he didn’t stop until he reached the motor home of some friends, where he was stopped by a reporter. On his way over, though, a young girl had screamed as he went by her. He turned around quickly to see what had happened, to see if someone was hurt in the crowd or whatever, but when he realized it was him she was fussing over he just sort of grimaced and quickly walked away.
We stayed a respectable distance across the street to wait to see him leave. He sat in the window of the RV with his back to us most of the time but when he turned to watch a particular car being towed in, or when he faced us, we could hear his voice and see him smile as he conversed. One girl waited outside the door on the RV, obviously wanting his autograph, but she didn’t approach him when he came out. He saw her there, stopped, looked over his shoulder giving her the most gorgeous smile, took a few steps while looking back at her, as if to say “come on, don’t be afraid,” and waited. Actually, he met her halfway and signed for her. He headed for the garage and we waited around for a while, but much to our dismay, since the garage was set up differently this time, he probably left through a back door.
Sunday was different. Kris and Karen hadn’t seen him until after the race last year and we generally agreed that we probably wouldn’t see him until after the race if we saw him at all. All that aside, the race was exciting as usual, especially the battle for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places. Gilles Villeneuve ran away with the lead and soon after, Jody Scheckter (George’s pick to win) swung into a solid 2nd place to make it a Ferrari one-two. Since Jody placed rather well I just couldn’t miss the Victory Circle ceremonies, and told Jenn I’d meet her at Wolf if we got separated. As the checkered flag came down over Gilles and Jody I was off. I didn’t have to go far. Victory Circle was right next to where we were sitting.
After the ceremonies I sat down to change the film in my camera. I went to the prescribed meeting place and waited but none of my friends could be found. I wondered if I should stay put but I figured everyone would be at the garage. I started out for the garage, taking my time, still debating about where I would find the others.
As I walked up the drive past the VIP entrance, I spotted George and a friend walking out. “My God,’ I thought, “I couldn’t have timed it better. No one’s gonna believe this!” I waited for him to walk down the hill and out the gate, and as he and his friend came by me I said hello to them. Sine George was busy taking with his friend I don’t know if he really heard me. He looked marvelous. He wore a white shirt and beige trousers and a tweed coat (75 degrees and he’s wearing wool!)
I turned and watched him walk down the hill to an RV; he went in. I circled around and leaned against a wall down the street to watch for him to come out. One of our members, Lynn Hocker, and a friend of hers were waiting further up the road. Since I had met her briefly a few days before and knew she knew my friends, I went to ask if she had seen them anywhere. She said she had seen them in the garage a while ago. Well, I was right anyway! (Jennie told me later that they had seen George in the garage chatting with friends. He had a bunch of his new LP under his arm and was handing them out to all his buddies).
When George left the RV I just stood and watched; a guy stopped him to sign something. I was standing there thinking it was just so stupid of me to be standing there and not to be over speaking to him. I came up behind them and just peered around the guy’s shoulder. Curiously, no one was saying a word. “Hello, George! Did you enjoy the race?” He looked up at me – his face not more than a foot from mine. “Yeah!” he said breathlessly, like a little kid full of excitement. “Did your favorites win then?” “Well, “ he said looking up again as he was handing the guy his book, “sort of.” “Sort of?” I asked, but I already knew that he was better acquainted with Jody, the 2nd place winner, than with Gilles, who took first. He took a few steps; someone asked about his foot and he said it was okay now. He said he had to go and quickly walked over to his friend, who had started to walk ahead. He was walking along swinging a set of keys and I thought perhaps he drove himself this time.
He went up to the street and around the corner; his magnetism was too much! I was overcome, drawn up the hill, saying to Lynn, “this is awful, I don’t want to follow him,” the same dilemma Kris, Karen and Cindy had last year. It’s so strange, the effect he has on you! I went to the top f the hill and watched; Lynn and her friend walked off after him. I walked along the grandstand watching to see where he had gone. They stopped, and I thought George was going to turn around, but he looked around then pointed to one of the bridges. I was about a block behind. He was leaving the circuit, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to watch him leave, and scurried to the bridge. I caught up with Lyn and passed, her, telling her he probably had a car waiting in the street below. George stopped in the street. There were several limousines parked there but he looked around, puzzled. He then got the revelation that he and his friend had crossed the wrong bridge and were at the wrong location so they set out to walk across town several blocks. He turned around to see if anyone was following him as he took a shortcut down an alley. Lynn was at a loss as to what to do. I waited until they got to the end of the alley to see which way he turned, and then zoomed up and across the block. Just as I got to the crosswalk they had crossed the street. I was still a black behind, keeping my distance, not wanting to bother him.
I lost him in the crowd ahead, a line waiting at the bus stop no less, but I noticed that particular corner was the area where he had met the car last year. Lynn caught up and asked if I had seen where he went. I told her he was probably around the corner to our left. She quickly went walking to the corner, but just as quickly came reeling back. He was just around the corner. I leaned against the building to catch my breath, and ktty-corner through the plate glass store window. I could see him standing next to a tree having a cigarette. The car was not waiting for them. A woman was watching us trying to catch our breath and watching how Lynn wouldn’t go around the corner. She kept asking if we were in trouble and why wouldn’t Lyn go around the corner (How to you explain that?)
Several minutes later, a green limousine pulled up at the bus stop directly in front of us. George went straight for the car; he clambered in and his friend followed; before we knew it, off they went.
For Jenn and I the races are always exciting; race weekend went by in a flash, leaving us with a dreadfully long wait until the trek to the Glen in the fall. But I couldn’t have asked for a better vacation; a super time with some great people, the cars, the drivers, all this and George Harrison too! I was right, it was some adventure!