Yesterday, Tom and I spent several hours at the qualifying races for today’s Indy 300 in Sao Paulo, in its third year. Today, we are watching the race on TV. I’m glad we went yesterday; the crowds were fairly small and the racing was wonderful. From what I can see on TV, the crowds are larger today, though not as packed as we had expected.

We saw the qualifying races for pole position for the Indy cars, and then watched an actual race with “premiere” cars. That was lots of fun, especially since the car I’d chosen, “Stuttgart,” was in the lead most of the time, until spinning out in the rain. Even saw a crash right in front of us. Oddly enough, it was a right-drive car, so, thankfully, the driver was unharmed and drove off the course.

Expecting masses of people to attend the races (in a city of 22 million, any event is liable to have masses of people), we took a taxi as near to the Sambadrome (Sombodromo) as we could get (for about $45), and then hiked to our seats (tickets to which we’d received from one of Tom’s co-workers). It was about a mile and a half hike in humid weather, but not bad.

We got to sit in the Tem Viagens booth, which was just about 200 yards from the Sambadrome. For bleacher seats, they were very comfortable, as we sat in the top row (where we could catch a breeze) in shaped plastic seats.

Our tented bleachers were about half full when we arrived, and we were positioned just at a snake turn, which required the cars to slow way down right in front of us, and then take off like bats out of hell into the next straightaway. Perfect seats! And, being high up, we could see the large TV screen at the end of our area, and watch the approaching rain throughout the afternoon. The rain caused several spinouts, necessitating yellow-flag runs for a couple of hours total, as the debris was cleared from the course.

Thank goodness we’d had the foresight to buy earplugs the night before! These lovely little wax blobs protected our hearing so that the sound of the engines was just a dull roar, rather than a mind-withering cacophony (which it was when we’d take out the plugs).

One thing I noticed right away was that Brazilians seem to eat much less junk food at events like this than do their American counterparts. There were booths for Alimentacao (snacks) behind the bleachers, and hawkers who climbed the bleachers, but the choices of food were very limited. We chose Diet Cokes and hot dogs, since we weren’t sure exactly what the other choices were. The Diet Coke, we recognized. The hot dog was something very alien. Large bun, with a bright red hot dog hidden beneath a mound of string potato and corn, with an unusual sauce. We added catsup, since that’s what one does with hot dogs, and enjoyed them, though they were the strangest hot dogs we’d ever had.

We also got a bag of peanuts, shelled and covered in a white, doughy substance. Not huge fans of these (though I did find Japanese-style soy nuts at the grocery store that I really like now). That was it for the day. People around us also ate hot dogs, and what looked like folded-over quesadillas. And beer. They drank lots of beer, at R6.50 per small plastic glass (about $5). KitKat is a major sponsor of the race, so we also saw people “taking a break, having a KitKat.” But overall, people weren’t stuffing their faces as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing at events at home. Nor were they carting coolers of their own food.

Our car and driver of choice is Will Power, driving the Verizon car. We’re cheering him on today.

The security at the event was phenomenal. We first noticed it as we arrived at the venue and saw about 15 policemen mounted on horses behind a whole line of police cars. And as we walked, car after car filled with police officers drove past us, sometimes looking like clown cars because there were so many officers tucked into the compact vehicles. It was good to see the security, especially for someone like me who feels very vulnerable in crowds.

En route, traffic came to a stop where two major roads blended into one. There was a dog in the middle of the blend, standing on a narrow-V where the roads merged. I have no idea how he got there. I just knew he wouldn’t get out alive. I had to look away.

After driving into the center of town and back out, I am certain of one thing. We live in one of the few places where I feel comfortable. I don’t think I would like being in the midst of downtown, with the high-rises shoulder-to-shoulder with buildings that are falling down from disrepair. Incredible riches abutting abject poverty. I also saw again the tree houses built into trees along the median of the main roads. The trees look like banyan trees, with roots dropping from branches to support the branches on the ground. Look up and you’ll see make-shift houses in the knots of branches. Unbelievable.

As we left the event, we walked against the tide of hundreds of people wearing race numbers; they were en route to run in an 8K race for the environment on the race course. A great crowd to be walking in…happy, fit, and energetic. These are really beautiful people, so many of them. Very easy on the eyes!

All in all, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, watching high-powered cars driven in ellipses past us. It’s an odd sport to watch, but much more fun than I had imagined.