We'll sell you the seat, brother, but you're only gonna need the edge! Today Bridgestone (makers of the fine Potenza tire, former employers of Grant Petersen) sponsored open-to-all-comers autocross racing in the square at the beginnng of Pirovskaya Street here in Tbilisi. Autocross is a very democratic sport – you race around a closed small course marked out with cones – in this case, one event was driving in a cloverleaf around cones set 20 meters apart – so you can race in a Mazda 323 and crush the guy driving the new, expensive BMW.
Anyway. There are a variety of cool things about this that are not entirely self-evident; I could go on for hours about the history of racing, from Ben Hur to Big Daddy Don Garlits. I could similarly digress about the simple pleasure of drinking beer in the sun while watching people do dumb, repetitive, non-work things. But instead, I will use this opportunity to talk about the differences between Tbilisi and Baku.
Exhibit one: One of the cars being raced was a little Honda Civic in full race drag – fart-can exhaust, good suspension, pretty fast. What do we have? A couple guys ricing it up, going fast around a course in a Honda. Why wouldn't this happen in Azerbaijan? Well, Azerbaijanis go fast (a) when they are 4 years old in electric cars in Fountain Square, where they learn their driving skills, and (2) on the go-karting track. Oh, and when going backwards down a one-way street, and running red lights. But these activities involve driving in a straight line. No fast turns. Here they're racing around corners. On cobblestones. It's like the Mille Miglia. Georgians are not anyone's idea of great drivers, but they turn – for pedestrians, for corners, like that. Your Baku driver tends to steer towards the pedestrian. Another thing that catches one's attention is that the car is a leetle beat up. It's for go, not for show. Whereas the Baku autoboys use their cars primarily as pretty little mobile couches upon which they can sit and slowly cruise women and men from behind mirrored sunglasses, while cranking Haddway and wearing fashions from U.S. Male. But, like, in a totally macho way. Like John Wayne Gacy, only smelling of imitation Drakkar Noir over rancid ass fat. Except even Gacy would have balked at Haddaway.
Future posts may address the pathetic state of musical tastes in the Caucasus. Now, onward!
Exhibit two: a guy going not -so-fast in a Seat – a little Spanish economy sedan. In Tbilisi, while local residents steadfastly maintain there there is no middle class, I say: here's the proof. There is, in fact, a middle ground between the Lada and the Mercedes. And it's occupied by lots and lots of cars. And this one is not being babied, it's being driven pretty hard – but if you were there watching as it came around the turns, cornering hard, and you can see from the picture how the front fender is poise to chew the tire. That's stock suspension, right there. This is a daily driving, grocery getting, one size fits all little car that doesn't have so much as a fart-can exhaust or a loud stereo. A family guy with enough disposable income to spend Sunday afternoon doing dumb shit, but not enough to get a really nice ride. That's what being middle class in the Caucasus is all about. In Tbilisi, there's a wder spectrum of cars; thus, I infer that there is a wider economic spectrum as well.
Exhibit three: Women were driving too. Like, racing-driving. For real. The humans with no Y chromosomes, I am told, have the hand-eye coordination that is more better than the Y-chromosome-having kind of human. Which means that there is not a reason in the goddamn world that they shouldn't be better drivers than men, except the sexism inherent in our society. Or you can just end that last sentence before "…than men," if that makes you feel better.
By the way, is this shit for real?
Anyway – point is, while you may see the occasional woman behind the wheel in Baku, she's totally a rara avis, and you are flat never gonna see a one at the controls anywhere else in Azerbaijan. And in Tbilisi… they're racing. Does this make the Georgians enlightened? Not less than the Italians, whatever that's worth.
Exhibit four: Okay, I'm gonna digress. This, friends and neighbors, is what summer is all about: drinking beer outside. And they were serving it. Beer. Not great beer – Kazbegi, which is pretty good lager, more so when you got it straight from the cow. Beorgians drink beer, when they can't get wine, or when they are watching sports. But not tea. Okay, Americans drink summertime tea, sure – but only iced tea, or more optimally, Long Island Ice Teas. 'Nuff said, I hope. The fact that there are not more places to drink outside in Baku is a subject upon which there is no shortage of lamentation in Baku by anyone with any judgment whatever. Save but for Sahil, the overpriced hooker-magnet expat shitholes, and the inestimable Paul's – the only flaw of which is the 5 p.m. opening time – there's nowhere. In Tbilisi, there are many places (this is how folks like me, with an education from a land grant school, tend to count: one, two, three, many).
What does this mean? Not a thing. Good people here, good people there. I just like a place that ropes off a chunk of public space that folks would just be driving through anyway, and allows you to drive around and enjoy yourself. Or drink beer and watch. Or just buy a beer and mosey on by.
Meanwhile, in Baku, more ass-fat kebabs on the fire!