At the end of a NASCAR race, in this strange time in which we live, the winning driver guns his engine, whirls the steering wheel and spins the wheels of his powerful chariot, creating clouds of noxious, rubbery-scented smoke and revving up the enthusiasm of thousands of fans who are not there.
One climbed the fence as if there were fans to appreciate his celebration. All get out of their cars and conduct an interview in front of the empty grandstands.
Where’s Waldo? No one knows. It’s a little tricky because many tracks have speckled their seats to make it look, from a distance, as if people are in them. This was done before the absence of people was completely true.
The fact that this can even be done is demonstrable testimony to the importance of money from television. That they can even hold races without the investment of ticket-buying fans seems incredible, if not impossible.
It’s as if the TV millions are pennies from heaven. Billions of them.
You know where the ticket-buying public remains crucial? At Hanna, Wilder and Bailey stadiums, where LDHS, Clinton and PC play football games. At Laurens County Speedway, where fans are now being admitted after two initial Saturday nights of red-clay dust without white T-shirts to stain with the dust and sweat. At stately, vacant Fluor Field, where baseball is no more.
There’s not much money in the TV racket at those venues and thousands upon thousands of others, in this teeming country, riddled as it is by uncertain health and civil strife.
Perhaps lost amid the myriad examples of harm and disorder is the possibility that some people will get out of the habit of going. What happens if the practical social distance becomes that from the big-screen TV to the recliner?
Some fans – I expect a minority – go because they love the game, regardless of what game it happens to be. Even those with the requisite, unconditional love enjoy the excitement of the band, the unison of cheerleaders, the roar of approval for a big play and even the collective groan of disaster.
Has ever an exultant athlete experienced the joy of victory or the thrill of its pursuit without believing that the fans are a vital part of it? Has ever a fan not thought, perhaps irrationally, it was true in reverse?
Most fans will return, but some will be cautious about it. Their dollars and cents will be missed.
In the long run, even the TV money will dwindle if it is not made justifiable by interest, not to mention passion, adoration, admiration, shock, awe, emotion, respect and vicariousness.
It could be that, once this atmosphere of wariness has passed, when it seems reasonable again to breathe at will, some fans will only cautiously return.
The blows of 2020 are, I fear, going to leave a mark.
That life ain’t gon’ be no good life if it’s our life.