In Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld asks Bill Burr to explain Boston’s general state of disgruntlement. “Boston is a great city,” Seinfeld says. “What is the problem with these people? Where is this dark cloud from?” Burr doesn’t have a good answer, but he knew exactly what Seinfeld was talking about: the Bostonian attitude of wary suspicion that lurks just beneath the surface—or right on it—during the simplest interactions. I think it has something to do with the fact that everyone’s constantly trying to determine who’s trying to screw them, and how to avoid said screwing. Simple friendliness or positivity arouses suspicion. You smiled at me? OK, Smiles, let’s get to the point: What do you want? What’s your endgame here?
Boston’s adversarial ball-breaking tendencies manifest themselves most brightly whenever there’s any kind of major project or event in the works. In retrospect it’s amazing that the American Revolution started here: “Can’t Philadelphia host the Battle of Lexington? My commute ’tis brutal enough as is.” A significant portion of the city populace is still holed out down on the Cape, waiting for things to settle down after the commotion of the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
So it’s probably not surprising that IndyCar, the organization behind the 2016 Boston Grand Prix, has run into a wee bit of resistance. Shutting down a couple of miles of streets, in a relatively quiet part of town, on Labor Day weekend—when everyone leaves anyway—ought to be straightforward, right? Of course not. One major case of obstructionism came from a Seaport condo association, which filed a lawsuit to stop the race from going past its building. In a quintessentially Boston situation, a Not in My Backyard lawsuit came from people who don’t even have backyards.
The lawsuit was recently settled for undisclosed terms. Translation: The condo owners hated the idea of a race until some money made them feel a lot better about it. I wish I’d thought of that ploy when I lived in Southie. I mean, the St. Patrick’s Day parade went right past my place. Once a year, I was inconvenienced by a public event. I should’ve complained or demanded compensation. But I didn’t think to do that, because I’m not a huge downer, and also because my neighbors would’ve slashed my tires (even more frequently). Like they say, if you can’t beat ’em, make margaritas on your front steps with a gas-powered blender at 8 am.
To anyone who’s skeptical of the idea of hosting an open-wheel race, I’d challenge you to attend the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. It’s so great. Montreal is a party anyway, but on race weekends the city steps it up to another level. One year I drove up in a purple Pontiac GTO that I was testing, and when I returned to the parking lot after the race, my windshield was adorned with the flier for a strip club. It featured the silhouette of a dude getting a lap dance and bore the words, “You are naked. She is naked.” I noticed that not all of the cars had the flier. But clearly someone took a look around and said, “Purple Pontiac? Mais oui, this is a fellow who would patronize our business, perhaps multiple times on the same weekend.”
Montreal also has Breathalyzers in fast-food restaurants and a casino that looks like a spaceship. In the battle of fun, our northern neighbor has some decided advantages. I mean, Quebec actually has a town named “St. Louis du Ha! Ha!” I say we fire back by hosting our own Grand Prix, followed by a rechristening of Charlestown to Chuckletown. I’m sorry, Chuckletown, but we cannot let Canada win.
Our reputation is at stake here. Boston already has early closing times, no happy hour, no open containers. If a cop catches you with fireworks, they’re confiscated and turned over to the State Police Bomb Squad. Gambling? We’ll see. I mean, I don’t need Boston to morph into the Bourbon Street of the Northeast, but letting cars drive 200 mph on city streets seems consistent with our values. If the drivers all give each other the finger twice per lap, it’ll just be like a faster version of what we’re doing anyway.
My prediction is that the Boston Grand Prix will not only overcome the red tape and naysayers, but that it’ll become a popular annual event. The way these things seem to work is that everyone bitches and moans about a proposed event until it actually happens, at which point we find out that we love it. It’s a very Grinch/Christmas situation. Look, we shut down Storrow Drive for the Pops and deliberately schedule a Red Sox game during the Marathon. We can handle race cars on Congress Street.
And if you don’t like it, get out of town that weekend. Go to the Cape. I’ll be wandering the streets of the Seaport. With my blender.