Mode Push: The 2023 Monaco Grand Prix

Wine in an airport bar
A race-day French macaron

We got into F1 racing the way the most Americans have and in the most American way possible. We watched the Netflix series, F1: Drive to Survive. We began watching in January of 2022. I became way more entrenched in the sport than I ever imagined. I chose a favorite team. It’s Scuderia Ferrari. (I am a fan of the Buffalo Bills, so I am accustomed to cheering for an underdog.) I zeroed in on a couple favorite drivers, Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz. I didn’t choose them because they were the current leaders. I chose them because they seemed like good, solid guys, not unlike Josh Allen and Jim Kelly. We got an F1 TV membership and began watching the races on race day. I have followed along with live updates of qualifying sessions and have watched races on my phone when I wasn’t near a television. I have woken up multiple times at 5 a.m. to watch a race happening across the globe in real time. I may have issues. There is so much more I have yet to learn about the sport, but I’m hooked.

Qualifying Day

Years ago, my youngest sister told us for her 50th she wanted to experience the Monaco Grand Prix, and it was her wish we would join her in this adventure. We started researching and saving. Last fall, I got online an snatched up grandstand seats for us. Then I secured lodging in Nice because, well, we aren’t A-list celebrities with A-list bank accounts who can stay in Monaco. I bought some Ferrari merch. We were really going to do this. On May 25th, two days before my 55th birthday, we landed in France, F1 tickets in hand.

It’s not easy to encapsulate what happens in Monaco on Grand Prix weekend. The city state of Monaco, encompassing an area of land roughly 60% the size of New York’s Central Park, swells from 37k residents to roughly 200k people. DJs pump club tunes through speakers. It’s not a place for agoraphobics or claustrophobics. Myriad fans in all their team paraphernalia follow signs through winding, fenced passageway and, in some cases, over recently constructed bridges over the race track, to reach the grandstands. Each grandstand offers a unique vantage point of the race. Ear plugs are a wise choice. I got the chills the first time I heard the cars in the midst of their first practice. I could not believe I was actually there. None of us could. The race is iconic. The location is beautiful. The yachts are plentiful. The mix of languages being spoken is mind boggling. The excitement is palpable everywhere you walk.

My husband and I attended two practices and qualification to prepare ourselves for race day.

Video from Free Practice 2 on May 26th (Grandstand L)

Between the driver’s parade and the race, Steve and I decided the Monaco Grand Prix experience would not be complete without some libations. We noticed you could purchase an entire bottle of champagne. Done, thank you very much. With paper cups and straws in hand, we texted our group our shaded location and told them to hurry. We started pouring and when everyone had a cup we tried to made a toast to commemorate our day. A woman who was standing nearby offered to take our group photo. Okay. That happens all the time, right? Well, this particular woman wasn’t just a kind onlooker. She was a gem, the kind of person my sisters and I would love to be friends with in real life back home, bold, hysterical, and smart as a whip. We stood conversing with her for a while after she took the photo, learning she was at the race with her daughter and husband. She’s from Virginia. We gabbed and giggled with her like we were long-lost friends. We gave her a cup and asked her name. She told us we would never forget it. She was right. Blythe was fabulous. Before she went back to her husband and daughter, I asked if she’d be willing to be in a photo with us. Of course she would. Sometimes I really do love Americans. We promised we would toast to her for the remainder of our trip and we did. Each night we raised our glasses and toasted Blythe, the kind stranger who became an instant friend.

As for the race itself, F1 fans will tell you Monaco is not the most exciting race on the calendar. It is a narrow road circuit and passing is risky in the few places where it is possible. Two-time World Champion and current 2023 championship leader, Max Verstappen, started on pole position and with the fastest car on the grid was basically assured a victory. I watched Carlos and Charles, hoping one of them would make it onto the podium at the end of the race. A little more than halfway through the race, Max was well ahead of his closest competition. We’re talking like 17 seconds ahead. Max would whiz by and what felt like an eternity would pass until the next driver appeared. Max was stomping the competition like they were buildings in Tokyo and he was was Godzilla. We began to pray for rain to make things more interesting. About ten laps later, the sky opened up. Boy-Scout-level-prepared, I had ponchos for all six of us. We donned them, sat in the stands while the rain fell steadily, and watched driver’s slip around the Tabac Corner. Despite a few incidents among other drivers, Max won again to the delight of many fans in the crowd.

When the race was over and the cars were taking their final lap, the yachts in the harbor began sounding their horns. It was something else. While the race had not gone the way I hoped, the experience of the Monaco Grand Prix was everything I’d hoped for.

Celebration at the end of the race

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences filling my memories. Swimming through the Green Grotto at Capri, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, being close enough to an elephant in Tanzania to see her eyelashes, watching a blue-footed booby interact with my sons in the Galapagos Islands, witnessing a sunrise on Haleakala. The older I get, the more I am able to be present in these experiences and the more I understand how precious they are. I see so many people today in amazing locations and at impressive events, not noticing and experiencing, but preening and posing for photos they will share to prove they were there. I saw tons of them in Monaco, with an entourage filming an experience they were not really having, only documenting. We’ve become so obsessed with creating FOMO with our myriad selfies and our constant filming and posting that we don’t often recognize we may be the ones missing out.

Side Roads

A couple months ago, I started posting to my Instagram story every day. My Gen Z sons told me years ago that “posting to Insta more than once a day makes you look desperate.” I assume they meant for attention, and I get that. Later, they told me about comedian Bo Burnham’s stand up, and I discovered White Woman’s Instagram and I felt a little seen. I even wrote a blog post about it. Since then, I’ve been careful about how often and what I post, lest I seem like more of a cliché of an upper middle class white woman. I mean, I drive a Tesla, have an espresso machine I use daily, and have posted photos of a charcuterie board and a Nicoise salad. What can I say? I am a white woman with an Instagram account.

As a way to still engage on Instagram without posting photos of latte art and golden retrievers wearing flower crowns, I started posting memes to my story every day. I’ve been doing this for a couple months now. I’ve been collecting memes on my iPhone for years. Some are funny. Some are inspiring. Some are political. Some are observations about our culture. Many are laced with swear words. They all reflect me in some way, either because I agree with what is said, I reflect what is said, I have said what is said, or I just have that twisted of a sense of humor. This was today’s post:

Meme credit to Candice Ensign, 2021

I’ve had a couple friends today tell me that they don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment. If you take it literally, I suppose this could be not a great statement. I mean, if you’re being mugged, perhaps you are in the wrong place and there is no right way to look at it. But I didn’t take it down that road. I get something different from this saying.

Too often in life we wind up in a situation not of our choosing. Something we worked for or wanted is no longer available. When we’re in that place, it’s easy to be negative about it, to feel sorry for ourselves. We might become angry and frustrated. We might give up. These are all choices. We could just as easily decide, “Well, this is something. Wonder where this will take me?” And then be patient with life and see what new things arise from the ashes of what we feel we’ve lost. Or we could say to ourselves, “Nope. This is unacceptable.” Then we can work to transition ourselves back onto, or at least closer to, the path we wanted to take.

I’ve been guilty many times of giving into the negativity. I’ve blamed others for my situation. I’ve blamed myself, telling myself I was not worthy of what I missed out on. This is ridiculous. All I needed at the time was a change in attitude. Looking back, there were many times when I did not get what I wanted or thought I wanted. In all of those instances, as I reflect back, I can see now the beauty in being denied what I was so eager to have. A lot of the things I missed out on led me to a situation more appropriate for me in some way, more in line with who I am and not who I thought I wanted to be. My life story is a tale of many disappointments I am grateful for. I just didn’t look for and couldn’t see the beauty of the plot twists at the time.

I’m still working to cultivate a patient approach to life, one that allows me the time and space to be curious rather than judgmental. I’m not sure I will ever be thrilled when the record starts skipping and I have to pick up the needle and move it to the next groove, but if you’d asked me at 24 if at 54 I would have the life I have now, I can tell you I couldn’t have imagined it. Like Maya Angelou, though, I “wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” It may have taken me a little longer to gain consciousness from the stupor of my past than I would have liked, but I am here now. Who knows if I would have made it to this place without all the side roads I had to travel to arrive here?

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.