Photos by Clare O'Kane
I had already sucked down two premixed margaritas, paid for with my hard-earned VICE freelancer money, when the kid who ran the show handed me three drink tickets. It would be perfectly insulting to this poor sap if I denied him the pleasure of watching my eyes light up with alcohol-fueled glee. I ordered all three at once, while smoking as many cigarettes, and returned to the corner of the room, where I waited for the show to end. Just then my editor, Dave, walked in.
“I need food” is how I started the conversation. He responded in kind, and we walked over to a taco truck. There’s a specific type of malaise that comes with spending your life in Los Angeles—like being stretched out on one of those medieval torture racks, only in super slow motion. This city won’t be satisfied until you’re spread as thin as she is. The only antidote I’ve found is a quality street taco—one must fatten themselves up physically and metaphorically to combat the city’s sinister forces.
We were midchew when Dave suggested my next story involve the then-upcoming Kentucky Derby. Only snag was, there were already writers who would be covering the actual horse racing. Dave wanted me to find another angle. Cheap margaritas had blurred out the specifics, but one of us mentioned going to the dog track, and the other one of us immediately agreed.
The next afternoon, I woke up and sent missives to Kevin, Joey, and Sean, my close friends in the Bay Area. I’d be spending Derby weekend up there visiting my girlfriend. One of these broken-down junkie clowns (all three are wonderful San Francisco comedians) would surely be able to point me to the ground zero of perversion and nastiness that is a greyhound track. After some research we discovered, to our annoyance, that California has banned dog racing, along with rare steaks, cigarette smoking, and gender norms.
After some heavy goolging, Sean informed me there was a whippet race in Elk Grove on Derby Day. I jumped out of my chair. A mob of wacked-out gas huffers competing in sport? What a story! Unfortunatley, whippets are just fast English canines—basically an accidental breed that came from the loins of undersized and maimed greyhounds. Regardless, this amateur race was my only lead in California, and the freaks who volunteered their own time to set up weekend dog races might be even more wicked than corporations who make money off of animal suffering. Sean sent me the email address of one of the organizers, and I started drooling when I discovered her domain name was a website for Irish Civil War reenactors. This was beginning to sound like the subject of an early Errol Morris documentary. I immediately shot her a panicked message:
“HELLO! I ABSOLUTELY MUST ATTEND YOUR DOG RACE. I LOVE THESE HOUNDS. FEAR HAS CONSUMED ME, AM I TOO LATE TO BUY TICKETS?”
She responded with an invitation to a private dog-racing internet group. Anyone with a pulse knows that private internet groups are the most fucked-up slut factories you could throw a tit at, if you know the right people. Things were falling nicely into place. These monsters probably celebrated a successful exhibition of animal cruelty with a circumcision party fueled by poppers and cheap whiskey.
I opened a bottle of vodka and prepared a victory glass, but the moment the elixir kissed my lips, my inbox dinged. It was all over. The race had been cancelled. Those pig fuckers must’ve smelled my journalistic integrity from all the way in LA. The bastards knew the jig was up, and they shut down operations.
I gulped down the rest of what was now a glass celebrating yet another defeat and pleaded with my friends for help. I had to cover some sort of athletic chase for this damned rag. That’s when Kevin, good ol’ reliable Kevin, came through. “We could... uh... I dunno... what about betting on children’s go-kart racing?” The exact kinda twisted scene the culture sniffers at VICE would cream their artisinal overalls for.
The car was packed with curdled life. My androgynously perfect girlfriend yawning in the front seat, Kevin’s hulking frame scrunched behind her, Ivy trying to maintain her afternoon buzz in the middle, and Joey to her left, scoffing audibly at teen film critic Lights Camera Jackson’s Twitter feed.
“Is that a falcon?” I asked. A beast of a predator was perched ominously on the freeway off ramp, daring us to pass it.
“Yeah, Josh. Of course it is.” Joey snidely replied. Joey wanted to make it very clear that he knew a falcon when he saw one.
The drive to Malibu Grand Prix had stopped being kitschy fun right as we passed the winged omen. We were on a road through industrial hell. Massive plants, charred, craggy cliffs, and howling winds ensconced us in their thick, desperate mist. Just as the impulse to turn back became impossible to ignore, we spotted it—the faded, weather-beaten entrance sign.
Malibu Grand Prix is where weekend dads take their biological sons to kill just enough time to reassure themselves that they still have a say in their child’s development. However, each dead-eyed soul in that cavern knew no amount of air hockey could replace a nuclear family unit. In fact, the pallid arcade stunk so strongly of divorce that I was compelled to return to the car and take a pull from my flask just to dull my senses.
We moseyed over to the gate to bet on the action. We each selected a child based upon a presumed strength they would surely use to lord over their competition. Even among seasoned comedians, veterans at creating bits to mask our inability to sustain a real conversation, the exercise quickly became exhausting.
We attempted to shake it off by actually participating in a lap or two. Go-karts, right? That’s a fun thing, right? Right? After a completely incomprehensible orientation, we put on our helmets and slid into our brightly colored joy vessels.
If a thimble-sized amount of danger, using both feet to drive, and waiting your turn is your recipe for a good time, then go-kart racing is for you! The track was so full of small curves and arcing turns that you couldn’t ever get a good speed going. Obama's America, indeed. Plus, you didn’t actually race against anyone. In fact, you couldn’t even feel the wind in your hair, because you were forced to wear a helmet with a face guard attached. We all met up at the arcade’s concession stand to indulge in a frozen treat and to watch Joey get mad at the claw machine.
We all sat, silently, slurping our frozen-sugar, neon-colored beverages. I surveyed the crowd. Shit, I thought. “We all look worse than anything we’ve seen here.” I smiled. We came down here to see this terrible scene: people all bummed out of their minds and beaten down by their life’s choices and all that... and now, you know what? It’s us."