Danica Patrick, a woman who races with the big boys, is one of NASCAR's biggest stars. She's famous outside the sport because she is also youngish (30) and attractive. In the future, when marketing firms have the technology to design and create celebrity spokeswomen, their droids will possess the Patrickian ideal: rugged masculinity paired with feminine beauty.
Tissot, a Swiss watchmaker, already employs Patrick to this end, and last Thursday the company teamed with Halls Kansas City to throw a party at Hotel, the Power & Light nightclub. Patrick, in town for last weekend's NASCAR festivities at the Kansas Speedway, was the guest of honor. A rig of lights, a red carpet and a photo backdrop with Tissot's logo were positioned outside Hotel's doors. Camera crews from local TV stations loitered around, waiting for Patrick to arrive. Grand, between 13th Street and Truman Road, was blocked off: Patrick would be making a grand entrance in her race car.
As showtime approached, clusters of people emerged from P&L bars and gathered along the curb, turning their heads south, as though awaiting a northbound bus. Waitresses from McFadden's, in green jerseys and matching knee-high socks, puffed on cigarettes and chatted.
"Is there a parade coming through?" asked an older man passing by.
"No, some NASCAR driver is going to drive up the street here in a second."
"Then what? Is that it?"
"I guess so." The man moved along.
An engine roared in the distance. It was foreboding, like a spaghetti-western whistle. A minute later, Patrick drove her race car, not especially fast, from where it was stationed on Truman Road, up the two blocks of Grand to the red carpet. She drove in darkness because there are no headlights on NASCAR cars. There also are no doors. She climbed out the window.
Patrick wore tight red pants, a navy mesh blouse, a black leather jacket, and heels. For a few moments, she looked confused. Where were her handlers? An odd silence descended. Some bulbs flashed, and the TV crews jockeyed for position, but nobody spoke. Then a few women with clipboards emerged and began managing the situation. An older, wealthy-looking woman posed with Patrick in front of the car. Then they posed together in front of the Tissot backdrop. "Now just Danica," one of the clipboard women instructed.
Patrick then set about answering questions from the local TV outlets. Yes, she was excited to be here in Kansas City. She was also excited about her race car, excited about working with Tissot, excited about the Tissot watch she was wearing. One reporter asked what she likes to do for fun. "Where do I start," she said. "I like travel, food, wine, playing games with my husband at home." Then, with a rehearsed, droidlike sass, she added: "It's not always fun for him because I get competitive."
During the race on Sunday, Patrick got competitive with another driver whom she thought was bumping her car on purpose. She retaliated by trying to crash his car. But her attempt backfired, and she ended up crashing her own car. "I have to stand up for myself," she said after the race, less excited now.
The best thing I saw last weekend was at a Ramada Inn, near where Front Street meets Interstate 435. This hotel, whose doors may also be a time warp back to 1986, was hosting a psychic fair. I did not know psychic fairs existed, but when I started telling friends I was going, they were all, "Oh, yeah, the thing down off Front Street." It turns out that this psychic fair has been going on for 42 years.