Jean Marbella: Grand Prix was confusing at first, then cool

Whoever that was who called me yesterday, and whatever it was I agreed to? I didn't mean it, I just couldn't hear you over the cars screeching past and the banner planes pounding overhead. Plus I was delirious from walking miles but merely going blocks. And addled by the perfume of diesel undertones overlaid by top notes of burning rubber.

In other words, I have been grandly prixed.

I'm not even sure what that means, but new words need to be invented for this whole, dizzying Grand Prix experience.

There's a certain out-of-body, brother-from-another-planet quality to how the race just landed in the midst of an otherwise unsuspecting city. Everything that was here before is still there, but now there's something else on top of it.

Living south of the race course and working north of it, I thought I had it figured out. As more and more streets were closed off, I started walking to and from work. So I've had a ground-level look at the construction work, which seemed really piecemeal — a grandstand here one day, a wall of fencing there on another — until Friday, when suddenly all the pieces fit together.

And it happened in real time. I swear, at one point construction workers were building the course behind me. I was coming home from work one day, picking my way through the random Jersey barriers and bits of fencing when I must have taken a wrong turn. Maybe I went left past the grandstand that I had previously turned right from, but suddenly I was trapped.

No matter which way I walked, I couldn't find my way out — there was a fence on one side of me, a row of portable potties on the other, and a lemonade cart behind me. I couldn't decide whether I was a character in "A Cask of Amontillado" or destined to have a "Night at the Museum" experience until someone came and moved the cart.

Meanwhile, as the course was being built, so was the hype. I don't know about you, but I was getting pretty tired of hearing how the Grand Prix was going to turn Baltimore into a world-class city, how suddenly we would be elevated into some exclusive club of better municipalities. It was all so Donald Trump; is there anything less classy than talking about how classy something is?

I wandered about on Saturday, the first full day at the course and never quite figured out the lay of the land. No matter where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else: If I was on one side of the fence, there was something really cool on the other side. When I was on one side of Light, I wanted to be on the other but then, once I got there, I changed my mind.

Everyone seemed confused in their own ways. No one was quite sure if they were at the block party or the party zone, or the paddocks or the corrals, whether they were watching time trials or practice runs or qualifying races, which cars were IndyLight, and which were "Indy"Indy.

"Is this the Indy 500?" one boy asked his father as they trudged up a flight of temporary stairs.

And then, all of a sudden, it didn't matter.

I think I've figured out the Grand Prix. You just have to submit to it. You have to let go of that old, pre-Prix kind of thinking. You know, that sense that setting off in a certain direction and actually getting there. Of being able to talk knowledgeably about ALMS and chicanes, and have someone actually hear your wise points rather than nodding deafly.

Once you give into it, everything is just cool. You are a fence away from candy-colored Matchbox cars come to life. There is nothing you could want to eat or drink that is more than a couple of steps away. There are all these kids, wide-eyed between the protective ear muffs that their parents have put on them, like Drew Brees did for his son during the Super Bowl.

There is just enough tackiness ("beer babes," buxom foam sleeves to keep your can cool), and marketing props go to Sunoco, which seems to have had a hundred people handing out stickers, which quickly were affixed to all sorts of clothing and body parts.

There are some amazing spots to see the race for free. There are drivers who are totally cool in this efficient, compact way, like the bigger siblings of jockeys.

There is everything, in fact, but the one concession someone should offer next year: a soundproof room where you can actually hear something other than the cars.