Something to 'whinge' about

I love being awakened by the screech of racecars.

I love not being able to move my car for fear of losing my space on the street.

I love having to walk through a maze of bleachers and barricades, caged in like a lab rat searching for a way across Pratt Street.

No, really, I do. C'mon, who doesn't love an opportunity for whingeing?

"Whinge" is my new favorite word. I learned it covering the Olympics in London this summer. It's a Britishism, rhymes with "hinge," that doesn't exactly translate into the American version of our — marginally — shared language. The closest equivalent is the word it most resembles, "whining," but with an added dose of fretfulness and, more importantly, an almost gleeful sense of impending doom.

In the months before the Games, Brits apparently whinged nonstop, about how hosting the event would bankrupt the country. How the roads would be clogged and the Tube overwhelmed. How everything would get rained out. How having the Games would invite terrorist attacks or, worse, international ridicule.

It got so bad, the mayor of London finally said, and I quote, "You whingers, put a sock in it."

Everything, of course, turned out fine, something I had to tell myself when I got home to find that my hometown was preparing for our own version, albeit in miniature, of sporting event as impending Armageddon: the Grand Prix.

Yes, the noisy little cars driven by cute little drivers — I'm talking to you, Helio — are back to make our lives miserable again. It's just awful how the TV cameras show them racing around our sparkling harbor and bandbox-perfect Camden Yards. I hate how the hordes of out-of-towners descend on our town, throwing money at our restaurants and hotels on what is usually the sleepy last weekend of summer.

By habit, more than anything, I started whingeing over all the major inconveniences that I expected from the race, but didn't actually encounter.

And I must say, either I've tuned it out or it's just not there, there seems to be a lot less whingeing around town this year about the Grand Prix than I remember from last year. Maybe it's like second-child syndrome: We just can't muster as much anxiety as we did the first go-round.

For one thing, the city seems less bollixed up this year. As The Baltimore Sun has reported, fewer streets were shut down for the entire weekend than last year. And, for another, organizers know what did and didn't work the last time.

I think it's best to treat such events as house guests — they're great fun to have over, but it's OK to be glad when they leave.

I may just be in a particularly generous mood these days, but I welcome these traveling circuses setting up shop here every once in a while. Maybe it's the lingering good feelings from this summer's Sailabration of tall ships, for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. A couple of months later, I've (almost) forgotten about the traffic and the crowds and getting stranded at Fort McHenry when the bus that got me there for the Blue Angels show seemed to forget to come back to take me home again. But I still remember how magical the harbor was, with the ships lit up at night and sailors wandering about in our own version of Fleet Week.

The Grand Prix still has a lot to prove before it becomes a regular part of our calendar. Last year's inaugural race was as successful as an event as it was a failure financially, although it's good to see that the organizers have been paying off the tax money they owed the city and state. The new organizers seem to have covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time and seem wise to tamp down expectations: They say they're not expecting as big a crowd as last time, and they're not promising financial windfalls.

I wouldn't mind if the city extracted more from events like the Grand Prix. Maybe, for example, if the race wants to be a regular event, it can become a regular contributor to its host city — adopt a school or a park and take responsibility for its upkeep. Be a good guest, in other words, and remember what your mother told you: Don't show up empty-handed; bring your hostess a gift.

Not just something new to whinge about.