Thursday, November 29, 2007

Low Brow Sunday: A Day at the Races

Keirin racing is a bike-nerd niche. I'd never heard of it until my friend Eli came to visit. He's a little bit of a racing bike fanatic. He sent me a youtube spot, and came to Japan this time around specifically to hook up a racing frame and to check out the racetrack, live.

We ran around to various shops in Tokyo and surrounding, and Eli got a chance to hobnob with some bike frame craftsmen.

After consulting the main Keirin racing page, we picked out a race to check out and hoofed up to Chiba one Sunday to see the hoopla in person.

At the bus station, getting ready to board the free bus to the track, we came across an obaasan selling programs and pencils. As we started to get on the bus, she and her cohorts, sure that we were mistaken, pointed us up to another bus heading to the big shopping mall. No, we assured her - we wanted keirin.

What we found there was a colorful bunch of toned bikers on drool-worthy setups in birds-of-paradise-bright spandex costumes. They were sleek and fast and spiff, a sight to behold. Though we didn't bet, we walked all around the track and ogled the splendosity, randomly picking favorites to win. "I'm green this time. GO GREEN! GREEEEN! Damn. Okay, now I'm blue. BLUUUUUUE~!"

The stands were a different story. It was geezer central: shuffling, grimy, loogie-hawking geezers. There were few likely bike aficionados in evidence - most everyone looked as if they would fall over attempting to reach the pedal, let alone the saddle. They were there and most definitely for the betting. They probably split their time between the track and the pachinko parlor. It was as lowbrow and downmarket as I've seen in Tokyo: food stands serving tea in tin cups, cheap crappy machine coffee, and grilled rice balls being gummed by old men with sparse white tufts of hair. We stuck out like hookers in church and received our share of stares. The best came from an old guy who regarded us squintingly, then took out his teeth as he glared at us, ran his tongue over his gums, and popped his chompers back in.

All in all, a splendid outing.

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