Back at the bar, the correspondent from NEWSWEEK nodded sympathetically and screamed at the bartender: "Senzamann whaddeeneedz! Ya got nnneee percocet? Why'm I talkin like this? Is it the pregnazone? Just shoot me in the head!"
The NEWSWEEK correspondent was an old running buddy, former editor and long-time rival of mine, a burned-out old case named George Kunkle. He'd been a high-roller once, interviewed some Big Names, been sort of a Name himself among the media.
But now he was just a shadow of his former self, hiding in the bar, groping a low-slung frog-eyed brunette that might have been his wife, babbling into a double Scotch. The hyperwave megazine he worked for had once been a Media Power, but like George himself, that had been a long, long time ago. It was a big galaxy -- so much news to keep up with, so little time.
"All these deadlines," George was mumbling. "Bad craziness...."
He was losing his grip on the bar, slowly sinking to his knees, but still speaking with some semblance of authority.
"This is a Magic Moment In Sport!" he shouted, his eyeglasses steaming-up. "It may never come again!" Then his voice seemed to break. "...I once covered the Triple Crown," he sobbed. "University Of Iowa wrestling -- 5-time national collegiate champions! I once covered the freaking Dallas Cowboys! But they were nothing like this."
The frog-eyed brunette clawed feverishly at his belt. "Stand up!" she pleaded. "George, you drunken bastard, just STAND UP! You'd be a very handsome man if you'd just stand UP!"
He laughed distractedly. "Listen, madam," he snapped. "I'm damn near intolerably handsome down here where I'm at. You'd go CRAZY if I stood up."
The woman kept pulling at him. She'd been mooning at his elbows for over two hours, and now she was going to make her move. But the NEWSWEEK man wanted no part of it. He slumped deeper into his crouch.
I turned away. It was too horrible to watch. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the galaxy's Working Press. And we were gathered here for a very special assignment: To cover the 4th Annual Mint 400K. And when it comes to things like this, you don't fool around....
But now -- even before the spectacle was well and truly underway -- there were already signs that we might be losing control of the situation. Here we were, hunkered down in some greasy bar in a concrete blockhouse/gambling casino called The Mint, and with the race just starting, we were already dangerously disorganized.
True, there was the bar's 200-inch hyperwave monitor over which to keep tabs on the race action itself -- not likely we were going to miss much there. But it was time, I felt, for an Agonizing Reappraisal of the whole scene. The race was definitely underway -- I had witnessed the start. Of that I was fairly sure.
But what now? Follow the racers in the Skydiver? Cause the inevitable wreck out on the course and see how these speed freaks handled THAT? Hitch a ride with one of the teams and get a terrifying up-close Personal View from the Front Line?
It was time, I felt, to get grounded. To ponder this rotten assignment and figure out how to cope with it. That fool Lasorda -- our photographer -- insisted on Total Coverage. I figured I'd let HIM hitch a ride with the racers, let HIS bodily fluids get splattered at 100G all over Known Space.
Meanwhile, I planned to take up a semi-permanent perch here in the bar, where I began to think heavily, drink heavily, and make many heavy notes....