It's with a heavy heart that a man returns to his plain little Holden Barina in the public car park after watching the Summernats Citycruise (going up to wrong cars twice before finding his own, because all little red cars look alike). Thursday's 200 street machines in the Citycruise down Northbourne Avenue and through peace-shattered Civic were all such diverse individuals. Even in the biggest car park each of them would take no searching for, because all would stick out like (to replace the usual, blush-making canine metaphor) one of those air intake devices that sporty cars sport on their hoods.
While we waited for the sweet disruption of the Citycruise (Canberra is complacent and doesn't have enough disruptions), Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez on Thursday (he was a CEO in shorts and thongs) talked up this year's Summernats and explained that the 200 individual contraptions we were about to see were not the biggest, grandest, noisiest of the machines at Summernats but were chosen ''to represent all aspects of Summernats'' with everything from the ''unique streeters'' to odd little customised things.
Deep in Civic and between the Sydney and Melbourne buildings people got ready in the shade of trees. There was a flowering of those clever fold-up camping chairs that have drink holders built into the arm rests. A picnic broke out. There was only a sprinkling of people and Summernats' forecast of 20,000 along the whole route and of 6000 in Civic alone seemed to have been hyperbolic.
Then sure enough, and as if to make Lopez's point that this wasn't to be a display of the biggest and brassiest things at Summernats, the very first vehicle of the parade (after a hugely unnecessary and pompous preamble of police cars, police motorbikes and security vehicles) was a comical, bulbous little green object, less like a real car than one of those fixed imitations you see in shopping malls into which you put a coin to give your toddler a treat. We all had a laugh at this. It was Mr Bean's kind of car.
The vaudeville show had begun with a comic act but after that it was almost all deadly earnest and consisted of deep-voiced strong men (very big cars) displaying feats of strength. Everywhere, for the Summernats classes are in the vanguard of the tattooing trend, drivers' manly and richly-tattooed right arms and elbows protruded from front windows.
The sounds were impressive (with all that roaring, snarling and growling it was like being at a big lion park at feeding time) and the perfume of all the petroleum emissions was exciting (for this columnist there was even a Proustian moment with something reminding me strongly of the speedways smells of the 1950s when I was boy).
Overall, though, the Citycruise was an underwhelming occasion. Everyone thought so.
This writer tied in vain to find anyone left a quivering, thrilled jelly by it. The closest thing to passion I heard was a young woman who was angry that, after waiting and waiting to see a particular car, she'd been distracted at first and had been looking the wrong way and so ''I only saw the arse end of it!'' she shrilled to a mate.
Several things, messrs Lopez and the ACT government, are wrong with the Citycruise. It is all over so quickly that for all the investment in time in getting to town and getting a possie one has only to blink or have a fit of the sneezes and then all that's left is a glimpse of the arse end of Citycruise disappearing back up Northbourne Avenue towards EPIC like a rat escaping up a drainpipe. This brevity is bound to be because the government and the police, intimidated by the Canberra Taliban who hate Summernats and claim it disrupts everything in Canberra life, daren't let the Citycruise linger a little in town for us to meet the machines and their custodians.
What makes for sterility is that there's no time for interaction between street machines/drivers and the spectators behind the barricades. The machines cruise past us snarling and coughing and are like art exhibits from which we must keep our distance the way we must do in an art gallery. There's no communication, nothing said, shouted or sung, between performers and audience. No one on Thursday so much as waved a flag.
Funnily enough in modern classical music performances (which at first you'd imagine are bound to be a stuffy contrast to a Citycruise) these are the very barriers that are being broken down all the time now. These days the Canberra Symphony Orchestra's concerts, in this blessed era, are wonderfully engaging occasions. So are musical director Tobias Cole's performances with the Canberra Choral Society of Handel's oratorios. Cole (this columnist's 2012 Canberran of the Year) even gives his audiences a chance to join in and sing a little. Thursday's Citycruise felt formal and stuffy, the way symphony concerts and oratorios used to in the 1960s when the conductor was a severe old Viennese and everyone in the audience was an inhibited crash test dummy in a very tight corset, and too frightened to cough.
This is just not good enough, Summernats, for today's progressive, participatory Canberra. For goodness sake, call in Nicholas or Tobias as an audience-friendliness consultant before next year's Citycruise.
One feels sure, though, that Summernats corsets are not so tightly-buckled out at EPIC. This columnist loves Summernats at EPIC and is counting the sleeps until Saturday's refreshingly politically-incorrect Miss Summernats tournament.