This past weekend – April 19th to 21st, 2012 – I went back to Carnegie Mellon as an alum for Spring Carnival. I took a red-eye to get there, arriving at 0930 after a connection through Cleveland; I slept a total of one hour the night before. Arriving on campus at about 10:30-ish, I spent a moment in a cluster, and then around 11 or 11:30, I wandered off to one of the most hallowed traditions marking the start of Spring Carnival – buggy design competition. By the time I made it back to Gates, it was around 1:30, and my body was starting to catch up with me. “Ah! I see what's happened here. I'm stumbling sleep-deprived across the Pausch Bridge under a too-bright sun on my way back from a buggy event.” I knew I was back at Carnegie Mellon.
I saw everything I expected to see. There were teams there looking pretty with their buggies; there were teams there with everything on display; there were teams with nothing on display. (Well, there was team with nothing on display. But PiKA will be PiKA.) There were old staples of buggy; there were missing faces, like my beloved PiONEERS; and there were new teams (APEX, in the wake of PiONEERS, and DeltaForce, in the wake of DTD). Pervasive in design comp was the spirit of buggy as an unifying theme, though – everyone had their own reasons for joining or forming their teams, but at the same time, none of them would have spent countless sleepless hours without buggy tying them all together.
Buggy is one of those few competitive sports that fosters at least some level of collaboration. Everyone wants to win, but everyone knows that sweepstakes can't survive without everyone playing fairly. When someone crashes in the chute, everyone is ready to help out, and do whatever it takes. When a small or struggling organization has a broken buggy, three different organizations will pitch in effort and manpower to help. When Bonsai spun in the women's heats on raceday, even the most diehard SDC alumni hoped that they'd have it fixed up in time for the men's heats; they knew what it was like to have a push team and a driver practicing all year just for that day.
The other side of buggy is that it's a uniquely Carnegie Mellon experience. “My heart is in the work” – indeed! This is why I was shocked and saddened as an alum, then, to see corporate sponsorship plastered all about the course this year. I was not terribly impressed by the sponsor's products; but in my racedays past, I was always happy to see the SDC buggy at right, even if they weren't my favorite team. When raceday was invaded this year by Chrysler, though, I felt like the sport had been compromised; in addition to the banners simply being an eyesore on the course, one of the most prized elements of Sweepstakes is that teams are never allowed to accept corporate sponsorship.
I present, then, a counterpoint in four images.
When a buggy crosses the finish line, everybody knows it isn't really over. The buggy has to pass a handful of safety checks, generally referred to as “drops”. Drops take place on one side of the course, and are televised; a failure there can DQ the fastest lap of the day! This year, we were provided with a Jeep banner to watch instead.
Buggy has always been a sport of fitting small people into small vehicles, and a game of ruthless efficiency. This year, Chrysler showed off a vehicle that was “easier to get into than CMU”, and a small car that managed an embarrassing 30mpg (premium gasoline required).
Buggy is traditionally set against the scenic backdrop of Carnegie Mellon and Schenley Park, which can actually look quite pretty on a sunny day like this one. This year, Chrysler decided that the beauty was theirs.
My question, then – whose sport is this, anyway? Carnegie Mellon has a rich history in Sweepstakes; there may be room in it for tasteful sponsorship, perhaps, but this wasn't it.
April 26, 2012