They moved the oyster trough. This is usually my first stop at The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering. It’s an ultra-all-inclusive, top-shelf, automotive and lifestyle bacchanal that takes place on the Friday of Monterey Car Week, and signals to participants in the lengthy, mobile, vehicle-adjacent festival that we are done with the warm-up events and ready to move into the pro-level shizz. Actually, that’s a lie. My first stop is usually at the champagne tent, to grab a first glass to stop my hands from shaking, and then a second to go with the oysters, even though hoarding and then eating dozens of raw oysters while standing at a crowded metal feed bin filled with shaved ice and shucked bivalves becomes borderline acrobatic when holding a glass of champagne. What can I say? I like to challenge myself.
The oyster trough used to be right next to the champagne tent, in front of the Bentley tent and to the left of the Pagani tent, these fancy car manufacturers using the curated collection of several dozen high-end vintage vehicles and several hundred rich car lovers on the judging field to lend additional elevation to their elevated offerings. Test drives of new Land Rovers and Lamborghinis are even available to well-heeled attendees, because, like everything at Monterey Car Week, this is also a marketing event. I’ve never participated in any on-site test drives. It takes away time from the aforementioned champagne guzzling, and the champagne guzzling precludes driving. It’s a vicious circle.
Finally, after minutes of desperate and increasingly delirious searching, I remember that the oyster trough was moved, last year, to a discrete location behind and across the street from the Maserati and Rolls-Royce tents. I don’t exactly run in that direction. It is warm, and though my suit is a perfect light-colored linen/cotton blend, I do not want to risk staining it with sweat. Running at an event like this is also unseemly. If you’re in a rush to get somewhere, anywhere, you do not have the requisite leisure time or leisure attitude necessary for attending the Quail. An entrance ticket here can cost up to $4000, if you choose the helicopter package. The general admission tickets cost $950 each and are in such high demand that they are offered via lottery six months in advance.
I pass through a few different classes of vintage vehicles on my way from the old oyster trough location to the new oyster trough location. The cars are all exquisite, perfectly restored specimens. Precious gems withdrawn from a safe deposit box, and laid out on velvet in a vault for me to ogle, relish their flawless light, their extortionate refraction. I do my best to appear interested, but some of the categories fail to grab me. The Greatest Ferraris: Seen them. Sports and Racing Motorcycles: Yawn. Celebrating 70 Years of the Porsche 356: Bathtub Beetle. The Alois Ruf Reunion: Yellow.
This is the double-edged sword that is The Quail. It’s an event so over-the-top that it ruins your perception of the extraordinary. The hundreds of exotic and rare cars, all perfectly presented and sitting idle on the grass, are meant to be the showcase. But their universal and unerring quality, along with all the other distracting sybaritic pleasures, denies them individuality or urgency. They end up being simply a scrim, a backdrop for rich folks too stuffy to risk appearing excited over material possessions.
I manage to rouse interest in The Great Lancias because those cars were quirky and sophisticated and stylish and affordable, while hosting interesting advanced engineering solutions. Likewise, I almost stumble into the flawless grass when I enter the clump representing the 50th Anniversary of the Lamborghini Espada and Islero, from the pre-wedge era in the late Sixties when the raging bull brand was perhaps at its weirdest. I marvel at the Espada’s transparent kammback, but then I think, “The Maserati Khamsin’s taillights floated in its transparent kammback, so, whatever, Espada.” I am insufferably jaded. Also, thirsty. I rush by Supercars (Obvious) and Post-War Racing (Racing) and make a mental note to return for Custom Coachwork, which appears to lean more toward the Berline than the Barris.
The half-dozen, nationally-themed, all-you-can-eat dining options (provided by the Peninsula luxury hotel chain) at the back of the fairway distract me briefly from my mission, but who needs risotto or fried pork pot-stickers in this heat? I think the same thing about the salmon pants, sea-foam blazer, and streamline moderne plastic surgery on a petite gentleman standing near me, just inside the Italian tent. “Is that a Campari and soda?” I ask him. The drink swirls delightfully. It mimics his pants the way a veiled chameleon darkens under stress. He discharges an expression, but it is impossible to judge its implied meaning, as his cosmetic rejuvenation has diminished his face’s ability to convey meaning. I glance into the dark tent. The line by the bar looks long, the people in it look ghastly and doomed, like the subjects in a Max Beckmann painting.
I push on, sneaking behind the tents and into what may be the staging area for the parking attendants. I am far from the heart of The Quail now. I know that out beyond the area I have just traversed, there is another section of booths and displays, on the far side of the field, and that my friends from Infiniti and Polestar will be disappointed that I didn’t stop in to say hello. But that’s also toward the area where the giant Peninsula Hotel helium balloon mascots congregate—giant servant people dressed in crisp white uniforms and cylindrical caps that resemble the bottom third of a movie popcorn tub, dancing in the sky on the end of strings—and they kind of freak me out.
So I push through a line of scrub, emerge behind the row of plumbed port-a-san trailers, and finally materialize in the promised land. I see the trough, brimming with icy shards, glistering like QVC rhinestones. The shucker is at work with his magic tool. There is no line. I grab a plate and start stacking.