ticket to ride

pamie gets her motor runnin’

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before.

I drove a race car.

Eric loves cars.  He likes fast cars.  I’ve talked about his love of Formula One Racing before, and this was my first chance to see him participate in his love of fast cars.  Not that these cars go incredibly fast or anything, but you are all by yourself driving on this race track with pretty tight turns– it feels like you are going pretty fast.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

We pull up to the place and I’m asking Eric all these questions:  “How fast do the cars go?”  “Can I get hurt?”  “The cars won’t overturn, will they?”  “Can they help me if I don’t know what I’m doing?”

Eric told me to calm down.

When you first go in you have to fill out a form saying that if you get hurt or die on the track the place isn’t responsible.  I think if I had to fill out one of those forms every time I went on a roller coaster I wouldn’t be so much of an enthusiast.  It really made me think about what I was about to do.

But then that jock part of my brain went, “This will be so cool.”

I get my picture taken for my “license” and then we were on our way.

We walked outside and saw the car guy trying to start one of the cars by jumping the battery.  After six or so tries, the motor started.  “Oh, this is going to be great,” my friend Matt said, who was also completely new to the sport.  “This looks promising.”

Standing there with a helmet on, looking at all the different cars, I started thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll just watch and see what you’re supposed to do, and then I’ll start driving.”  No such luck.  They ushered me into a car right after Eric took off with what I’m pretty sure was a “Wa-hoo!”

I was too short to reach the pedals.  They brought over some sort of high chair thing, which pushed me forward in the car so much that my knees were up.  Then they showed me how to use the seat belt, which was an odd contraption.  I was feeling pretty confident at about this time.  I hadn’t even taken off yet and I was sort of strapped in and pushed up in this thing like some strange Victoria’s Secret revenge.

The car guy told me I was good to go.  I stepped on the pedal gingerly.  Nothing happened.  “Maybe this one is broken,” I thought to myself.  I stepped a little harder.  I heard the engine rev.  That felt pretty good, so I pushed the pedal a little harder.  I jerked back as the car kicked into gear and I was off towards the starting line.

Jerk-stop-jerk-stop-jerk-stop– oh, yeah.  Just like Tom Cruise.

I make it up to the starting line, and you have to balance the front two cars between two lines to start your clock.  It was a bit easier than I thought it would be.  The next thing I knew the light was green.  I took off.

There are many twists and turns right from the start.  I sped up a little, hit a curb, and felt the car rock back and forth.  “Did Eric say you could or couldn’t overturn the car, I can’t remember..”

My memory flashed back as I was driving the car to the last time Eric went to the Malibu.  His father was in town.  We were all going out to dinner.  They came home sweaty and smiley, talking about things I didn’t understand.  “Well, I did a fifty-three six one time.”  “Yeah, but that’s nothing compared to my fifty-three five, man.” They had just gone racing.

We all went out to dinner after they had cleaned up, and we were at the restaurant where you have crayons on your table.  Eric’s dad picked up one of the crayons and began drawing a series of loops and swirls on the table.  I looked at it for a second, wondering what kind of art they made in Pittsburgh before I realized he was drawing the track.

“Now, here,” he said, while circling one of the loops, “was a particularly difficult spot, right, Stas?”

“Yeah, that one was pretty tight,” Eric said.

Eric’s dad highlighted that section with a different colored crayon and labeled it “1.”

“And then right here seems to be a very important point.  You can gain a lot of time here.”

It was circled and labeled “2.”

“You have to be careful not to hit the curb right here,” A different crayon, a different circle.  Labeled “1.”

I glanced up at Eric.  He was staring at me from across the table with a look on his face that said, “Hi.  Are you dying of boredom?”

But luckily, I was paying attention that day.  And now, as I was covering the track, all of those multicolored crayons were coming back to me.  Slow down here, speed up here.  I could here Eric’s voice in my head from when he used to play Formula One on the Playstation:

“You want to try and keep in a straight line as much as possible.  If there’s two alternating turns right in a row, you want to try and make the straightest line between them.  Then you don’t have to slow down.”

I noticed that my tongue had moved to outside my mouth between my teeth.  My arms were firm as my hands gripped the wheel.  I whirled around the track and before I knew it I was done.  I went back for my next round.  No more jerking.  Just driving faster and faster.  I saw the straight lines.  I eased into the turns.  I sped up out of turns.  I hit the gas for a burst of speed just before the finish line.

And I went again.

I started to like the feeling of the glint of the sun on the top of my helmet’s visor.  I liked the smell of the gasoline burning.  I liked the way the wheel responded instantly to my touch.  I liked the feeling of going faster, of knowing what was coming next and being prepared for it.  I crossed the finish line much faster.

And then I realized that I had no idea what my time was.  I couldn’t understand the board.  Was the time the one when I passed the board, or the one when I first cross the finish line, which I can’t possibly see from how far away I am?  Was my time 53.7 or 62.3?  I assumed that Eric’s time was the shorter one, but I started thinking that maybe I was the one with the short time.  I mean, I had really gotten the hang of this.  I was a natural.  I knew where the track wanted me to turn– I rarely hit a curb.  I felt the need for speed.

I did the track again.

And again.

And then I couldn’t feel my fingers.  My legs were killing me from pushing into the sides of the car.  My helmet was covered in bug goo and I was having a hard time seeing.  And I really just wanted to give Eric my extra tickets so he could keep playing.  He looked so happy.

I got out on my wobbly legs and went to sit with Matt and watched Eric take a few more laps.  He finished a few minutes later.  He walked up like John Wayne, his face flushed and his hair wild.  He was even louder than he usually is.  “You guys have a good time?”  he yelled.  “Let’s go play some video games.”

We played a few games, and drove off to have dinner.  Eric was driving.  We got to a turnaround under the highway when Matt and I had to brace ourselves in the car.    “Sorry,” Eric said.  “I’m still thinking about the turns ahead.  I’ve got to get my mind off that.”

When we got home we started to watch a movie.  Three minutes in I turned to Eric to ask him a question.  He was fast asleep.

It reminded me of when my parents would take me to an amusement park and I would pass out right when I got home from having so much fun all day.  You have so much fun that you are just exhausted, and as you start to fall asleep you still feel yourself on that roller coaster, and your insides still feel like you are going up and down, back and forth, and you still feel all elated from the excitement.  I pulled the blanket up around Eric’s shoulders and kissed his head.

Poor boy had too much fun.

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