Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Blue Shame

There’s a saying about cars that goes something like this: “What’s the world’s fastest car? A rental car. What’s the second fastest car? A company car.” I have tested and proven both of these statements to be true, and I have come up with an addendum: “What’s the third fastest? Anything you are insane enough to give a teenager.”

When I was such a teenager, an old two-lane highway near my house had been widened and improved. And in between the time that it was finished and officially re-opened, it was used as a drag strip by the local kids because either the local sheriff’s office was unaware of this new development or they were turning a blind eye. Either way, I decided to take this opportunity and turn this strip of road into my own personal Bonneville Salt Flats.

My weapon of choice in my assault on the land speed record was the family grocery-getter, a baby blue 1985 Honda Civic – a car I had taken to calling Sid. The speedometer topped out at 120 mph, and I was intent on seeing that Sid reached his limits . . . or die trying.

After making a couple of cursory passes on the highway to check for Smokey (that’s 1970s trucker talk for “the law” for the uninitiated) hidden behind a billboard or hillock, I placed Sid in first gear, revved the engine (imagine how menacing those four cylinders of fury must have sounded!), and popped the clutch. (I want to say I had something really cool like The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” pumping on the factory-installed, two-speaker “stereo”, but it was probably something like Pet Shop Boys or Duran Duran.) At any rate, I took Sid through the motions and into fifth gear. When I reached 84 mph, the car started shaking. By the time I got to 92 mph, I could feel the fillings in my own mouth starting to loosen. But that didn’t stop me.

Funny thing here is that all those things I was taught in Drivers Ed – you know, the one about reaction times exponentially increasing for every mile an hour you are over the speed limit, the one about the likelihood of death should your car reach the speed of sound, etc. – didn’t suddenly leap to mind. While it was highly possible that the rivets and weldments holding my parents’ car together could fail at any moment due to the fact it was shaking like it was attempting re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and I would have to pull up to the house in only a car frame with four wheels and an engine, that concern didn’t cross my mind. The only thing I was thinking was, “Holy smokes, I can’t believe I didn’t bring my friend Craig as a witness. Who’s going to believe a factory-built 1985 Honda Civic is going 120 mph?”

Poor planning on my part, I admit. However, let us remember I was only a teenager. And had my parents found out at the time that I had done this, their reaction would have been something like, “Son, you could have killed yourself out there.” With my own experience as background and feeling as though I have learned something from my parents, I believe I would be able to take a more modern – if not more enlightened – approach to such a situation if I found out one of my own children participated in a re-creation of Death Race 2000. I would look my son squarely in the eye and say, “Son, do you realize gas costs $3.00 a gallon?” Kids!

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