Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wheels: Part 3

Nearly every summer Dad searched out a go-kart track to test our metal in mortal combat…well, okay, we wanted to determine that year’s champion. One season this competition came on a rainy day at a track in a mountain town during a family vacation. We slipped and slided our way around the track with mud flying and the sounds of Briggs and Strattons, pressed to their limits, echoing off the Rocky Mountains and fiendish laughter of delight whenever anyone gained the advantage. I don’t recall who won that year. It didn’t matter. We returned to the motel room, wet and covered in mud, feeling like Fangio and Hill. My mom missed the magic, though; and informed us that being a pit crew to a couple of wannabe racers was not her idea of a fun vacation.
My childhood wheelophilia wasn’t all action; there was a literary side to my love of wheels. Even today I follow at least four different sports car magazines—especially in the winter months when my baby is garaged. In my youth I collected all the odd-rod cards except number five, which apparently never existed. The non-existent card served as a shill to keep you coming back for more. I’ve never been a collector beyond my matchbox cars, but my brother helped me out when he came home on leave by purchasing an entire unopened carton of the packets of the bubblegum cards. In case all of this was before your time, odd-rod cards had cartoon pictures of wildly souped-up hot rods driven by benign but ghoulish characters. These cards have since been displaced by Pokeman cards. I also dutifully read every edition of Hot Rod magazine published throughout my formative years. Big Daddy Don Garlits was my hero and Don, the snake, Prudhomme was our nemesis. I knew all about drag racing; although, I never actually went to any competitions. I think I watched the Gater Nationals on ABC’s Wide World of Sports once, though.
Of course, bicycles generally loom large in a person’s transportation portfolio. I used to like to do wheelies on my sting-ray bicycle, which I bought myself with money I made mowing the neighbor’s yard for a summer. My friends and I would conduct contests to see who could hold the wheelie the longest. The reader knows the shtick. We also competed by jumping off crudely made ramps. My lower back periodically reminds me of those early escapades. And like all kids, I attached playing cards in the spokes—a prepubescent example of tuning. I accentuated the chrome and removed the chain guards from all my bikes. Riding bikes was all about speed and daring-do—-vicarious race cars. I rode my sting-ray across Colorado Springs once—riding some the way on the interstate (don’t do this at home)—in order to see a real funny car in a local car show. In high school my friend and I rode from Colorado Springs to Denver in the sleeting rain. At one point I got my Schwinn Suburban five speed going fifty five down a hill—at least that is what the driver of a car that pulled alongside me frantically indicated--all without a helmet. Ah, the immortality of youth.
A brief comment about my Schwinn is in order. I couldn’t afford the cool Schwinn Paramount bicycle or any of those all-Campanello equipped Italian jobs—the Ferraris of the pubescent jet-set--bikes that, today, eight year olds take for granted; so I bought a Suburban. I stripped it down best I could, but it still weighed about the same as a M1 Abram tank. Come to think of it, they used to use bikes like my ol’ Suburban to derail trains during the Korean War and then ride off on them as the angry enemy swarmed from the resultant wreckage. Yes, bicycles were my passion until I earned my driver’s license and then my bike era ended.