Friday, July 27, 2007



When I was a kid I wanted a go-kart, but I didn't think I'd ever get to have one. We didn't have money for those kinds of things. A go-kart was something hopelessly out of reach, something exclusive to princes and potentates.

I'm not sure why I wanted one so much. It might have stemmed from the fact that after my parents' divorce, I was at the mercy of adults to visit my dad. I couldn't see him at will, but only when someone could drive me there, so I think I became obsessed with transportation. I was fascinated with mobility. I can remember vowing to ride my bicycle to my dad's house (50 miles away) when I was seven or eight years old. I didn't actually accomplish that until 8 years later. To my surprise, the go-kart dream came true first.

(Incidentally, the post-divorce transportation-fixation probably factors into how I wound up becoming a "motorscooter professional." I remember seeing the older neighborhood kids riding mopeds and scooters home from school. It was like seeing Aladdin swoop past on a flying rug, or Elroy Jetson on a space-bike. As they passed, their engines steadily whirring like magical bubbles popping, the riders smiles transcended the limitations of my own little world. It was a freedom I coveted, one that wasn't too far out of reach.)

I was about 13 when my brother Tom brought news that an older neighbor kid had a broken go-kart in his yard. We immediately set about scheming to procure the kart. As it turned out, Scott didn't really want it anymore. It was broken, and he was old enough to drive. Tom and I, along with a couple of his friends, pooled our money and bought it from him. I don't remember exactly what it cost, but I'm sure it was less than fifty bucks. I think I probably conned the other three investors into letting me make a small cash contribution in exchange for putting my mechanical skills to use in getting it running.

The other three raised money with a lemonade stand, and briefly, a lip-sync stand.

In case you were wondering what a lip sync stand is, think of a lemonade stand, only instead of paying a dime for an icy cold glass of lemony refreshment, you pay a dime to watch kids dance to top 40 hits. Not surprisingly, people didn't want to pay to see them lip sync so the venture went under. This was a bitter irony though, since the songs on the menu were all by Milli Vanilli, a duo who at the time were playing to sell-out crowds, but were later exposed as lip synchers themselves.

Somehow, in spite of their failed business venture, Tom and Co. were able to chip in with me and buy the go-kart. One of the front wheels was broken off, but that didn't stop us from riding it. We just couldn't make any left turns, or the front left corner would dig into the pavement, showering the driver with sparks and gravel.

It was the best thing we had ever bought.

We had a lot of fun with that old kart, until in 8th grade I decided to try and stretch the frame to accomodate my now longer legs. I did a pretty good job cutting it in half, but a pretty sucky job welding in the extensions. It broke in half on the maiden voyage.

So in 9th grade I took a metals class and built a new go-kart. I fixed up an old 8hp roto-tiller engine, and built a frame that had two seats so Tom and I could ride together. I even leveraged the project to get my "model design and building" merit badge. We also had a lot of fun with this second kart. We even took it to our dad's house once and he drove around in it with us.

In many ways kart #2 was the best car I've ever owned. But it wasn't without its problems. It only had one-wheel drive, the steering was jerky and imprecise, and the brakes were nothing more than big metal pads that rubbed directly on the tires to slow it down. By 12th grade, I had higher aspirations. Having considered all of the weaknesses of the original, and having need of a project to keep me sane in the wake of Becky's death and Zeebo's dumping me for a major douche, I decided to make a new go-kart. (If you want to see a movie about this period of my life, go watch "Better Off Dead." It's basically the same story only there was no cute French foreign exchange student in my version.)

This third kart was supposed to be my crowning achievement, though few people around me understood what I was trying to do. Like beating a sword into a plowshare, I aimed to make a 1974 Yamaha DT250 into a high-performance go kart. I had only ridden the motorcycle once, with Becky actually, before disassembling it to see what made it tick. Since I had the motorcycle engine already, I designed the kart around it. The frame I built had front and rear suspension, a special homemade steering box, disc brakes, and a really wide track for stability. My objective was to reach a top speed of 100 mph, though I didn't know what I would do after that.

In the end, it didn't work out the way I'd planned. Not that the kart broke in half or anything, I just never really finished it. I drove it home from school one day, without brakes, and parked it in the backyard. Soon after, I graduated from high school and moved on to other things.

Sometimes I regret never finishing that kart, but maybe some things are better left unfinished. Like a lip-sync stand, or Milli Vanilli, the Go-Kart served its purpose without actually accomplishing its goal. I didn't need to drive it, it didn't need to actually work. In the end, none of that mattered. It was a con. The real purpose of the machine was revealed in my own survival. In the middle of a maelstrom of personal problems, I daydreamed about a vehicle, planned and calculated and designed a vehicle, and I built a vehicle to see me through to the other side.

3 comments:

Martin said...

I don't know if it has to do with visiting your dad. I wanted a go cart my whole life too!! I still love riding them, and my brother even raced them for a while.

Hey, Call me about Provophenia!!

Marty

justin hileman said...

we should make jetsons exhaust bubbles for a scooter. i'll volunteer mine.

~j. said...

Lip sync stand. What the...?

Interesting how we immerse ourselves in whatever thoughts necessary to survive the craziness. My brother's memories of our childhood differ greatly from my own, even memories of the same instances. He was smart (young?) enough to live in la-la land that whole time, whereas I remember specific, yucky things. I should have had a better hobby.