Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Demolition Derby: The Cars Prove That If They Ever Become Sentient, We Are Totally Screwed

I didn't get my license till I was, I don't know, 21, 22? We took buses everywhere always, through out high school and college and Phoenix. My parents couldn't get me one and I didn't save up for one. I just figured why bother getting my license at that moment in my life if I didn't have a car? When I finally ponied up, I remember my friend Margaret let me use her car to take the driving test the second time. It was a beat up old light blue hatchback, and it died as soon as she parked it at the beginning of the course, in front of the instructors. I don't remember actually passing my test, but obviously I did, later, at some point. It wouldn't be till years later that I would buy my first car. And even more years till I would think of spending more than 500 dollars on a car.

My very first vehicle was an '85 Celebrity. It had no working speedometer, and I was dating David at the time, who told me it would be good for me to learn how to tell how fast a car was going just by paying attention. He was always overly positive like that. I did learn how to go about the right speed, and I never got a ticket, but it was terrifying. I did not love my first car.

There was another car in between there somewhere maybe? I don't remember, honestly. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn't.

Then I bought my first used car from a JD Byrider, which is where you go if you work at a record store and have bad credit from that 500 dollar credit card you got that one time at the student union and never paid off after you blew all of your limit on beer and hemp beads. I picked my Sonata over the Taurus because it had less miles and a CD player. It meant I had to make car payments for the first time, which was my first experience with a bill that I had to pay no matter what, if I had a job or not. There was no leeway or moving back in with my parents once I had that car payment. Within the first year, the engine blew, and it was still under warranty. I am still a huge believer in warranties. Maybe that sounds stupid, to "believe" in warranties, maybe to everyone that was always obvious, but I labored under the impression they weren't worth the money till exactly that moment.

I still have that car, and it's about to die. Poor thing is all beat up, no hubcaps and a hood that's peeling off all of its paint. A giant gash in the quarter panel where I hit my parents' fence. The alternator has been replaced a couple times. It had a power steering leak. I replaced the radiator and the brakes. I've bought tires a couple times. The suspension is just shaking apart, and there is some chirping noise coming from the left front wheel that squeaks every time I hit a bump. I will probably bother to fix it really soon, but what I'm really worried about is the transmission, which will someday leave me stranded in nowhere Ohio on a back road with limited cell reception. A couple of times, me or other people have started driving with the emergency brake engaged. I have no idea what that does, but I know it's not good. The inside of the car is full of junk and filthy, because I'm constantly throwing stuff in the back seat. Like, right now it's full of beach stuff, books, and a bag of clothes I had to move from the trunk when they replaced the taillights. There is SO MUCH stuff in the trunk. I should just throw it all out, since I haven't needed any of it in months, but like, there's probably stuff in there I need. My winter coat maybe, I'm not sure.

This darling beautiful wonderful car has taken me so many places. It's trucked me out 2 hours to the office and back in winter blizzards. It's gone through tornado chasing, and hail, and me just driving it around the potholes of East Cleveland aimlessly for hours. And when it gets nondriveable, just simply dangerous and not okay and not worth fixing, I desperately want to shove it into a demolition derby ring and ram it into other cars until every last inch of that frame is ripped and torn and falling off. It would take five minutes, cause that piece of junk body is like foil.

I saw my first demolition derby at the Lorain County Fair this weekend. It was a lovely day beforehand. I met my friends out in Wellington, which is one of my favorite places, it's so pretty and random to drive out there. I have adventures in Wellington, every time, storms and elk and catfish and reservoirs. We met that day at one of their parents' houses, where two goats stood cautiously on the wide green lawn watching us talk by the pool, and chickens huddled under pine trees going to sleep. The fair was right around the corner, which out there means a 4 mile drive. The parking lot was big, and full of trucks. A giant inflatable American eagle stood guard over the entrance. Immediately inside, we looked for fried cheese on a stick, and then wandered around looking at the farm animals. When it was time, we got up into the bleachers, and sat waiting for the derby to start while the finest of rural Americana paraded past us in t-shirts and tank tops, clutching lemonades and nachos and ice cream and children. I felt like maybe the sundress I had worn was cut just a bit low, because in every direction nice looking older ladies were glaring at me. Then it started.

It took me a minute to adjust to what was happening. I knew conceptually what to expect, but actually seeing it, well that's like every live event is. Football fans, horse racing fans, everyone will tell you the same thing. You don't understand it until you're there. The funny thing is, that doesn't mean it's better than what you thought. For one, it was much slower than I was expecting. But I hadn't also thought of how that slowness, the mud and the falling off wheels, contributed to the momentous feel of these giant machines crashing and creaking into each other. The air was full of crunching. The crowd was surprisingly well behaved, like real church people. They let out whoops and screams when something really cool happened, but mostly everyone just sat on the metal slats and watched intently. It was, if our ears hadn't been filled with the roar of cars, very much like tennis. Imagine each tennis match had multiple players, and each player could randomly start to play against any player he had a clear hit to. And the players were barreling hard rough machinery fighting desperately to the death.

It's like a tournament, right? So there were three matches, and the cars left "running" after each match graduated to the finale. Even the winning ones ended up getting pushed out of the ring by miniature bull dozers. There were several volunteer firemen just standing around watching from the platform in their uniforms . The announcer was affable and joking. The carnival rides all spun around behind the backdrop, shining silver and gold in the setting evening sun. The derby cars were covered with words, scrawled across in bright spraypaint ads for collision shops,chiropractors, salvage yards, pizza places. A few of them had R.I.Ps and In Memorials on their doors, grandmothers and friends who had died in car accidents on the country roads in the dark after parties. My friend sat next to me and we talked about what it was like to grow up in Wellington, the churches and the derby contestants. Apparently, everyone dies in Wellington. I suspect the same is true in small towns all over Ohio. Everyone dies and everyone has babies, and they just keep trying to balance the whole thing generation after generation.

You have a different relationship with a car once you rely upon it solely. Growing up in the city, I had the advantage of being able to get a ride, or catch the bus, if something happened like my car was suddenly stolen for parts. But when you live 20 miles from anything useful, and there are no buses, and your closest family members are in Elyria maybe, or North Ridgeville,I mean, you need that car. You are in that car all the time. You know that car. The car is a major contributing factor to the quality of your life. There are no dates without a car. There is no shopping, or picking up people, or going places. There is no spontaneity.

And me, not only do I use my car for exploring, road trips, shows and the beach and lightning storms, but I also talk about cars all day for work. I talk about their broken pieces and their worth to people, emotional and physical. The first moment one car exploded the fender and hood of another car into a miracle of welded bent catastrophic steel, I felt this cathartic rush in my chest, and all the stress and pain of the work week melted. The laugh that came out of me when a car's whole entire tire flew off over the concrete barrier was pure and sincere glee.

I think that means something, the love and hate for cars as an extension of ourselves, and the desire to smash them violently to bits until they're dead. Drive them until they can't go any further down the road, and then let them fall fighting.

As we were waiting to leave, standing in the slow moving emptying current, my friends decided to hop down to the lower boxes, which involved a quick jump over the poles and stepping on some wooden folding chairs. A lady in a pink sweatshirt saw me about to go over, and said quickly "but she's wearing a dress!". I smiled sweetly at her and said "it's okay, I'm wearing leggings", and we ran off to look at the glowing dregs of the rest of the fair in the falling night.


  1. Only my dear sweet monkey chaps could find the romance in a demolition derby.

  2. As in I want to drive in one, and then probably have lots of adrenalin fueled sex? That's romantic, right?


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