Thursday, November 27, 2008


It was the fall of 1964 and The Beatles were “taking America by storm” (a popular and ridiculously overused phrase at the time) with hit after hit. To you, they were okay, but not nearly as cool as when Doug’s parents bought him a brand new bright yellow go-kart with a two-cycle Clinton engine, drum brakes, and a centrifugal force clutch.

You’d never seen anything so beautiful. Or so fast. Doug took the kart over to the school parking lot. That engine whined like a chain saw (the Clinton company did indeed make chain saws), and when Doug took off he shot past you with bugling eyes and a look of frozen fear on his face.

It had to be the coolest thing ever. That night at dinner you asked your father if you could get a go-kart, too. “Sure,” he said. “If you can pay for it.”

You shoveled driveways all winter and, by the spring, had saved less than a quarter of what you would have needed to buy a kart like Doug’s. It seemed hopeless, but then, in the Pennysaver, you found an ad for a homemade kart that looked like it had been welded together out of spare pipe. It had two rear band brakes, and no engine. Worst of all, it was the color of cream of broccoli.

“You sure you want it?” Dad asked, clearly dubious, when he took you to see it. But you were sure (And why not? You couldn’t afford anything better).
(That's you, shoveling.)

You guess Dad felt bad for you after that, because he said you could have the Briggs and Stratton engine from your old lawn mower. You unbolted the engine from the lawnmower, drilled new holes in the engine plate on the go-kart, and mounted it.

Then you went to the store to buy a centrifugal force clutch, only to discover that you couldn’t afford one. But you could afford a sprocket and a chain. All you’d have to do was jump start the kart.

Your short driveway slanted down to the street. After making sure there were no cars coming, you crouched beside the kart like a bobsled driver and pushed. The engine caught and roared. The kart shot out of your hands, sailed down the driveway, across the street, crashed into the curb, and died.

In time you learned to push and jump on before the kart got away. You would ride up and down the narrow street in front of your house, lugging the engine on each tight turn, and knowing if you hit the brakes too hard she’d stall.

Jumpstarting is hard on an engine. The spark plug often got fouled and had to be cleaned. You fiddled constantly with the carburetor, and often burned yourself on the muffler. Cables snapped and had to be replaced. Brake bands wore out and had to be replaced. The drive tire went bald and had to be replaced. You did it all yourself.

(A home-made kart of similar vintage to yours).
While every kid around begged Doug to let them drive his kart,
you cannot remember anyone ever asking to drive yours. You don’t doubt that they regarded your broccoli-green machine as a joke and an eyesore. And yet, you can’t recall being particularly bothered or jealous.

You’re sure you spent far more time fixing the kart than driving it. At its best, it never went a third as fast as Doug’s. It would be too neat and easy to end this story by saying that Doug got bored with his kart, or never appreciated it. The truth is, you have no idea how he felt about his kart, or what he eventually did with it. All you know is you loved every second you spent with yours.

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