Go-cart dreams

Strandwood Elementary probably functions in my mind in the same way most people think about their first relationships. When a young, idealistic person finally enters into the hyped up world of dating, it isn’t odd for the beloved’s flaws to melt away (or be overlooked) and for every “first” moment to be seared into the beholder’s memory with impossibly perfect and magical qualities; somewhat imagined.
The same is true for Strandwood. Perhaps part of the reason why my elementary school sits on a pedestal among a sea of other significant childhood memories is because I was fairly popular while I was a student there. Things were simple: if you possessed a decent kickball leg and could muster the courage to spout an occasional wisecrack aimed at the teacher, you had it made. Even the most anxiety-ridden occurrences that took place at Strandwood had benefits. The “kissy girls,” a gang of rambunctious females who were known for chasing down a lone male with the intent of pinning him down and showering him with shy pecks on the cheek, secretly boosted my ego everyday at recess as I washed their deadly germs off my face.
But the real reason why Strandwood has stubbornly remained a powerful place in my mind is because of the times I spent there after school. Living seven blocks away from the foursquare plastered blacktop, the field’s climbable hill and the rows of chain swing sets made Strandwood an irresistible weekend destination. I would go there with my friends, family, or alone. Regardless of who came with me, I was always equipped with a vehicle designed for speed.
I’d think about the kissy girls, those speedy devils who I could never quite outrun (even though part of me strangely wanted to be caught), and I’d feel pathetically slow. I started having dreams about being chased by strangers until my legs would suddenly give out, transforming into stone statues that refused to trudge one more step. As the dreams got worse I began going to Strandwood more often to ride my bike. I would fly across the blacktop, swerve dangerously between narrow halls, buck off hidden mounds of dirt in the field; all while standing upright and peddling like I was trying to break some sort of record.
As time passed, I started to feel that the propulsion offered by my bike couldn’t measure up to my newly acquired addiction to move with extreme quickness. I wanted to travel as fast as possible, preferably without any requirement of physical output. If The Simpsons and The Little Rascals had taught me anything, it was that a go-cart is an essential part of any suburban childhood. After months of begging my Dad, he surprised me on my birthday with a homemade, flame emblazoned, two-rider and motorless go-cart. I quickly convinced my sister to help me drag the vehicle to Strandwood where we’d have a test run on the field’s steep hill.
I spent everyday that summer dragging my oak hewn go-cart from my backyard to Strandwood’s hill. Somehow, the five seconds of plowing down the hill at its steepest point and coasting twenty feet across the soccer field made all the lugging worthwhile. The driver’s seat was a bolted down lawn chair while the “break man”, whose job was to grind the hand break into the rear tire if the go-cart steered out of control, had to ride near the back on a small wooden platform.
After our initial fears of capsizing midway down the hill had proven to be unwarranted, my friends and I acted as recklessly as possible to maintain the fun.
We built small jumps out of dirt, launching the go-cart through the air before meeting the steep incline with near fatal nosedives. We fit five kids on the platform designed for one break man, wobbling down the hill, pitching kids off as we hit barely detectable cracks in the dirt. We’d abandon the driver’s seat and bail out in tumbling dives moments before the ghost ride would send the go-cart veering out of control.
By the end of summer an undeniable pattern emerged: I’d discover a way to travel at high speeds across every possible surface of my elementary school, eventually get bored, and invent new ways to make the activity dangerous to keep myself interested. The poor go-cart eventually became a victim of my insatiable thirst for fun. By the end of summer my friends and I were ready to try one last glorious stunt before the impending boredom of a new school year claimed our dangerous pastime.
There was a large steel soccer goal at the bottom of the hill that we were used to avoiding. Instead of staying a safe distance from the beams, someone had the brilliant idea of attempting to go through the middle—directly at the ten-foot gap created by two thick metal bars. Without taking time to think, discuss, or grab protective helmets we decided to pull of one last stunt at that very moment.
I decided to be the driver, along with the kid who came up with the idea as the break man. We teetered on the lip of the hill in silence before suddenly plummeting over the edge. Rumbling along our familiar tracks as the tires flung clods of dirt in every direction, I gripped the steering wheel with a foreign feeling of terror in my stomach. Despite the fact that the goal was straight ahead of us, gap dead-on, the go-cart coasting at dangerous speeds, I choked. It was as if an alarm went off in my head, commanding me to save myself by jerking the steering wheel to one side in an attempt to avoid the goal all together. But the flinch was too late. I waited a little too long. The goal post grew larger with every second, stretching far above our heads until a deafening “CLANG” halted the go-cart in its tracks. Hurled onto the field in opposite directions, my friend and I somehow survived without any serious injuries. The go-cart, on the other hand, was dejectedly tipped over sideways with the front axle split in half, wheels spinning weakly in the air.
I don’t remember the crash that ended the life of my go-cart too well. I also don’t fully remember those countless times when the go-cart would come to its inevitable halt halfway across the field–when we’d have to heave the painfully heavy vehicle right back up the side of the hill. What I do remember, with crisp detail, are those first moments when the go-cart would plunge over the edge. I remember the go-cart hurtling along the incongruous dirt surface. I remember the summer’s one hundred degree weather momentarily eclipsed by wind on my face. I remember hearing high-pitched echoes of screams and laughter refracting down the halls. I remember breathlessly retelling the details of the day’s go-cart runs to my parents as they skeptically listened to my stories that must have had a few exaggerations here and there.


  1. You are a damn good writer my friend. I am quite proud.

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