I wrote this essay as a way to try to stay afloat in the bitter maelstrom of emotions I’ve been drowning in since losing my father. I’m honored that Tin House would consider it high enough quality for their site.
Without further pomp:
Without further pomp:
(A special thanks to my sister, Becca, for the awesome photos in this post)
I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t want to jump out of planes or off of cliffs or into big holes naturally bored hundreds of feet into the Earth’s crust. It does nothing for me. The love of self fights the love of excitement, and self-preservation almost always wins.
The one exception is driving. Something about clutch and gears and accelerator coming together in glorious harmony, resulting in a symphony of speed, resonates deeply in my pysche. I’ve always loved to drive, and drive fast. It was speed I wanted, and the car was the means to that end.
I couldn’t physically drive a real car until I was about 15 years old, because I was a tiny boy who didn’t experience his adult growth spurt until relatively late. Having my feet be able to reach the pedals was a prophecy straight out of Plutarch; like Theseus growing to a strength to be able to move the stone to retrieve his father’s arms, I had to impatiently wait until my physical body could handle 2000 odd pounds of steel and gasoline.
I sought to satiate my desire for speed in others ways. Bicycles. Skateboards. Sprinting. Soccer. They brought me fleeting joy, but I always wanted to go faster than the highest gear would let me go, just a little faster than the steepest hill could propel me.
And one glorious day, I discovered that they had made cars for kids; smaller things with less power that could be controlled in a relatively safe manner. I’m talking go karts, holmes.
The first time I shoved my slight frame into the tiny plastic seat of a homeade go kart, I felt like Mario Andretti mixed with Mario the plumber. If I’d had a red shell to throw at other karts, my life would have been complete.
I was an equal in a go kart. I wasn’t short or weak. I could keep pace with, and even pass my older sister. I could race my dad with the chance of actually winning. I was as big as the biggest man in the world inside that little black contraption, the 12 horsepower lawnmower engine puttering under the hood, feeling like nothing could ever go wrong as long as my hands were on that wheel.
On the southern most part of Chincoteague Island, Virginia, (the beach town where I spent my summers as a kid) there was a small go kart track that my father used to take us to when it was open during the Summer season. I remember fondly scooting around that oval of pavement, watching the sun sink into the Western bay; its rays throwing long shadows and an orange glow over my race, burning this image of childhood perfection into the permanence of my memory.
My sister visited the island and the track a few weeks ago. By my crude math, I hadn’t seen (or even thought about this place) for nearly 14 years.
It’s hard to tell when the track closed. It’s clearly been abandoned for some time, based on its current state. I don’t think it was ever exactly a high end go kart track (if such things exist) but at least someone maintained the track and the karts and the little house where you bought tickets.
I have memories of this place being alive with noise and activity as I waited in line for my chance to burn as much rubber as a 10 year old is capable of burning.
The bones of the track are still there, but it’s beyond salvage at this point. I suppose there is no place in our current world for the frivolity of a go kart track in a sleepy beach town.
You can see from the below set of images that the surrounding wetlands flora has been encroaching on the track steadily since about 1997. There is a large gap in the satellite imagery, but I think by 2007 it is safe to say that this place hadn’t seen patrons for quite a while. The large truck/trailer parked on the track was the biggest hint.
It’s sad to see this little piece of my childhood in such disrepair, but I suppose it’s bound to happen. Businesses close, buildings are torn down, people move, and nature reclaims anything it can.
But memories linger. It may look depressing to an outsider, but these pictures are a connection to bright memories of happy days. I may have sat in this very car all those years ago, when I was the king of the track, learning what it was to be in control and trying as hard as I could to win some imaginary race against imaginary competitors.
Sounds oddly similar to how I feel now.