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Opinion

Midnight car racing in the forest similar to anxiety before exam

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October 14, 2011

The starry night was lost in the haze of a small town lamp that perforated the plastic covering over the steaming window. I sat in a chair and glanced from this spectacle to my friends, in slumber on curbside giveaway couches, to the early blue scattering of the atmosphere until my friends began to throw away their dreams and nightmares. I would fall asleep in my car two times before the end of that day, while driving.

The floor was sticky with spilled drinks and the ashtrays held enough volcanic soot to make a coalminer envious. In a few hours, we would be driving up to Houghton, Michigan, the Upper Peninsula, in a two-car caravan to see a rally car race in the dark. The sport was foreign to me, knowing only what Mike conveyed to me as Ricers, they were imported cars encased in bulky roll cages with several million candles as light power, ripping up narrow dirt tracks at triple digit speeds into the dark Northwoods forest. I drove my 1998 forest green Acura Integra, or Acura-Honda as my mechanic calls it, and I noticed a glossy yellow Acura Integra was in the competition; I followed this brotherly car with particular interest.

My co-workers/friends/friends of a friend, Doug and Alisha, two lovers who met each other in the company ink, folded their bulky frames into my compact car. Doug had pushed carts with me at Sam’s Club, while Alisha had worked in the deli. It was a seven hour car ride through the Northwood’s. In the first hour, my eyes shuttered a few times, until they nearly locked down. Doug manned up and took the wheel. I was asleep in moments. As the drive continued, our conversations depleted our stock of water cooler knowledge as the noise shifted to the radio speakers.

Later that night in the stale 50 degree temperature, we, and dozens of other strangers, drove down a sloping cartilage of flaky ice deep into the forest. We parked near the stage, a fixed point along the track for spectators to view, and then we converged with the other enthusiasts jockeyed along the straightaway. I remember Mike repeated several times that we would see “glowing rotors;” the optimal force of a car turning so hard in the cold in tandem with the brakes rubbing against the rotors. The effect makes the rotors glow cherry red in the midnight darkness.

A thin length of surveying tape twirled around the oak trees as a gesture of protection at an arm’s length away. Many people pressed flasks and cold beers against their red lips, the alcoholic liquid dribbled down their chins, as they pushed against this bright orange filament of protection that curved to its furthest elasticity of allowance. Everyone gossiped about the arrival time, when faint punctuated pitches of a Subaru engine erupted from the cloak of the deep forest. Like a bull turning a corner, all eight cylinders and a million candle powered bulbs rent the nighttime whispers and glowed red sparks in floating fountains of color. Flash after flash paraded through the darkness until only the murmur of the crowd remained.

My friends and I walked back up the frozen path to my car. Along the path, I imitated the racers, shocking Mike and his girlfriend with the snaggle tooth, as I whipped my car around corners. Near midnight we made our way back to our hotel, my lids drooped and I slapped my face several times to keep composure. Mike copied Doug. Hip and neck jerked my hands to the steering wheel and I gripped with frenzy, I finally noticed the wheel was the driver’s headrest. Rudely awoken out of sleep by instinct, Mike rolled in laughter at my puzzled expression. Snaggle-tooth frowned as she stared back at me in the rear-view mirror. Consciousness regained, I joined Mike in raucous laughter, glad that I could laugh.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.