Field Notes

My need for speed

My need for speed

I close my eyes and can hear the crowd cheering.

Thousands of people lining the course, most of them having been there for hours, many of them having consumed more beer than I’ve had in my lifetime (being more of a Scotch and wine drinker).

The sun is blaring down as heat after heat is run.

Dozens of drivers had gathered at Mt Tabor this Saturday. None of them were young. Most were too old to have spent the better part of the year trying to figure out how to spend less than $300 on their dream machine.

It’s not an easy task I discovered.

The car had to have three wheels on the ground at all times, had to have real brakes – no Fred Flintstones, as they said – car couldn’t be more than five by 12 and had to weigh less than 500 pounds. It had to have a horn.

The car was allowed no propulsion – it had to be gravity driven – though it was allowed weapons; as long as they fired water.

All this was going through my head as I could hear them clearing the track; not an easy task on a Saturday afternoon where the fans have had enough beer and other drinks (the no-hard booze law seems to have been interpreted more as a suggestion than a law) that staying off the track seems like a challenge.

My eyes closed, I wonder what I am doing here.

I am 46-years-old and have only had a driver’s license for five years. When I moved to Portland in 2008, I was leaving New York City where I was one of those people who had believed if I couldn’t get there by subway, it wasn’t worth going to.

The minute the decision was made to move to Oregon, I knew I was going to be in trouble.

Within 48 hours of moving, I was signed up for driving class. Amy and I agreed that if we wanted to stay married it would probably not be a good idea for her to teach me.

My instructor, whom I’ll call Mr. White because I can’t remember what his real name is and that was the color he turned every time he was in the car with me, convinced, I’m sure, he was never going to see his loved ones again, presented challenges.

It was a lousy experience made more difficult by the fact that no matter how many times I explained that not only was I getting my first Oregon driver’s license, I was getting my first driver’s license EVER, he couldn’t seem to get his head around that concept.

There was lots of, “Well, Mr. Miner I don’t know what they teach you in New York but that’s not how we do it in Oregon.”

With each lesson, I got a little better. The problem was that because he couldn’t figure out that this was really going to be my first driver’s license, we spent very little time on basics.

After nine lessons in three weeks, came time for my road test.

It was pouring rain and I was not optimistic but I figured since it rains, let’s just say frequently, in Oregon, I figured I would have to suck it up. Sitting in White’s Toyota Corolla — a brand and make I still refuse to get in, the entire experience was so traumatic — I tried to figure out which was going to be worse: failing my road test or telling people that I had failed.

I had decided that both were pretty much going to suck equally and that maybe the best solution would be just having White drop me at the airport so I can just hop on a plane and head back to New York and subways. I would send for my stuff later.

“Are you Mr. Miner?” a balding man who looked twenty years older than I felt — even though we were probably around the same age — asked me, opening the passenger door to the Corolla. He had a clipboard in his right hand and a somber expression on his face. “I’m Mr. Adams and I will administer your road test. Before any driving, let’s just make sure everything’s in order.”

He spoke so quickly, so efficiently, there wasn’t time for me to charming, or at least try to be charming. I suspected that even if I had had all the time in the world, he really wouldn’t have given a damn. If nothing else, my lessons with White had taught me that driving instructors may be the most humorless of bureaucrats.

Adams walked around the car, making sure that all the lights are working, got in the car and directed me to back up, which I did but only after trying with the emergency break still on. Not a good start.

Pulling into the street, I made a left, another left, a right, switched lanes, parallel parked, pulled back into traffic, switched lanes and then he told me to head back to the DMV lot.

Since I could barely see the white lines on the road because of the rain, certainly not as well as I could see Adams overly dramatically gripping the handle above the door, I was pretty sure I had failed, something he confirmed for me moments later.

Thanks to the help of friends and maybe the sympathy of my second test administrator, I passed when I took it again three weeks later.

Since then, I haven’t hit anyone, let alone, killed anyone.

I know it’s keeping the bar low but it makes being disappointed that much harder.

And now sitting here at Tabor, I know that while I will never race at Indy, the need for speed is running through my blood.

I open my eyes and know while this not be my year, next year – watch out.