He had hocked himself to the eyeballs and spread the debt down to the third generation of his seed and was mighty protective over it. But tonight he was asleep. So I snuck it out of the garage by rolling it down the driveway and then waited till I hit the end of the street before I fired it up.
I was seventeen years old and living in Perth, Western Australia. It was close to midnight on a Sunday when I got a spontaneous urge to go ‘cruising’. I called up my best friend, Salvatore, so we could do some laps around the local cappuccino strip in Fremantle. We convinced ourselves that there must be scores of women just waiting to be swept off their feet by two dorks in shining denim with an ‘81 Cortina. I know what you must be thinking – we had to do something about the Cortina.
My brother was fast asleep in the next room. He had just spent the day cleaning his new car. Armor-All and everything. Yes, I know its shameful, but c’mon; don’t say you’re not thinking the exact same thing right now that I was then. I was desperate. It was common knowledge that your stock would at least double on the open market if you had a decent set of wheels. Anyway, he wouldn’t find out. I’d be back in an hour or two. You only live once. So I snuck out his newly acquired (and heavily encumbered) Honda Accord out of the garage.
On my way to pick up Salvatore, I passed through a very long, straight and familiar downhill patch of highway that stretched out as far as your eyes could see before disappearing over a hill. There were some small suburban strip malls along the way, a pub on one side and a mini mart, grocery and corner fish and chip shop on the other. But they had closed hours before. I couldn’t resist. I opened the old Honda up to see what she could do. I had the window down, the wind in my face and the stereo blaring. I had never driven a car this modern before; it was an incredible feeling. I called up fifth and piled on even more speed. Just a little bit more, I thought. I hadn’t had my license long and I figured I may as well notch up a personal record; I remember hitting 170km/h and then hearing a song I liked and reaching down to turn up the volume of the radio. That was the last thing I remembered.
According to an eyewitness, I wandered a bit and hit the center island. I over corrected by swerving the counter direction and went over the sidewalk, sending me airborne into a convenience store. After I had turned that into a drive-thru, I went through another glass window and into a wooden electrical power pole. Apparently, because there was still a little momentum left, I came off the power pole and bounced off a concrete wall and ended up in the middle of the road facing oncoming traffic. My engine and a few other important bits were still on the correct side of the road, however.
By some sheer miracle, nobody was hurt. Through the grace of God, there was nobody around and no other vehicles involved. I had survived every parent’s worst nightmare without so much as a scratch. Yet. I still had to tell my brother. I remember having to wake him up at three in the morning while he lay oblivious to the mayhem I had just caused. The conversation went a little like this: “Mike, wake up, I had an accident.” Still groggy, he replied, “Are you ok?” “Yes, I’m fine”, I uttered nervously. “You sure?” He continued, pulling himself up from bed. “Yes.” “How’s your car?” he continued, with genuine concern. “Ummmm….My car is fine, Michael.” Puzzled, the last words I heard Michael say that night was, “So, what’s the problem then?” There were no eyewitnesses in the room, so I can’t tell you what happened after that.
15 years on, I’m now a parent, who is now dreading the day my son will get his license – especially because my boy, Alex, shares my incredible fascination for cars. My fear, like that of most parents’, is that no matter what we do or say, our children will have to make the same mistakes we made, and succumb to some momentary lapses of reason – which in the case of teenagers, these ‘lapses’ can last up to four years. But unless we cryogenically freeze them, we cannot insulate them from the dangers of the open road; all we can do is prepare them.
I happened to mention something to my mom that I’m taking my son karting. “Ay, that’s so dangerous. He already loves cars, don’t encourage him. I mean, he might get hurt! If anything happens to him, I’ll die!” Then soon all her friends started ganging up on me, each one with their own tale to tell about the dangers of speed.
Of course I didn’t have the guts to argue with them right then and there – hell hath no fury like ladies at lunch – so I am saying my piece here, under the safety of the Philippine STAR’s motoring protection program.
If your son or daughter has a need for speed, nothing you can say or do will change that. In fact, you run the risk of spiking their curiosity even more by filling them with fears and horrible stories. It’s a bit like trying to discourage a teenage boy from seeing his girlfriend. So, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Develop their skill. It is absolutely no guarantee that they will never speed on public roads and get hurt, but at least you would have given them a better chance of surviving if they have scratched their itch on the track and learned vital car control. Worse case scenario: they become better drivers.
In my experience one of two things will happen – they develop their passion for driving or they lose interest altogether – either way, they will be better off for the experience. The first thing you learn in motor racing is the discipline of speed and the limits of both the car and driver – something I had to find out the hard way. You can only go so far before physics takes over. No matter who you are. Also, plowing into a tire wall backwards in front of a crowd filled with pretty girls can be a very humbling experience and very good for the soul. It teaches you a valuable lesson that really sticks; we realize quickly, in a safe and controlled environment, that nobody is ten foot tall and bulletproof.
Personally, I wish that I could just bonsai my kids. Or just pickle them in a jar where they will remain as far out of harm’s way as possible. But deep inside we all know that eventually we’ll have to face the sobering truth that growth is inevitable and our children will need to ride their bikes, scrape their knees and eventually, ask for the car keys. Or in my case, swipe ‘em.
Oh, by the way, the song on the radio? “Heaven can wait”, by Meatloaf. I kid you not.