So I went go kart racing the other day. No, seriously, I did.
After we raced or whatever--not sure what I did could accurately be called racing--my friend asked, “When was the last time you drove go karts?” For the sake of simplicity, let’s call my friend Birthday B, because it was his birthday and that’s why we were doing this or something.
I hesitated before responding, “I don’t know. When I was ten maybe?”
The hesitation spoke volumes. Let’s just say I left out a few details. I probably was around ten. That part was true. I’m 95 percent sure I was somewhere between nine and twelve. However, I left out the part about how I only did it once ever. And I remember it being horrible.
Saying that I’m not a big fan of unfamiliar activities, particularly ones that involve some sort of performance element, is kind of like saying Adele is pretty decent at singing. Both declarations are understatements of the millennium.
This fear of the unfamiliar, or to be more precise, fear of being judged by others as inadequate or less than competent in performing unfamiliar tasks, has impacted many aspects of my life in exciting and delightful ways. For example, I have a propensity for quitting things. Few things in this life bring me more joy than quitting. Sure, the thinking about quitting and having to go through the quitting process is stressful, but the payoff in the form of blissful relief is more than worth it. And, yes, I’m actually serious about that. Unless you share my mental make-up (Does anyone? I hope not), you can’t possibly understand how freeing it is when the weight of expectation and the fear of failure is lifted.
Fortunately for everyone, it seems that I might have passed on this highly desirable trait to at least one of my sons. For example, he’ll try something like hitting a baseball, and if he doesn’t hit a homerun on his first try, he’ll toss the bat down and say “I don’t want to do this!” Of course, I say something appropriate like, “Now, now. You have to practice and keep trying. No one is good the first time they try.” And then I say to myself, “That’s my boy!”
Anyway, back to the go karts. The thing I remembered most about go kart driving as a kid was the fear of getting stuck against the wall or spinning around in the wrong direction or not going fast enough to get up the hill and sliding comically backwards while other karts whizzed by me, their drivers pointing and laughing, the super cool teenager working at the track taking a break from his joint smoking to wave the red flag lethargically before just giving up. While I was waiting for my turn, I planned it all out. If I ended up stuck on the track somewhere, I would just stay there forever and try to blend into the scenery. It was the only dignified thing to do, really. Luckily, it didn’t come to that. I don’t remember much about how it actually went. I guess it was pretty fun.
This time around, I felt a little more prepared. First off, I’m an adult now. I’ve been driving a car with a modicum of success for at least eighteen years. Sure my driver’s test was mediocre at best (I didn’t take driver’s ed., obviously, and I’m sure you don’t need a diagram to figure out why), but since then I’ve been okay. Second, I’m an adult now, not an anxious kid afraid of what people think of me. Yeah! You grow out of that self-consciousness; everyone says so. Haha, just kidding. That doesn’t really happen. I’m still exactly the same.
I covered up any anxiety I was feeling like a champ though. I arrived a little late, which was a bad start because if there’s one thing I hate, other than go karting, it’s walking into an event late when everyone else is already assembled. Luckily, it was pretty much okay because there was only like one of us at the party. Birthday B said, “So, you going to give it a try or no?” I could see it in his eyes, he wasn’t expecting much from me. He had already raced once. His hair was all mussed from the helmet, which was a little distracting. My mind flipped through all the possible replies before settling on “Psshh. Sure, why not? I’ll give it a go!” Suave. Really suave. Wait, what did I say?!?
So, before I knew it, it was game time. We walked out to the place where they keep the cars and the teenager in charge gave me a quick rundown of the rules and procedures. All I remember is there was a laminated card he gestured to, he talked really fast, said something about a button to push or not push, and emphasized that there was to be no bumping other cars. “Got it?” he said. “Yep,” I replied with zero confidence. Then he told me to pick out a head sock and helmet.
This was a huge curveball. First, was this so dangerous that we needed this much protection? And second, how the heck do you put on a head sock?!? I panicked a little, but managed to get the sock on without putting it on backwards, which I had decided was the most humiliating possible outcome. Before putting the helmet on I casually asked Birthday B about the button situation. “So, he said something about pushing or not pushing a button. What was that about?” Like the track attendant, Birthday B said something I didn’t understand, so I just gave up.
Then the helmet went on and I couldn’t see anything below my neck, which made locating and buckling my seatbelt problematic. I should mention that I have a persistent phobia of ride situations that require buckling a seatbelt. Specifically, I’m always afraid that I won’t get it buckled in time and then I’ll be tossed out like a rag doll or something because asking for assistance is not an option, obviously. I barely made it this time. It was definitely one of my top five closest calls. Number one being that time I couldn’t get the buckle to lock on the roller coaster at Universal Studios and I think I held myself in the chair during the upside down part with my abs.
With the seatbelt fiasco behind us, it was time to race. The pimply teenager dropped the green flag and I stomped down on the gas pedal. I was on fire for the first five seconds or so and then, BUMP! Seriously? The jerk in the car behind me sideswiped me in his haste to get past. Because going really fast in a stupid miniature car is really important or something! Did he not get the warning about bumping? Why wasn’t he ejected without a refund as promised?
I took a moment to gather myself. “Calm down, Andrew. You can do this.”
After the near throw down with jerk-face (turns out jerk-face worked at the track, hypocrite) things slowly improved. Slowly being the key word. My goal the rest of the way was to not rock the boat, step on any toes, or make any more enemies. I cruised around for like an hour or however long that torture lasted. I got stuck behind the slow 12-year-old for the last six laps or so, but that was okay, it’s not like it was a race or anything.
After the checkered flag dropped, I pulled into the car repository relieved and a little sweaty. My armpits were certainly a little clammy and the whiplash caused by jerk-face’s assault would stay with me for a few days, but I was otherwise no worse for wear. I thought the worst of it was over, but when I stepped out of the kart and started walking off the track, I couldn’t get my helmet to unbuckle. So there I was, walking around with my helmet on like a freaking idiot for like seven seconds or something. It was pretty clear to me that everyone noticed and judged me harshly.
“So, what did you think?” Birthday B asked as we walked off. “Would you do it again?”
Of course, there was only one thing I could say.
“Sure, why not? That was fun.”