Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Go-Kart

One of the greatest things to enter my world prior to obtaining my driver's license was a used go-kart.

My folks had a yard that was big enough to turn some laps in the bag yard as long as you paid close enough attention to dodge the pine trees and our German Shepherd.

Image source: en.wikipedia.org

It was that go-kart that with my Dad's tutelage taught me a healthy respect for the coil on a two-cycle engine. Yeah, Pop always had a sense of humor, and it tickled him to see me get shocked.

One street over from our family home was the remains of the abandoned high school football field. The grand stands and goal posts were gone, but what remained was a flat wide asphalt oval course that circled the old playing field. That asphalt oval made a perfect go-kart track. On the occasional Saturday, my Dad would allow us to ride the go-kart over there and turn some laps around the old field.

One such Saturday, I rode over to the old field and met some neighborhood kids that also had a go-kart and soon a race was  started. The two go-karts seemed equally matched, so getting an advantage was challenging. Finally on the third lap, I dove to the inside of the asphalt track to get the advantage through the turn. Suddenly I saw a foreboding image in my line of sight - a huge fire ant hill.

Image source: www.antweb.org

With no time to change course, The belly pan of the go-kart sliced the top of the mound off hurling three-quarters of the mound of fire ants onto me and the go-kart. Suddenly fire ants were up both my pant legs. Both of my legs become a stinging inferno.

I slammed on the brakes, killed the ignition, and hopped of the go-kart. Abandoning all modesty for self-preservation, I kicked off my tennis shoes, unbuckled my belt, and shed my Levis in front of God and half of the neighborhood kids. Kicking, screaming, twitching, I am sure I looked like a combination of someone dancing the "Icky Shuffle" and having a seizure all at the same time.

Because my Dad was so overcome with the humor of the sight, he could do nothing to help me as he was paralyzed with laughter and tears. I eventually was able to rid myself of all of the stinging/biting devils, beat my Levis against a pine tree to get all of the fire ants out of them, and was able to put back on my pants and ride home.

image source: www.aboutpest.com

I lost that race that day, but gave it no second thought. It took a few weeks to live down the jokes at school about my pantless dancing. I learned to watch carefully for fire ant hills when riding go-karts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Summer of 16

I turned 16 years old in the fall of my sophomore year in High School. A few months prior to the big day, my grandfather drove down from Southern Indiana with a six year old Chevrolet El Camino. It was maroon with a white vinyl top and hub caps. Not the cool El Caminos that you saw at the beach, but I was very grateful to have something other than my mom's car to drive. My brother had turned 18 that Summer, so I could drive to school if he rode with me.

For some unknown reason, he was willing to do it. My first day driving to school did not go so well. As we were preparing to leave, I saw a kid from my class out front of the school in the u-shaped driveway. With my brother's prodding, I pulled up to talk to the kid who began talking trash about my newly acquired ride. He ended his comments by daring me to spin a tire.

Like a foolish kid with something to prove, I took the challenge. I stood on the throttle and spun a tire around the U-shaped drive and out onto the street in front of the school. As we sped past the school, I looked over my shoulder to see the kid's expression. But what I saw instead was the towering figure of the school Principal standing in the arched doorway of the school motionlessly watching my show. A sense of impending doom sank over me.

The next day at school, nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen. That is until 6th period, the final class of the day, metal shop. Ten minutes into the class, the door opened and in walked the Principal. He spoke briefly to the instructor and a couple of students. He then coolly turned to make his way to the door when he stopped beside me and said, "I guess we probably need to talk. Why don't you stop by my office after class." And then without another word, he walked out the door.

My instructor was kind enough to let me go on to the office without having to sit through the rest of class and percolate with the fear of what was my fate. I made my way to the Principal's office. He greeted me and invited me to have a seat. He quickly made his point and concluded that if he ever saw me do something like that again, he would call the city police and let them handle it. Being a know-it-all teenager, my immediate thought was, "like they would do anything". I promised that I would not repeat my performance and thanked him for not taking any further action on the situation.

I was genuinely grateful that he had not called my Dad as I knew I would have gotten licks with a belt and probably had my keys to the El Camino yanked.

I managed to get through the rest of the school year without any major issues related to driving. I got my driver's license the Saturday after my birthday and began driving to school on my own and enjoying the freedom.

As Summer approached, I had dreams of spending the Summer going where I wanted and hanging out with friends. The first Sunday night of the Summer, I left Sunday night's Church service and stopped in the city parking lot to chat with some friends. When the conversation concluded, I remembered I needed to pick up a dish my Mom had sent to Church with me for youth group. So I drove to the end of the parking lot to turn into the alley that led to the Church parking lot. As I turned, I drove through a small bit of sand and barely spun a tire. It was not anything up to my standard for lighting a tire up. It was a small chirp that I thought nothing more about. Halfway down the alley, I suddenly see blue lights in my mirror.

I turned into the Church parking lot and met a very short city cop with an attitude that exceeded his small statue. He quickly informed me that he had been on top of one of the buildings downtown observing the parking lot with binoculars and had observed me spinning tires.

He had me follow him to the City Police station where I called my Dad. Needless to say, he was less than pleased with the situation. The cop wrote me the first traffic ticket of my life, and my Dad told me to drive straight home, pull my car into the backyard, and hang my set of keys up in the kitchen.

When Dad got home, he told me I was grounded from driving for the entire Summer. Just shoot me. He told me I could borrow his bicycle for anywhere I wanted to go.

So, Monday, I got up and wanted to go to the American Legion swimming pool to hang out with my friends. So, swallowing my pride, I grabbed Dad's bike and headed down the street feeling sorry for myself and how humiliating it was to be back on a bicycle.

I did not think for a minute about the fact that Dad's bicycle had long street fenders as opposed to the short fenders the bike I had ridden to elementary and middle school. My only thoughts were how bad the summer would suck not getting to drive. Halfway down our street, I kicked the pedals, yanked the handle bars and stood the bike up in a wheelie like I had done hundreds of times on my old bike. But as I did, the long back fender grabbed the asphalt and I was unloaded before I could think another thought. Clad in a bathing suit and a t-shirt, the asphalt opened both knees and forearms.

I carefully pedalled my bruised ego and bloody body back to the house to clean up by abrasions. My Mom greeted me at the door with minimal sympathy and helped me clean myself up.

It was a tough summer, but I had a lot of opportunity to mature some of my thinking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Advantages of Living in a Small Town

From time to time someone asks what were the best parts of growing up in a small town. While there are several things that come to mind whenever I ponder that question, one story always replays in my mind.

While in high school, my Mom had bought a Yamaha Champ 50cc scooter. Because it was 50ccs, a motorcycle license was not required to operate the scooter on public streets.

My Dad had ridden a Harley 125 when he was in high school, and the scooter had got him to thinking. He decided he would like to get his motorcycle endorsement on his driver's license in case he ever decided to buy another motorcycle.

In our little Southwest Georgia town, the State Patrol came to the city court house once a month for driver's exams. Otherwise you drove 30 miles to the State Patrol post for exams. Dad elected to wait until the day the Troopers came to town. He rode the Champ to the court house and took the written test. Although the troopers had computerized testing a the State Patrol post, when they came out to the local court house, it was literally a written test - pencil and paper. Dad completed his written exam and gave it to the trooper. The trooper reviewed it and announced he had passed.

Dad then requested to take the riding portion of the exam. The Trooper asked if he had something to ride for the exam. Dad said he did and it was parked outside. So they walked out and he pointed to the Champ. The Trooper looked at the little scooter and said, "You want to take the motorcycle riding exam on that?" Dad said he did. The Trooper scratched his head a second and then said "OK. Here is how this is gonna work. If you can ride that thing to the corner and back without falling off, you pass." Dad rode to the corner, made a long slow U-turn, and rode back. The Trooper walked inside and completed his paperwork. Dad has had a motorcycle endorsement on his drivers license ever since.

This was a very different experience to the exam I was subjected to in Atlanta 30 years later. There are some advantages to living in a small town.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Driver's Test

The Saturday morning after I turned 16, I drove my Dad to the State Patrol post in Albany (pronounced Aww Benny) to take my driving test. After waiting for several nervous minutes, a mountain of a man in a trooper's uniform and Smokey bear hat walked out carrying a clipboard and a Styrofoam cup of coffee. He paused, looked around and called my name. I could feel my heart race.

We crawled in my El Camino. He set a cup of coffee on the dash, pulled his hat down to his nose and said, "lets go". I looked over at him and said, "Not until you fasten your seat belt." Seat belts were not mandatory in those days, but they were in my automobile. He grumbled, fumbled around, found the seat belt, fastened it, and pulled his hat back down. I started the car, and the trooper explained the rules, "Spill my coffee and you flunk." No pressure.

He directed me out onto the four-lane highway then to a turn lane to change directions. I drove south carefully maintaining my speed and lane position until he directed me to make a turn on a side road and a few more turns. He raised his hat briefly, pointed to a house and said, "That's my house".

A few more turns, back onto the four-lane highway, and we returned to the State Patrol post. I carefully pulled to the curb and shut off the ignition. I could feel my pulse racing. Not a drop of coffee spilled. I had signalled all my turns, stopped at all of the stop signs, had not exceeded the posted speed limits, and parked between the white lines.

The trooper raised his hat, sipped his coffee, and began scribbling on his clipboard. He quietly unbuckled his seat belt and got out. I got out and followed him. He stopped in front of my Dad and said, "He passed". he tore a card off his clipboard, handed it to me, and told me to carry it inside to have my license made.

After 30 years, I do not remember the trooper's name or exactly which house was his, but I still remember the route we took for the exam and how relieved I was that I had not spilled that cup of coffee.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Book Review: Our Last Great Hope

Our Last Great Hope - Awakening the Great Commission
By Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd describes the Great Commission, Jesus command to the 11 remaining disciples found in Matthew 28:16-20 as Our Last Great Hope.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

Floyd challenges the reader to perform nine actions: face the truth about yourself, awaken the church, accept the urgency, transform our families, capture our communities, talk Jesus daily, desire it deeply, evaluate everything financially, and act now.

I found the book difficult to read from cover to cover as it did not hold my attention for long periods of time. I found myself reading it, setting it down for weeks at a time, and then picking it up and reading some more. What kept me picking it back up and delving back into it time and time again was the fact that I believe the message of the book is timely and valid. I just personally found it difficult to continue reading from cover to cover.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”