Marolt: Bah! We didn’t need no stinkin’ drivers’ licenses!
I don’t know what happened to go karts in Aspen. When I was a kid there was only one, but just about every kid in town owned it at some point, so it seemed like there were a lot.
The first time I saw it was when my neighbor claimed the title. He used to tear around 3 inches above the road, lawn-mower engine whining, mini-racing slicks screeching and pretending to be Jackie Stewart. Those were the halcyon days, when you could be scrawny, look foreign, have a bowl-cut hairdo and be envied.
Inevitably, he was thrown from the cart on a turn too tight. He lay sprawled in the shoulder’s gravel while it ended up smoking in somebody’s yard, where all anybody could do was watch, hoping for the gas tank to explode like in the movies, but it never did. Fortunately, he only got a concussion. It was at a time when you were lucky if you only had a concussion and not something worse like a separated thumb, which might have meant you needed a cast.
At any rate, the boy’s parents came to the realization that the go kart was an extremely dangerous death trap, so it was time to sell it to the Marolt boys. Twenty bucks later, it was ours!
We had to get a new engine off an old lawn mower. My neighbor Rod showed us how to disable the governor on the engine. He was the neighborhood scientist kid who spent his time freeze-drying bugs for microscope examination. He only cared a little about go karts, but he knew how to rig ours so it would go faster than the manufacturer intended. He said the trade-off was a shorter engine life, but we were forever young, and who cared about stuff like that?
I had a few crashes myself, so I don’t remember a whole lot about the proud ownership of that first vehicle, but I clearly recall we had two favorite games with it.
The first was to see who could pull the sharpest turn into the driveway. Admittedly, this was a subjective contest. The three factors to consider for the judges, who were other kids waiting for their shot at the stunt, were tire smoke, the pitch of tire chirp and the length of the skid at the turn. If you crashed, you got disqualified. Jackie Stewart never crashed.
The other game we played was gauntlet, after the incredible Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, where, at the climax, an army of police officers line both sides of the street with semiautomatic weapons and fire millions of rounds at a slow-moving bus passing between them, which they misguidedly believe is driven by a criminal, none other than Clint, who had been framed, and nobody gets killed in the bus or on either side of the street!
Our version was that the cart driver had to go up to the end of the street, turn around and then come screaming back down. In the meantime, the other kids loaded their ball caps with bright red, juicy honeysuckle berries that grew thick on the hedge in front of our house and stained like crazy. When the driver passed, everyone unleashed volleys of berries so that the driver ended up looking like they had unclogged the drain of a swimming-pool-size wine press. The driver was required to wear goggles. A helmet? What’s that?
Shortly before the end, my best friend rolled the cart and it landed on top of him so that the red-hot exhaust pipe seared into his thigh before we could pull the wreckage from him. He seemed OK, but I’ll get back to that.
One day, in extreme excitement, we decided to combine both favorite cart events because our parents weren’t home. I remember my bother flying down the road. We coated him with a bumper crop of berries. As he swerved into the driveway and hit the brakes, nothing he hoped for happened. The brakes were coated with slippery, fresh pulp. He crashed through the fence, a thing that was very funny 20 years later when we told our parents about it, including bumming a ride to the lumberyard to get the supplies necessary to repair and paint it before they got home.
Getting back to my friend: The burn on his thigh ended up infected. The doctor said he could have died if he’d delayed medical attention much longer. Of course, our parents were worried sick over this close call. They made us sell the go kart to our cousins.
Believe it or not, Roger Marolt thinks experiences on that go kart have ended up saving his bacon a couple of times in a real car. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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