Every day he asks me if he can drive the car. When I decline his generous offer my 8-year-old son asks if he can at least start the car. And maybe release the e-break. And then shift it into reverse for me so we can pull out of the parking spot. And I often say yes to this, but it really isn’t enough for him. He is counting down the seconds until he turns 15 and can get his learner’s permit. He updates me every morning when he wakes up as to the length of time before he can really really drive a really real car. This is why, when we took the kids to see Niagara Falls this summer, we decided to take them also to the real-life Mario Kart race track where you can drive your own (go)CAR(t)!
We watched videos online of people zipping around the track, circling that spiral ramp of awesomeness, and having the times of their lives. No, you didn’t seem to be able to actually throw turtle shells at the other drivers, but that was a small obstacle to overcome. We would just have to bring our own. The big day was coming closer, and when we arrived at the majestic beauty of the falls he thought it was all right. But when could he drive the cars?!
Now, we tried to warn him that he might not be old enough to drive the cars himself, but he was sure that this was a clerical error on their website, where it clearly stated that he was not yet old enough to drive the cars himself. My wife and I did everything we could to tamp down his expectations, but it was no use. He was literally bouncing up and down the sidewalk as we approached the glorious Niagara Speedway. We stood in line for tickets. We watched as drivers raced by us over and over again. We made it to the front ticket counter. And he was not old enough to drive the cars himself.
He was devastated. Life was no longer worth living, he sobbed to us, as we tried to tell him it would still be fun, even if he was stuck in a car with his dumb old Dad. Even worse, of course, was that his sister was old enough for her own cart, and she kicked butt on the course. She whizzed by us so fast that she got an extra lap at the end when the buzzer went off and it was time to return. Yeah, she basically lapped us. And everyone else. Only one other person got that extra lap out of all the cars on the track. She was a speed demon. And my poor son was stuck with me, slipping on banana peels with nary a Bullet Bill in sight.
This would not stand, obviously, so we did some research. On the outskirts of town, off the beaten track and behind some weird industrial buildings, was another go-cart track. This one didn’t go for “rules” and “safety” like the newer, shinier, touristier track. This one was for the local kids to see how close they could get to death, in an old-school “I can’t believe they used to let people do this” sort of way. They did have an age requirement, but their height requirement was lower. He juuuuuuust made it. And hey, he looks ten, right? We decided to give it a shot.
They never asked his age. I think the bored teenager at the desk would have let a toddler through, honestly. And having spent all of our money on other things already, we decided to conserve cash and only send the kids out there. Parents were happy to just watch. But when we got to the track, they asked if I wanted to just ride along with him, and for some reason I said yes. So with my eight-year-old in the driver’s seat, I strapped myself into a very old, potentially explosive deathtrap on wheels, and we were off.
There were no spiraling ramps here. Just the smell of the exhaust fumes, the feel of the rubber on the road, and sound of a 40-year-old man screaming at the top of his powerfully perfected lungs for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to grab the steering wheel from him as we tore around a corner so fast that two wheels came up off the ground (not an exaggeration), but my white fingers were clutching the sides of the car so tightly I was unable to remove them. I only slammed the brake down with my foot once, which he was very upset about and still talks about every time the memory of the trip resurfaces in conversation, and which I feel was very generous.
We hit walls. We hit other drivers. We hit anything in our way. Although my daughter got the worst of it in her car, when some local teens slammed her car all the way through a wall, and the attendant had to come physically pull her out of the barricade and set her back on the course. Yes, we were not lapped this time! And you know, by the fifth lap I think he was getting the hang of it. My shrieking was down to a droning whimper and I no longer felt we had a lower-than-50% chance of survival. And to him, it was the best thing he had ever done.
I’m glad we got that out of the way. Because someday I will be sitting next to him in an actual car, on an actual road, and I will be clutching the sides of my seat and trying not to grab the wheel or reach across his lap with my foot and slam on the brakes. And you know, after this trip, it might be a little easier for me to relax when that time comes.