Golf Cart Racing (and general acts of thievery)
Déjà vu all over again
A two part story: Catalina II (1987) and Catalina X (1995)
Catalina II (1987):
The first day of my first Carousal was a blur, and the years have softened the line between historical fact and folklore. It was early in the morning when David C. passed us on the highway outside Long Beach. He was powering his motorcycle with one hand and shooting super-8 film of us with his other. That, and Howies nausea, set the tone for our landing in Avalon. As we rolled into the dock I couldnt help but think that this town was a little small for all these boys. And I was quickly proved correct.
No sooner had the boat docked than David C. and I slid into the first bar we saw, slamming double Tequila shooters with Mexican sud chasers. Some of the Carousers we hadnt met yet were nodding in appreciation. The virgins would fit in fine, they were thinking. With several more beers and Tequilas tickling our virgin Carousal bellies, someone suggested golf cart rides around the island. Unbeknownst to the innocent lessor, we were drunk and restless, and, unbeknownst to us, we wouldnt be on her lil racers very long. The first race was short, and victory swift. David C., Jeff C., Craig T. and myself had no top on our cart, so it flew like the wind. That, and our synchronized Flintstone like foot strokes, made us Indy material. Augment that with our basic lack of sportsmanship, and its easy to understand how our competitors were eating sand while we hurled our warship towards a speck on the horizon. The boys were sneaking sips of beers, watching for bikinis, and helping me barrel towards our next challenger. The speck grew into a moped that stood defiantly in front of us. I was in shock. Had he not seen us send our Comrades into the surf? Was he not fearful of a similar fate? I looked at David C., and he looked back at me with an unspoken directive. He was right. We had few options, so we attacked!
I want to believe it was a unanimous decision, but I doubt it. At one point Jeff C. and Craig T. stopped kicking. Moments later David C. put his feet on the dash, either to get more comfortable or to prepare for impact. Either way, the pedal was to the metal. It wasnt until we were within twenty yards of the moped that I saw the unmistakable sign of trouble pasted across his gas tank. The stenciled letters didnt look official, and neither did the elderly man standing above them with his hand raised. But I knew running over the antagonist was no longer an option. It said, "Patrol", but it could have meant police, or mayor, or the senile old retiree who rides around the island holding up traffic. I didnt know, but we were about the find out. The Flintstones werent in Bedrock anymore.
He was official, all right, the islands version of Eric Estrada. And we were banned! "They were kicking their god damn feet", the elderly patroller told the lessor. "We werent kicking it was a joke", I retorted. But my allies, my new carousal brothers, were sprawled about the cart, laughing hysterically. It was over before it started. Too drunk to rent, too drunk to drive, we were forced to walk! Walk?!? The audacity! Carousers dont walk! Hell, we could hardly see at that point, and walking would kill the buzz. Besides, what trouble could we get in on golf carts? We went to another booth, but the female owner crossed her index fingers, making the sign of the cross, and hissed us away. The walk to the hotel nearly killed us and was reeking havoc with our buzz. This wasnt going to work.
We needed a plan... We needed carts... We needed other carousers to get us carts. Yeah! If Moses cant go to the mountain, bring the mountain to Moses. The golf cart people liked couples. Cute, tame, loving couples. We needed couples to rent our fighting machines. So we gathered up some unlucky carousers, whom I do not remember (probably because they never came back), with some pseudo dates we commandeered from the beach, and sent them to the rental booth. The Carousers, whom I dont remember (probably because they never came back) gave their licenses to the lessor so that their new brothers might play. I love those guys! Looking back, it probably wasnt the smartest thing theyve done. But thats why these things are better to look back on than to be involved in at the moment.
With new carts and new beers, we left for the backside of the island to race, now with John M. in tow and Mr. Taylor finding more constructive ways to spend his day. What ensued will always live in infamy. As we got to the backside of town we found other Carousers who were only too eager to race. They had heard about the sand incident, but had no fear. They wanted a piece of us and the races were on. Tour buses cheered as we roared past. Hikers saluted us. Side bets were passing between retirees and tour bus drivers as we passed for the second and third time. All normality was gone. We were drinking and kicking and cheering and drinking and pushing other carts off the road while spectators roared and placed bets, and other carts joined the races. We were losing bodies on tight turns, and fans were pulling people out of ditches. There was no suppressing the surreal energy. The elderly, the Flintstones, the booze, the weed, the tires, the victory laps It went on all afternoon and into the twilight. It was a time of innocence. It was a time long past. I remember it like it was yesterday, Im still hungover.
Later that day, two more events happened that remain etched in my feeble mind. I was taking photographs from the roof of our cart when the plastic top gave way. As I fell through the roof and towards the earth, I heard the bellowing laughter of John M. and David C. as they snorted what was left of our suds. Bloodied, but not wanting to pay for my mistake (youve been there), I quickly realized that not all the carts have tops. Again David C. looked at me with an unspoken directive. With the stench of urine surrounding our damaged ride, we tossed the roof into the woods and headed for home. A cart with a roof, a cart without a roof, whos going to know. As we bounced into the sleepy hamlet a friendly neighbor yelled, "Are any of you David C....?" Without missing a beat, we responded in unison with a definitive "no!". "Well if you see him, I got his wallet.". During an earlier race, David Cs wallet fell out and a tour bus driver (with his retirees) grabbed it. He gave it to his friend and told him, "Some crazy guys are racing golf carts. Youll know them when you see them. Theyre freakin nuts!" We got the wallet and headed for the bar. It was a good day. Virgin carousers had lost their cherries. And golf carts have never looked the same.
Catalina X (1995): The tenth anniversary edition
It was impossible not to feel the ironies of life as David C. and I slid into the back seat of the California Highway Patrols Catalina sports utility paddy wagon. It had been eight years since we sped upon the islands elderly sheriff and his officially stenciled moped. Eight years of getting it all out of our system. Eight years of jobs and debt and responsibilities. Eight years of maturing....
We got a slap on the wrist that beautiful spring day in 1987. But this night, or wee early morning that it was, we were distinctly conscious that the slapping sound on our wrists would come from the thick metal officially licensed handcuffs currently dangling from the CHP officers hip. And once the cuffs were fitted, the black ink, white flash, and a cold night on the hard floor were sure to follow. I heard Dylan echoing through the fog, "oh, these times, they are a changing ". Indeed. Although golf carts are technically motorized vehicles, and although we had been experimenting with various chemical forms throughout the evening, getting slammed with a DUI hardly concerned us as we roamed the Island atop our stolen chariot. But over the years the elderly sheriff had mutated into a sturdy California peace officer, and he begged to differ. But Ive started near the end of this story, and for the irony to be fully appreciated, we should start earlier in the evening.
I was with David C. and Jeff C. as we staggered back to the hotel after a fairly uneventful evening of excessive alcohol and merriment. But it didnt seem right to call it a night. We needed to get out, to be part of the night, to fly like bats atop the cool breeze. It was then that I saw the hotels luggage cart. A souped-up workmans golf cart, complete with a bright red solid steel bed and cage. It was a monster. Carousal 2 was calling. Youth was calling. Memories of visible abdominals and a full head of hair filled us. Jeff went inside for beers as David and I assessed the situation. Rolling the beast away from the Managers office was the only option, but it was heavy and difficult to get out of the mud. About to quit, we summoned the energy for one last push. It creaked, and then began to roll. As we reached the paved road I lost my footing and fell to the ground. The newfound youth quickly drained from my limbs as I heard the familiar popping sound of a dislocating shoulder. Apparently, Im not 23 again after all.
David wanted to play doctor, more to silence my squealing than to alleviate my pain. I wedged the arm into the carts metal cage and told him to pull. My only regret is failing to mention that a slow, steady pull was superior to a mighty jerk. None the less, the shoulder was back in place, the squealing was silenced, and my youth was again rushing through my veins.
Starting the beast proved difficult, so David and I decided to jump-start it. We rolled her down a long, winding road, popping the clutch while begging for a spark. But she was a bitch to get going (a feeling most Carousers have come to know). We cursed and pushed and drank and pushed and smoked and drank and pushed again But as we slowly rolled the grand-theft auto towards the flats, we realized that if she wouldnt start there would be no way to get her home. She would have to remain stolen until the owners found her at the bottom of the hill the next morning. It was then that my dear friend, Jeff, disappeared. He said he heard someone coming, and found shelter. We werent so sure. But he was gone. Maybe jail scared him, and maybe thats fair. But if he was scared then, hes glad that he wasnt around later.
Then, as if the great red beast understood that all sanity and reason had left with Jeff, and that the remaining spirits shared a combustible thirst for reckless abandon, she gave a spark, and a pop, and her engine roared. There would be no luggage tonight! The red beast would be free. Free to test her power, free to veer on and off the beaten path, free to explore the night. We circled several times looking for our mate, but the darkness had eaten him. So we set off for the hills saddened by the loss, but alive for the possibilities.
We laughed, and drank, and smoked what we could find. It was Carousal 2 again, lacking only the Flintstone feet and our opponents golf cart laying face down in the sand. We threaded our way through Avalon until the dead end at the campground sent us back to town. With her lights darkened, and her engine off, we rolled down the hills and back towards the sleepy village, hanging out each side of our red beast like wings on a great hawk. David used his control of the wheel to occasionally steer us towards the foliage. To my credit, it took only a few cuts to realize that my wing was spreading a little too wide. As we rolled our darkened bird through town and towards the beach, the only other creator stirring was at the wheel of an official California Highway Patrol sports utility vehicle. If our red beast was a hawk, the SUV was surely a hunter. David quickly hit the lights, and we both sat properly in our seats. As we passed the officer things seemed calm. To this day I believe he would have let us pass had we not driven through the dead end and onto the promenade. Our geographical miscalculation proved fatal because, of course, we had to turn around and pass the hunter again.
His lights flashed immediately. David was cool. "Just sightseeing a little before going to bed", he said confidently. But the officer wanted our licenses. If David could have turned his eyes to deadly spears, I would have been a bloody mess by the end of the next exchange. It must have been the weed. I was a blubbering idiot. "Have you been drinking", the officer said. "Not really", said David. "Umm what was the question", I blubbered. "Do you have any outstanding warrants", "no", "no, .umm, well, umm, no". "Well, um, no", David said back to me in a hushed voice, "are you out of your fucking mind?" I could feel the first spears piercing my flesh. Dont worry, Dave old buddy, Ill fix that little blunder, I thought. I tried to stand, but hit my head on the metal cage and fell back into my seat, slamming my tender shoulder on the back of the cage. A moment of squealing returned. More spears. I tried to stand once more but the cage again intercepted by scalp. The fall back lead to more squealing from me and more spears from my old buddy. David was beside himself. While I was performing a vaudeville act that would have made Charlie Chaplin proud, David was preparing for life without a drivers license. "Turn off the cart and get in the SUV", the officer said firmly. David watched as I tried to stand again. Little did the officer know that getting me to the SUV was a fifty-fifty shot at best. But I avoided the cage and we were again driving around Avalon. I remember looking at the golf cart as we sped away. It seemed to be waving good-bye.
I know now that had I uttered one word during that ride I was a dead man. The method of my demise was up for grabs, but I still lean towards David reaching down my throat and pulling out my intestines. He was rightfully planning my death until he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I remember that it was very quiet when the officer looked at David and asked which hotel we called home. I said nothing. As we approached the entrance I felt a sudden surge of energy. I knew that if I could hold my tongue and move my legs we were going to sleep in our own beds. I could see in Davids eyes that he knew it too. And I was grateful for his assistance getting out of the vehicle. What a pal! One would think the evening should have ended then but
The great red beast was back in town. It was a stolen vehicle. Surely if the hotel manager found it stolen in the morning he would call the police. If he called the police, we were busted. Hed press charges, or throw us out of the hotel, or throw all the Carousers out of the hotel. We had to get that golf cart. But David wanted no part of "we". We were a blabbering fool, and we kept hitting our head on the cage, and we almost got him arrested and we werent going back to town! He was quite adamant as he slipped into bed. So there was only one thing left to do. We had lost our other comrade to the darkness, but it was time to get him back. Sure he was asleep and happy that he had missed the whole event. Sure the idea of cops struck a nerve. But we needed a sober, level-headed man of sanity and reason to retrieve the red beast. He wasnt a willing participant, but he wasnt going back to sleep until he went with me to get that golf cart. It was time to redeem himself for letting the night swallow him earlier. I could hear David utter the word "sucker" as he drifted off to sleep.
Stealth like, we moved through town. He was tired but quietly laughing as I told the story. I pretended that it was all in good fun and that the chances of arrest were exaggerated. I had Jeff convinced that the mission was simple until a stopped cold on the promenade. Suddenly, there were lights in the distance. The SUV was back, and he was moving towards us. The hunter had again found his prey. I was surely going to jail this time. We needed a plan. I said, "play stupid and walk by him", as if playing stupid was a reach. I was hoping to walk right by him, praying that he wouldnt recognize me. What a joke. "Are you going to get your ride", he said, as he slowly passed. "oh, its okay", I said, "Jeff hasnt been drinking". What a moron? I should have said, "David and I were stoned and drunk and out of control, officer, but you let us off the hook. Youll let Jeff go too." As if letting us go wasnt enough, the man now had to hear my drunken confession. Someone should have shot me dead on the spot. But Jeff talked to him and everything was all right. He said goodnight and sped away, and I was rejoined with the beautiful red beast.
As we rounded the final turn below the hotel, Jeff put my hand on the wheel and jumped out of the golf cart. If getting busted by the manager was in the cards, I was getting busted alone. I guess thats the way it should have been. But I killed the engine and rolled back into the mud where I had dislocated my shoulder several hours before. I said good night to the red beast, and patted her on the cage.
And another Carousal night had finally come to an end.
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