It’s been two years and I think I’m still a little bitter over the following story. It’s funny, until it happens to you.
There’s a go-kart track in Saskatoon. Have you ever gone go-karting? It’s pretty fun, and easy. Gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel. Rubber bumpers so you bounce off the rubber lining the edge of the track, or the kart beside you. If you can get close enough to another kart, that is.
The first time I went go-karting with Wade and his siblings, I had a fine time. We were only four of the dozen or so racers on the track, and while I knew I was far behind the Fehr clan in the standings, I kept trying to catch up. It wasn’t until after the race that I realized, for the first time just how dorky I really am.
Wade, his brother and sister were in tears of laughter, getting out of their karts. They had been competing for first position (I was tenth), and despite the rules which made it very clear that driving recklessly, slamming into other karts or the sides of the track would, after one warning, have you removed from the track (and remember this rule, it’s important), the track crew that day had let them run wild, and their laps had looked a lot more like bumper cars than go karts. While I, at the bottom of each lap, had run my laps in peaceful solitude and completely missed all the fun. Never had I felt so much like a giant dweeb as I listened to them recount their races, races where I, driving my fastest and best, had been lapped by each one.
I had always known that Wade was cooler than me. When I met him in Bible school, we were both eighteen. He owned three cars. Having spent my teen years in Papua New Guinea, I was an avid student of pop culture and fashion, while he just didn’t care. While I was spending my high school years writing book reports for fun, he wrote his only under duress, and then only to tell the teacher the reasons he hated the book. He liked classic rock, while I listened to Christian-indie-pop. And he knew how to drive. He failed his driver’s test the first time for speeding, knew how to race through giant puddles and do burnouts. I was still learning not to pop the clutch in my grandma’s Volkswagen. What I hadn’t realized, through years of friendship, dating and marriage, was that Wade’s coolness and my geekiness was to the bone. Years spent with my husband may have given me a veneer of knowledge about the elements of cool, but I could never actually be more than a geek in cool clothing. This became a little more real to me that day, as I sat on the outside of the cool club, just a slowpoke with helmet hair, listening to the cool kids’ adventures.
Fast-forward a year to our next summer visit to Saskatchewan. Same go-kart track, only this time our kids and Wade’s parents had come along to watch the races. I was determined to race better this time. There was no reason why I couldn’t keep up a little better to Wade and his siblings, especially since I had asked him what I needed to do differently, especially when cornering, and he told me “Just keep the gas pedal to the floor.”
We got to the track and there was a sign on the door: “No open-toed shoes.” And I was in sandals. This was disappointing, but just as I was ready to accept that I would be a spectator that day, my father-in-law offered to let me wear his running shoes.
Note: if an activity requires you to borrow your father-in-law’s footwear, this is a good sign that it is something you should not do. Don’t do it.
Unfortunately, no one had given me this helpful bit of advice, and while I really didn’t want to wear my father-in-law’s grubby runners on my (formerly) cutely sandaled feet, I really did want to redeem myself from last year’s go-kart fiasco. So I took the shoes. It’s not like the red coverall they make you wear, or the head sock, or the too-small helmet are exactly style statements after all.
We got in our go-karts, were reminded of the rules about excess crashing into barriers or other cars, and shown the black flag they wave at you in warning if you are breaking these rules. And then we were off. This time the track was all ours. It was a quiet afternoon and there were no other racers. And Wade, his brother and sister immediately passed me. It was 2009 all over again.
It’s not hard to keep the pedal to the floor when you are driving on a straightaway. But I found it impossible to follow Wade’s “advice” on the corners. Unless I slowed right down before the turn, the back of my kart would skid sideways and slam into the rubber barrier at the edge of the track, every time. And then it would take forever to get back to speed again if I had slowed down. I kept trying different things – hitting the brakes at different times, easing off the gas before the corner, after the corner, trying to enter the corner at different angles – but I just couldn’t figure it out. The three Fehr’s ahead of me were not having any problems, and I just wanted to keep up! I tried another corner, and hit the barrier with a rather resounding bounce (everything is made of rubber), and the kart crew waved the black warning flag at me. Well, I guess I deserved that – I wasn’t sure why the end of the kart kept skidding around into the barrier like that, but I knew it was frowned upon.
I wasn’t having fun. My feet were uncomfy, clad in jumbo-shab runners. My hands were glued to the steering wheel and I was getting a lot of tension in my neck from swinging round those corners and hitting the barrier. To tell the truth, the tension had been there in the first place because this was not a fun race; I was there to prove that this geek could keep up with the cool kids; that there was no difference between them and me. I was there to settle it on the track.
And then, my go-kart stopped dead in the middle of the track. I looked far ahead to the front-runners, expecting that someone had pushed the competition too far and was being removed from the track. But the kart guy was waving at me. I was the dangerous driver who was being removed from the race!
I can’t tell you the rage and shame that coursed through my body as I stepped out of my kart and crossed to the viewing area, under the eyes of the waiting racers, my children and in-laws. I was embarrassed and angry.
At the go-kart staff: How could they eject me? I wasn’t even fast!
At Wade: Why didn’t he tell me how to go around corners? I had asked him more than once!
At myself: Why didn’t I know that there is nothing in this world worth borrowing your father-in-law’s shoes?
I couldn’t face my family; I grabbed the van keys, mumbled something in response to their inquiries about what had just happened on the track, and shoved my coverall and helmet at the staff across registration desk. The helmet went flying. When Wade finished his race (we’d only had a minute left of the ten minute race) and went to ask them to let me race the second race (Which we’d already paid for. I would so NOT have gone back on the track again anyhow.), they told him I’d thrown the helmet at them. I was so blinded by fury and hurt that I could only think of getting away, and I sat in the van and cried. In that moment I felt like the only person who’d ever been ejected from a go-kart track, and not for willful recklessness; mine was completely unwillful.
This is a funny story, even though while writing it I can still feel that flush of humiliated ire and my toes curl a little. And seriously Wade, you COULD take some ownership of your wife’s driving skills. I think one thing that I’ve realized in the year since this incident is that while my husband is a Cool Kid, he does not love me any less because I am Not. He met and married me while I was geeky, and he thinks I am fantastic. Even if I never drive a go-kart again. And I never will.