THE #13 STREET STOCK CAR rounded the corner and violently smashed sideways into the wall, and the crowd let out a cheer. The ensuing spinout and flip-over left the car a smoking, flaming tin can, and the driver barely escaped unharmed. Just then, a man in black headphones and a ball cap pointed to me from the chain-link fence separating the grandstands and the pits. Incredulously, I pointed to myself and looked around. I couldn't believe it. I mouthed the question, "Me?" and he nodded. I quickly recognized this man as a high school buddy of mine. He yelled at me over the whining engines and air ratchets firing off behind him, "You've got to race for my team! I just lost a driver."
"You're in the pit for #13?" I asked.
"Exactly," he said. "I need someone who can suit up now."
"I don't have a car. For that matter, I don't even have a license."
"You're the only one who can do it. I saw you take Wards Ferry Road in your dad's old Ford pickup at 80 miles an hour," he urged.
"Lots of kids did that back then," I answered.
"Yeah, but not with two kegs, a hot tub, and 17 people in back."
He had a point.
I ran to meet him at the gate to the pits, and he stuffed me into a white fire suit and helmet. And, with only 12 laps to go I shot out onto the track like lightning. I muscled my way through the pack, scraped my quarter panels past the competition, and maneuvered the champagne-colored four-door Corolla into the lead. But it wasn't over yet. On the last lap a fierce black-and-gold Monte Carlo threatened to take my victory, but as the checkered flag waved, I nosed the "Go Barb" license plate over the finish line and took my place in the winner's circle.
My prize for grinding out the fastest time on the track was a fire truck full of strippers. They placed wreaths around my neck and a microphone in my hand. I pointed to the stands and acknowledged my instantaneous fan base. And as I uttered the echoing, tearful words of gratitude to those who'd helped me along the way, I caught sight of my friends Barb and David. They were far off in the stands, but I could see them perfectly. Waving to Barb and thanking her for the use of her car, I could hear her say, so clearly, "Are we in the boondocks yet?"
"I'm sorry, what?" I asked.
"What are you doing, daydreaming? Get out of the car. We should eat before we get to the races," she fired. She and David looked at me expectedly from the doorway of the Latino Taco Shop.
"Oh, yeah," I said. "I knew that," and I followed them in. At the door I turned back and looked around the shopping center for clues as to how to get to the track, but Déjà Vu's Love Boutique porno shop and nearby Chevron weren't included in my directions.
The taco shop was brightly lit in hues of yellow and orange. The walls featured large photomurals of an idyllic paradise far away from El Cajon. Between bites of carne asada, rice, and beans I talked Barb's ear off about how excited I was to be going to the races. She listened intently to my ramblings while she methodically separated her burrito into very distinct separate piles on her paper plate and ate the beans individually on tortilla chips. David and I watched her for close to five minutes, at which point he whispered in my direction, "O-C-D," in an attempt to explain her odd behavior, but I was already accustomed to her strange eating habits. Barb assured us it was merely a "minor preference."
It was five minutes past 4:00 p.m. when Barb had finished sacrificing frijole villagers to tortilla pterodactyls, and she finally said, "All right, let's go. The parking lot and track are open. Let's get a good spot." Still uncertain as to where the hell we were, I went back to the counter to ask. The small Mexican man spoke quickly, his hands gesticulating wildly. The directions were accurate and helpful; unfortunately, no one in my party spoke Spanish. I pointed, and he nodded with a "Sí." Good enough for me. Turning to leave, we thanked the small mustachioed man for the food and directions, clacked our brown plastic tray into the receptacle for brown plastic trays, then set out for our destination.
Not knowing what to expect, I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of bumper stickers. The last 20 minutes on the 8 east had filled my head with questions. How many things could a die-cut vinyl Calvin possibly piss on? Would the rebel flag or the American flag be the most prominent display of colors? Would it look as if the Confederate Army had set up a splinter cell in the East County of San Diego? And who belongs to the NASCAR numbers 3 and 8? Being metropolitan urbanites, we were naturally fearful of anything east of the 15.
From the backseat of the Barbmobile, I watched rugged off-road trucks with their bodies lifted in angles and positions Henry Ford never meant them to be. Orange-haired old ladies in Plymouths and Malibus with mirrors duct taped into place passed by, horns blaring. Barb is one of those women who drives in the second-to-fastest lane doing 50 mph and singing wildly. That afternoon, David and I were her captive audience as she belted out the entire soundtrack to The Little Mermaid.
Before we headed out, David had to make several trips back and forth from the car to his apartment for things he had forgotten: earplugs, the camera, his sunglasses. Barb and I sat impatiently in the car, and she kept saying, "We've got to get there in time," and he'd return, only to turn right back around and head back upstairs with Barb sighing, "Dammit." She was in a hurry and let fly with the pointing and cursing at other drivers until surface streets gave way to the 15 north. From then on, it was a one-woman show of Ariel and Sebastian's hijinks.