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What do certain animals, computers, drivers, drummers, surfers, skaters, railways, and runners have in common? They all have a need. The need for speed. We measure speed in hertz, flops, knots, machs, mph, rpm, and even a German unit called a benz. In mathematics, speed is expressed as distance over time. The fastest humans run about 26 mph, horses can go 55, cheetahs hit about 70, and some drummers are able to play over 1100 beats per minute. The top speed of all is represented in physics by the letter c, the speed of light. It's nearly 670 million miles per hour. I chatted with ten locals who have little in common except that they're all authorities in aerodynamics, connoisseurs of cadence, purveyors of pace, vendors of velocity, monarchs of momentum, and kings and queens of quick.

Kathy Marmack, animal-training manager at the San Diego Zoo

The fastest land animal is the cheetah. I understand that we have a cheetah at the zoo.

"The cheetah that we have is Karroo. She's six years old, and she's been at the zoo since she was three months old. Cheetahs don't become too large. Their average weight is about 75 to 135 pounds. Karroo weighs 107."

Does she ever get to run?

"Oh, yes! And it's wonderful. We take her out to the Wild Animal Park, and it's a specific activity that runs most weekends throughout the year. It's called Cheetah Run Safari. It's limited to about 50 people at a time, and they take you out to, like, a little African outback with tents, so it's like a real safari. And not only do you get to watch a cheetah run, but you get to watch a falcon fly. A peregrine falcon, which is the fastest bird, actually."

How do you set up the running of the cheetah?

"We have a track that's a little over 100 yards long, and it has soft turf on it. And we have a line that's pulled by a mechanical winch. And Karroo likes a green-and-purple giggle ball, a child's toy that makes a noise. She's loved that ball since she was very young, so it was an easy thing to teach her to pursue. We started by just putting her in an aluminum crate where we could easily open the door and throwing the ball up the hallway in front of her. And she'd run after it and capture it, and we'd give her a food reward so we could take the ball and do it again. And what was funny, she learned what we were doing so quickly, she would run back into her crate and stand there as if to say, 'I'm ready. Let's do this again.'

"So the same thing happens at the Wild Animal Park. We take her down in a crate in a little electric vehicle, and we get it all set up: we put the lure on the ground and show it to her, and then we attach it to the line. And when we're ready, she'll run on the track after the lure. And she's so fast. The female cheetahs especially are really, really fast. And the toy goes into a box at the end of the track, after it's pulled. We're trying to switch her over to a toy octopus, because it balances better when it's pulled, instead of bouncing along the turf the way the ball does. But it has to be pulled at least 75 miles per hour; otherwise she'd catch it. The lure starts pulling, and she springs out of the crate, and then she's in mad pursuit of this lure. It's phenomenal. She actually caught the lure twice last week."

How much faster than other cats are cheetahs?

"Cheetahs are much, much faster. They're made for speed. That's their claim to fame. They can go from 0 to 45 miles per hour in two seconds flat. Isn't that amazing? And it's evident when you watch them run. They're completely built for speed. They're very sleek, long-bodied, light-boned, and they have long legs. You know, everything about them says 'speed.' They're sleek, not fluffy; their fur is very short; they have a small head, small ears, so there's no wind resistance; and their mouth is small, so that they don't take down large prey. But the one thing that's really amazing is their paws. The cheetah's paws are very compact and tight; they're not big, fat, and squishy like other cats'. Their nails are blunt, too, and small, and they're not really retractable. Only the dewclaw (the thumb) is partially retractable. And the pads on the bottoms of their feet are really deeply furrowed and wrinkled for grasping the ground. Cheetahs also have a very flexible spine, which enables them to spring and catapult along the ground. They're really physical marvels."

So they must be incredible hunters in the wild.

"They're daytime hunters, for the most part, because they have to avoid the other, larger predators like lions, hyenas, and leopards. And they're not designed for fighting. So the cheetah will do a hot pursuit of their prey, and they can only keep up their tremendous speed for about a quarter of a mile. After that, they're beat. They collapse in a heap, huffing and puffing, and sometimes it takes them half an hour to calm down before they can eat. They're just incredible athletes."

Gabe Serbian,

drummer for the Locust

What kind of music does your band play?

"I like to call it an orchestrated car crash. But I've heard some other names for it, like 'sci-fi grindcore.' You know, superbrutal, just an all-out assault. Although now I think we're getting better at our instruments, and we can do a lot more than we used to. So it's still very aggressive at times, but maybe we're getting a little less frantic."

Your fans are really into speed. One of them described your drumming as "insanely fast." Do you care about the sheer, all-out speed of your drumming?

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