Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Car Catharsis

August 22, 2010

We homo sapiens are wired for fight or flight, yet we usually do neither.  We store up our anxieties.  Bottle up our flashpoints.  Subvert our feelings. Repress our frustrations.  Relief often comes in unexpected places.

In my past life, I used to run.  Which surprised me by being a very zen activity where one is doing a whole lot of work and absolutely nothing, at the same time.  People used to ask me what I thought about when I was out running for all of those hours.  I told them that I either thought about running, or nothing.  The activity made some mental space to just exist and stop the constant chatter in my head.

But I was surprised to find another venue for such catharsis.  It doesn’t require any exertion, though people often sweat while engaging in it.  It costs a couple dollars, though you don’t need to get dressed up for it.  And it only takes a few hours.

It happens at County and State Fairs all over this fine land.  It is the cultural experience known by many as The Demolition Derby.

In a car-centered culture like we have in North America, cars are ubiquitous.  What’s worse, when we are forced to pay attention to them, it’s usually because they are broken or thirsty or otherwise aggravating us.  So to see a dozen or so of these metal nemesises lined up inside a rectangle is  exciting.  To see the huge front loader close off the dirt berm surrounding them is anticipation embodied.  And to see the firemen suiting up and at the ready is almost too much for a mortal to bear.

The announcer’s voice distorts as he screams through the PA and the crowd counts down “Five, Four, Three, Two, One.  Goooo!” and the cars begin their chaotic scramble for an open piece of ground to gain some momentum.   The bashing begins with some glancing blows and some gentle shoves.  Until someone finds some clear space to build up some speed and hurtle toward another car.  While the car is moving, you can feel the crowd tense as they anticipate what is to come.  Everyone inhales.  Until the inevitable impact, when everyone gathered lets out the same cathartic cry, “Oooohhh!” and smiles and shakes their head.  It is the sound of stress falling through the bottom of the bleachers like the powdered sugar coating a funnel cake.  It is the sound of the worries of the week– or the month, or the year!– melting away on a hot summer night.  It is the sound of freedom.

The cathartic cry, captured by derby aficionado Ken Tennyson.

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