Friday, February 20, 2015

The Bumper Car Life

Long before your departure from journalism-related jobs thrust you into the migrant, conniving world of the carnival, your favored amusement park activity was the bumper car.  

Just large enough to accommodate two passengers, these remarkable forerunners of electric vehicles, about a quarter the size of a VW Bug, allowed the driver to maneuver about an area the size of a commodious dining hall, filled with padded obstacles that added spice and drama to the ride.

The true goal of the bumper car was to allow the driver to act out aggression and hostility.  This was accomplished by banging into to cars or arranging artful caroms in which you bounced from the impact with one of the padded obstacles into a three- or four-way collision with other bumper car drivers of like minded covert road rage.  The more euphemistic approach to the bumper car lay in a sign in front of one bumper car ride of your fond memory:  "Fun for all."

The bumper cars, each protected with a wide swathe of rubber padding, were highly maneuverable, able to build enough speed to add to the sense of excitement.  Off and running in such a car, one made a few exploratory laps about the perimeter to get the hang of its steering, breaking, and maneuverability.  Once oriented, one  then picked out another bumper car target and went for it, often interrupted in the process by a run-in with an unexpected driver of yet another bumper car. You see.  Fun for all. In your recollection, the driving sessions were times ranging  anywhere from three to five minutes, depending on the number of waiting customers.

When you joined the ranks of amusement booth operators at the carnival, you were quick to break one of the major social taboos that worked both ways.  Amusement booth people were polite but distant to ride people.  Ride people did not socialize with booth operators.  Because of your not-so-hidden agenda,you made it a point to know the three or four major ride persons connected with bumper cars, meaning you sat with them at the food shack and, when the warm weather warranted, drank beer with them in convenient, hidden back alleys off the Main Midway.

This social eclecticism, well developed in your undergraduate years, earned you some lectures about fraternization you chose to ignore and some frank warnings.  "Don't you be coming around asking me for no job when you get bored with that Guess Your Age booth."  After your first year, you didn't have much trouble getting jobs, but more to the point, you got hours of free time riding around in bumper cars before the Midway opened, and there was some exquisite pleasure in the excitement of a two- or three-beer, after work, session with other ride people, after the Midway had closed for the night.

Even more of a benefit came when you were slammed hard by a bumper car driven by a lanky redhead who introduced herself as Joanne, from the dart throw.  "I see,"  she said, peering at you over the hood of her own bumper car, "that I finally got your attention."

In the same way the city you now live in is a small town (some say "Small town, trying to act large."), the Carnival is a small town.  A person at coffee this morning told you you were at the corner of Garden and Anapamu Streets yesterday afternoon, waiting at a signal.  Yet another person this morning asked you how you like the pastry at Daily Grind, which meant that person had seen you there as well as here.  At the carnival, someone who'd seen Joanne bumping you wished to inform you that Joanne's husband was the jealous type.  He was mostly all right until he'd had a few beers, then things seemed to escalate.  

Also at the carnival, Papa Louie, one of the Gypsy elders, asked if he could take his morning coffee with you, sat when you welcomed him, then began to complement you on your driving skills.  "Fellow like you'd look good behind the wheel of a Cadillac.  Fellow like you, he know how to handle a muscle car."  You were not surprised to discover Papa Louie was looking for the right person to take a test drive of a Cadillac that was temporarily in his care.  

Unless you were mistaken, you had already spent some time in a Tulare garage, watching a mechanic peering into the bowels of this very Cadillac of which Papa Louie spoke, shaking his head, and telling the owner that this Cadillac was one fucking unique Cadillac because it was in fact the only Cadillac he'd ever seen in his life that did not have a Cadillac motor.

In the carnival, you soon became aware of a basic irony that his informed your vision since.  The Carnival people, while providing entertainment and services, are also using wiles, agendas, schemes, and strategies, all of which are directed against the general public.  At one moment in the orbit, the general public can be seen as victims.  Indeed, Carnival persons call them marks.  Once the orbit continues, the Carnival persons become vulnerable to the marketplace as it is controlled by the marks, stepping up to ply their artistry.

"Fun for all" is a euphemism.  Bumper cars are a euphemism and a metaphor.  The general public is a euphemism.  So, too, are such concepts as justice, consideration, respect, and fair play, colliding as bumper cars in the lights and smells of carnival. 

The Cadillac in question was once owned by a friend of yours who  often confessed to you his fear that he was unable to make enough of a living from the Carnival and, thus, by definition, was not hard enough for the life.  He had to supplement his income by shipping out as an able bodied seaman in the off seasons, but was  still not able to accomplish his goal of being a home owner because sailors in foreign ports were well-known targets for the locals.

You were able to make enough at the Carnival to support a few months of writing, which you could feel growing along with you.  But you had to turn to the rat-tail of the bell curve of television, just as your friend had to ship out.  You were not wondering if you were hard enough for the television and writing life, but you were wondering how long it might take you to find your way out of the bumper cars and into the world of irony.

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