Thursday, March 11, 2010

Off To The Races

Vick, in his younger years, was a race car driver. He toured England, France, and Italy, racing all day in one city, driving all night in tandem with a partner to the next track, and then moving on to the next and the next, kind of like a cowboy in a rodeo circuit, or the next closest thing existing in Britain anyway.

Vick had told me about this occupation some time previous to our early morning dash against the clock to the Denpassar airport, but one does not fully appreciate a thing until it is made real through first hand experience.

A quarter to six in the morning it was. We were to have left our room by 5, but Vick was running late. Forty-five minutes behind schedule.

My son and I, nervous over the delay, had walked up the path from our room to the road side, and were sitting on the curb strip waiting. Preceding then the speed of sound ,a silver car flashed past. It looked very much like Vick’s car. It was Vick’s car. Soon we heard a screeching of tires, and then the car came blasting back in our direction.

“Okay then, mates, hop in, look smart.”

You will appreciate from this dialogue that Victor is British. From Manchester to be precise.

We tumbled in with our carry-ons.

“Hit the bloody snooze button” Vick says, flooring the accelerator as soon as our feet were inside, more or less. “But no worries, hang tight, we’ll get you there.”

Ninety-nine point nine percent of the roads in Bali are not made for racing, or even very well for driving in the manner most commonly known in the West. The road we were traveling was not one of those constituting that rare one percent. Not at all. This road, like the 98 others, was the width of perhaps 1-½ Western style lanes, and snaked rather than cut through the Sanur shopping district, making certain to pass close to each barung along the way, regardless of what side of the street it was on.

In what must surely have been record time, we were out of Sanur and headed down the Bypass; which is the main road on the Bali coast, and, as Vick had once commented, bypasses nothing whatsoever.

Other cars on the road seemed to stand still in time as our silver bullet shot by. It was as if all the world had gone to slow motion this early morning and we were the only ones that had been left behind--or rather ahead, as it were.

The counterpoint concert of gas and brake and clutch and shift was truly impressive, beautiful in its own way (if not for the interruption of terror). I had heard before of the G force experienced in supersonic flight, but had never before experienced the phenomenon in my body, bones, muscles, blood. To the left we all lean, then hard to the right, rubbing elbows, occasionally knocking heads. Vick is one with the automobile, operating, rather like Luke Skywalker, according to the force. This was not a machine, but an extension, a song, a woman (and Sasha and myself rather like floppy hats or loose knapsacks).

“This last part’s a bloody maze,” Vick says. “Hang tight mates!”

Here Vick referred to the final road that led to the departures terminal. The road had been laid in consecutive L shapes, a crazy zigzag covering about five times the amount of ground that would otherwise have been required of a straight line to the terminal. The reason behind this is a first cousin to the reason for everything else done in Bali, mechanically, legally, culturally. We, as Westerns, can hardly hope to grasp it (though of course we do not judge).

Vick negotiated the maze with a precision of sudden jerks of the steering wheel, punchings of the brake, torso lurching accelerations. I was glad I had not yet eaten, for I found myself with no appetite whatsoever. I felt what pea soup must feel in a blender. The curb strips, the tree branches, the other cars, the occasional startled pedestrian all seemed to lean steeply toward us, caught in some strange magnetism to silver, an inexplicable death wish.

Ah, but Vick is not a killer--not even, despite appearances, a reckless driver. Vick is, most consummately, a veteran of the circuit, an expert in his field (though retired)--a race car driver par excellence, and quite likely the only man in Bali who could have gotten to Denpassar on time.

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