I stayed one more day because someone said the words “demolition derby” and it sounded perfect. I needed some destruction. I wanted to watch it, to savor it from the grandstand bleachers and smell fuel.
I was not prepared for the smell of grease.
We pulled up in a cloud of smoke face to face with a giant duct-taped Indian. “Well,” I told the car, “at least there’s no litter.” Everyone agreed. The parking lot of the Orange County Speedway was immaculate, save the huge Indian. Joe climbed it and we snapped a photo of Chief Towaco.
The line for the demolition derby snaked twice around the parking lot.
Sondo kept looking at the crowd and giggling. “Look! Look at his hair! He actually has a red neck!” We tried not to snicker along with her. We tried, for the most part to ignore her.
“Oh my god! I can’t. I caaan‘t.” Sondo was gasping.
Mark snapped his head back at her and whispered staccatos. “Sondo, do not think for one moment I will defend you. Because I will throw you right under the bus. Do not fuck with these people. I will not have your back.”
Sondo shut up. The guy behind us with yellow teeth looked like Gary Busey. Every time I looked back he grinned at me and his son hung back behind his Wrangler pant leg. I tried not to look back. He freaked me out.
At some point, a bunch of teenagers swung a gate open, and our part of the line realized we could sneak in without paying the $14. We were too foggy and paranoid to make a decision. Fifty people jogged past us, grabbing their kids and making a run for it. We remained frozen in place. Finally, out of indecisive desperation, I told the group, “This isn’t a legal matter. This is about ethics.” I leaned on the word and we all nodded. It made us feel better, knowing we weren’t morally corrupt, even as we forked over our clean bills to the man in a box with two different colored eyes.
We finally walked into the grand stand, and our eyes stung from the scent of fried grease. We found seats on the long planks of wood sank in the middle, no doubt from the obese attendees.
Sondo and I decided we needed more booze. We stood in line for beer, but I decided this sort of event called for hard alcohol.
“A vodka-soda, please.”
The man at the bar blinked at me. “We don’t have Pepsi here, okay, only Coco-Cola.”
“No,” I stammered. “I mean, um, club soda.”
“You mean diet? We don’t have diet soda here, either.”
“What about seltzer?”
The bartender blinked again and added a splash of seltzer to my cup of vodka. “Want some fruit, too?”
“Um, no thanks.”
I gripped the soda and walked with Sondo to the concession stand. We stood in line, the frier scent caking in our nostrils, sticking in our hair. We got three orders of cheese fries, a jumbo sized hot dog and a platter of sausages and peppers. They were out of corndogs. We carried them back to the boys who were standing on the bleacher, the plank of wood wheezing under them. We all dug into the food and focused our eyes on the speedway. Cheese sauce hung from our bottom lips.
Mike told us we were just in time—the announcer was welcoming the star of the show, Crash Malone.
Crash Malone promptly drove his little truck into a vertical schoolbus and escaped from the towering pile of flames, waving his helmet around and flipping off the finger. Mark was jumping up and down on the bleacher shouting: “CRASH MA-LONE! CRASH MA-LONE!”
“Who is Crash Malone, anyway,” I whispered to Joe.
“A fucking psychopath. Look at that fire!”
We stood in awe, our mouths (full of cheesefries) open, watching as truck with trailers attached to them drove around and around, trying to knock the other trailer off. One burst into flames. The crowd went crazy.
Kids pressed up against the limp fence as the four-cylinders slammed into each other, sending pieces of metal flying up into the sky, commingling with the stench of fried dough and fuel. The audience was screaming and kissing and fighting. A man proposed to a woman on the track. Another man was dragged out for drugs or disorderly conduct, or so we suspected. I wondered where that guy who looked like Gary Busey went, and if his kid was still hiding somewhere behind him. Some company had kids in yellow tee-shirts standing near the bathrooms, handing out free samples of snuff. People with sauce from their cheesefries still clinging to their chin—not us, we had wiped the sauce off by now—stood on line for fried dough and shook big, dirty bottles of sugar on them, licking the stickiness of off their fingers and replacing the sugar on the stand for the next customer. Beers spilled and children cried. Another bus burst into flames, and this time the EMT ran out like a hero. He was quickly shooed away by the crew and the fire smoked outrageously, the clouds of gray growing and building and finally pillowing out into the parking lot.
We left early, before the six-cylinders, to beat the crowd, to wash our hair, to talk about that time we went to the speedway to watch the demolition derby.