Driving too fast was dangerous, politically incorrect, and he loved it. Nothing else so well shook out the mental and physical kinks of a week at the office. This was his Sunday morning ritual, his obeisance at the Altar of the great God Speed -- a couple of hours up and down the mountain roads leading away from his town. Depending on the season, the road usually offered little traffic but a lot of serendipitous surprises: patches of fog around a corner, a hawk or eagle eyeballing him as it worked the thermals up the mountain side, once in a while a mountain goat or some other hardy mammal that survived this high up.
His chariot was an old Porsche 911 Turbo he'd inherited from his father, the only valuable thing dear Dad had left him. He'd kept it up, paying those insanely expensive Germanic mechanics who'd probably renounced law or medicine so they could make some serious dollars tweaking speed wagons like his.
The trick to piloting a rear-wheel-drive car like this was simple but not easy. Any modern car canbe driven fast without coming to grief, up to 8/10ths its limits or so. Good tires, good roads, and an ounce of common sense would nearly always save you. But to junk common sense and get that last tenth or two out of the car meant learning to work with weight transfers and ctonact patches -- your tires. A tire sticks better the more it's loaded. Accelerate hard, and as the nose lifts, the rear hunkers down, and the tires at the back suck up the road (which is why it's self-defeating to take a front-driver to the dra races). Braking loads the fronts; turning hard loads the outside wheels. Really fancy drivers, like those insane European rally guys, mimic motorcyclists by counter-steering -- turning the wheel to the outside of the curve for a moment to load up the inside tires, and then back into the curve with a vengeance, which starts a nice four-wheel drift.
So, on a day like today, when the car was in tune, he hadn't smoked the rear tires bald yet, and he was alert, he danced with the road and velocity. Hit the brakes hard at the right instant before a corner. Start the front wheels turning into the curve while they're still carrying most of the car's weigh and you "rail" the brakes slightly. Get back on the accelerator right at the apex of the curve, and now the rear wheels drive you out of the corner as the fronts return to straight ahead. Of course, with a turbo motor like the over-stressed beast at the back of this Porsche, there is a second or two of delay while the turbos spool up and start to compressair again. So you actually want to get on the throttle a moment before the apex.
With everything timed right, and no surprises, you'd get a delicious little rear-end slide bringing the tail around as you came out of the curve. And then hang on as the power peak moved your eyeballs back in your skull. Revel in the feeling that you had stretched both the car and your own limits to the utmost.
He had the MP3 player blasting something appropriate, probably "Layla" but he was trying to focus on driving, and anyway the music was barely audible over the screaming tires and the Porsche's mechanical wail. Powered out of a lef -hander (always a little braver on the ones that turned away from the mountain side, because a slip wouldn't send him over the edge). Ran up the revs for a wonderful ten seconds, then back on the brakes for the right-hander that curved around the mountain. The sunlight breaking off a stream across the valley flashed his eyes for a moment, but he was still good. Decided to go for it and mashed the throttle an instant before the curve started to open it up, and shit... there was a pool of oil mixed with clean-up gravel right in his path.
This is unfair, he told himself as he tried to finesse past the spill in the other lane, but his car was already sliding. He was into the black gravelly goo and onto the guardrail before he could react.
For some reason the words to another old rock song ran through his brain: Fflying on the ground is wrong." The guardrail held for a moment, but then the poles holding it wrenched out of the earth, and he was over, and into the air, the Porsche oddly quiet as it arced into the sunlight. As the car revolved a rain of coins and pens from the floor showered past him.
What struck him in his last few seconds in this world, as well as the fear, was a strange feeling of freedom. He'd done this himself, in a moment of happiness -- not planning to die at all (well, maybe a little), and now he was committed. He closed his eyes.
copyright 2009 John Oughton
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace