Derby offers crash course in car lovers' indignation

This Just In...

September 03, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

THE STOUT MAN seated next to me at the demolition derby spoke with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent and a stunning array of profanities - more so when a certain car appeared on the muddy track for the fourth heat of the night.

"That's a bleepin' '51 Buick!" he screamed. "I can't bleepin' believe it. Oh my bleepin' word! A '51 Buick! That's the two-door hardtop. Oh my God!"

It was, indeed, a 1951 Buick of fond memory - black and curvaceous, with large, grinning chrome grill and stylish trim that included a row of faux vent holes along the front quarter panels. The man next to me was outraged at the horror about to occur. In fact, I could not imagine him being more outraged at anything - not at tax increases, not at industrial polluters or telemarketers, not at Gary Condit. The man might have briefly entertained a notion to climb over the chain-link fence that protected the grandstand from flying debris and confront the Buick's driver in the way that unarmed students once faced down a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

I felt the kind of sadness people must have felt at the pitiful demise of the great and exploited athlete Jim Thorpe, buried in a town that bears his name maybe 20 miles from where I sat.

What low form of life had decided to splash this fine Buick with spray paint, knock out its windows and offer it for sacrifice in the demolition derby at the 80th annual West End Fair in Gilbert, Pa.?

"Some bleepin' kid who don't know nothin'," said the man next to me.

He wore a gray T-shirt from a Schuylkill County auto junkyard, and he seemed to know his stuff. Earlier, he had explained how old Chrysler cars - "Mopar rules!" - dominate demolition derbies. He was able to identify several of the dented, gooped-up vehicles from the 1970s that smashed each other and filled the night sky with foul exhaust, smoke from engine fires and steam from punctured radiators. We had seen cars that deserved a better fate - the Mopar muscle cars of Dodge, in particular - and many that didn't.

But we never expected to see a well-preserved, half-century-old Buick - a "vulnerable adult" - that should have been shining pretty in a collector's garage. Special or Roadmaster, we couldn't tell because of the paint job. Either way, it was about to suffer in grotesque ritual.

"I can't bleepin' believe it!" the man kept saying in an effort to alert the heavily tattooed crowd around him to the great sin. "That guy in the Buick got to be crazy. The engine is worth a thousand bucks. He could get $250 for the bumper!"

Yeah, I joined in - must be some punk.

"Exactly," the man said. "Some bleep who don't know nothin' and his grandma give him the car, which has been sittin' in her barn for 30 years!"

The fourth heat commenced. Sixteen cars rammed each other and smashed each other. The helmeted drivers bounced in their seats like bobblehead dolls. The Buick took a blow, and its passenger door popped open, allowing us a look at the interior. I half expected Sal Mineo to roll out of it.

"Look at the floor!" the guy next to me screamed. "The floor is perfect! That kid gotta be nuts, man. This is bleepin' nuts!"

In minutes, half the cars were out of competition, including the Buick. It appeared to sustain serious (but not fatal) injury from one or two competing cars. It was as if most of the other drivers had had too much respect for the Buick to hit it. Who knew demolition derby guys could be so sentimental? God bless 'em.

More air-bag-free fun

If all this demo-derby talk gets you in the mood, remember that the Arcadia Volunteer Fire Company has one scheduled for Oct. 13. Take a ride out to the countryside for the autumn foliage, and top it off with a few hours of car-smashin' fun. For more information: 410- 374-4111.

All the gear, but no guts

So there we were, following one of those really big 4x4 SUVs down a city street. Television commercials for this gas-guzzling brute show it climbing mountains and crossing glaciers. Suddenly, its brake lights came on and the driver of this monster swerved abruptly to the right - to avoid steel plates in the road!

Is it worth a rerun?

I've been to the new Babalu Grill in the Power Plant Live complex, and all I can say is: "Lucy, I'm home!"

O'method in his O'madness

It could be just another bad case of verbal impulse control, but there might also be calculation in Martin O'Malley's recent sniping at Kathleen K. Townsend: He knows he could beat her in the gubernatorial election next year. He might deny that he's considering a run for the big chair in 'Napolis, but only a fool would count him out at this point. Remember the history: The O-Man waited until the summer of '99 to announce he was running for mayor, seizing the interest of an electorate that had been yawning and moaning over a field of ho-hum Democratic contenders. The same thing could happen in the '02 guber-primary: O-Man dashes Ho-Hum, takes Naptown hands down.

And in case of a tie ...

A TJI reader offers a revenue-raising suggestion for the mayor and City Council: "Put a number on every manhole cover in downtown Baltimore, and take bets on which one blows off next!"

Or maybe soap-operatic

People ask me: "When are you going to compose another opera like `Don Donaldo?'" That's a flattering question, referring to a series of columns, written in operatic form and published in The Evening Sun from 1986 until 1995. Based on the life, times and antics of William Donald Schaefer, the "Don Donaldo Ring Cycle" ended with Schaefer's reign as governor. No other leading politician since inspired such operatic treatment.

Not Kurt Schmoke. Not Parris Glendening.

But now I'm having second thoughts about this Glendening. There might be something there yet. Watch this space.

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