When we were kids, we had wagon races. We all had the little red wagons (the ones that NO kids have now!), not the ones with the wood sides or the big wheels!
Ours were all metal! We...at least I was...into the races at Clovis Speedway because a guy by the name of Bob Cetti lived behind me and had a race car. So the gang in the neighborhood all became racers too. We had drivers and pushers (the unlucky kids that got to push the wagons with the drivers in them) and one kid who rode a scooter. It all progressed into converting big wheels into race vehicles, then bikes, then eventually into real cars...but this story is about the wagons and a hot July day.
(Mike, if I forget or leave out something PLEASE feel free to add it! Ye Ol Gopper's memory aint what it used to be!)
It was the early 70's, a time of endless hot summer days for the gang in our hood! We lived on plumbs from the tree in my backyard, bing cherries from the tree next door, and kool-aid from everybodys house! The world revolved around us as we would wake up in the morning and not return home until it was dark, unless we got hungry. Our mothers didn't worry because we lived in a safe world back then. If a parent wanted their kid, all they had to do was go outside and yell his name. It would start a chain reaction of someone else yelling that name until that kid was told by another kid (because the first kid never heard his own parent calling) that mom or dad was calling. We would swim in our pool, play frisbee, or "the game your dad taught you". But for a few early summers, we would race. Race our wagons. We had all painted our wagons with our favorite drivers numbers on them. Mine was 74, Mikes was 37, I don't remember what Yez had but I do remember the fun we had.
So this summer day, Yez, John Webber and his sister Lisa, Randy Hanna and a couple of other kids decided we would give Mike a surprise birthday. Lisa made a cake and we set up for the great race celebrating Mikes birthday, on Yez's driveway. Now Yez had a bigger than average driveway because of the garage being converted into a bed room. Where the garage door should have been was a brick wall about three feet high then a window. So his driveway/race track was more like a road course instead of the round track. So as time came to start the race, Mike had no clue that it was "fixed". Up to this point, he had never won a race I believe. Lisa was the flag girl (multi-talented! I wonder what ever happened to her?) and she dropped the checker flag(because that was the only flag we had, it served as the start flag, caution flag, red flag, white flag...you get the idea!) and the great race was on!
I lead the race for a while, driving my usual safe way while cutting off Mike every chance I got! When we got to the point of the "fix" Mike zoomed past me into the lead! Now it was a battle for 2nd between Yez and I. Well...remember that brick wall? Yez got to know it reeeeeeeeaaaaaaal good!! And more than once! (Amazing he and I are STILL friends, after all the crappy things I did to him growing up!) Mike stretched his lead and as he came around turn four(ish), Lisa dropped the white flag! I could see the beads of sweat on his forehead! I floored it (which is very hard to do with no gas peddle!)! Mike entered turn one with Ol Gop-Man closing in! DOWN the back straight we came! Closer...CLOSER!! Mike could hear my engine straining...squeezing out every ounce of horse power it had! (ok, Randy was pushing me and he was pooping out) We entered the last turn, Mike tried to block, but I countered and shot to the outside, we were neck and neck heading to the finish! Mike could see Lisa, poised with the finish flag in the air, sunlight framing it like golden statue! His wagon bumped and rubbed mine as we shot towards the finish of this historic race! Wheels turning faster than they had ever turned before as the wind whipped thru our closely cropped hair (our dad's told us it us cooler this way), eyes wider than they had ever been, knuckles were white from gripping the steering so very tight! The flag dropped as we passed the finish line and as we stopped Mike quickly turned to look back at Lisa and heard the immortal and historic words from her virgin lips........"MIKE IS THE WINNER!!"
It all went into slow motion and Mike leaped into the air with joy! He had won! He had fought long and hard and come away with a victory! Nothing else mattered at this moment, for him or for us. For this second in time, the world was a perfect place.
Now, being as good as we were, we were worried that Mike, in all his joy, would suffer some sort of heat stroke or heart attack, so we told him he needed to cool down. The best way WE knew to do that wasn't pouring water on him, or taking him inside to the nice air-conditioned house! No Sir! He needed to put on a blindfold, to cool his eyes then the rest of him would be just fine! 10 year olds logic! He believed it! So the blindfold went on, and Lisa ran home to get the cake and candles and matches! Now we had a new problem! NONE of us were allowed to play with matches so NONE of us knew how to light one! We figured it out and burned a few fingers along the way. When Mike asked why we were saying "ow!" we told him we were burning our feet or something. At last the candles were lit, and we told Mike he had cooled down enough to remove the blindfold. It probable looked like a scene from a Charlie Brown show, with a lopsided cake made by a 10 year old in her EZ bake oven and a bunch of kids yelling "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" then singing, but for us, at least me, it will go down as one of the best memories I have.
So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to mister Mike Young! My childhood friend, my adult friend, my blood brother, my pal! I am so happy we have been and will always be, best friends!