Friday, March 9, 2007

The Soap-Box Derby

Derby Downs, just off Madison Avenue in Anderson Indiana, was a childhood fantasy and my nemesis of unrequited love for feats of heroism that every young boy's imagination projects him into. The Soap-Box Derby. In the exuberant confidence and infallibility that only a child can truly possess, I and I alone knew the secrets of winning one of the great challenges of early manhood: lubricant, wheels with bearings aligned true and without any wobble, and aerodynamics. I doubt that I then knew the word aerodynamics, but I intuitively knew that in this race of equal weight, size, and materials, it was wind resistance that could mean the difference between humiliation and a trip to Akron Ohio.

Once each year I'd start at the bottom of the hill and watch pairs of wondrous plywood cars cross the finish line, usually within seconds of each other. Well, they weren't all wondrous; some were so primitive in comparison with the best that I vowed to do it right or not at all. That though would not hold my attention too long and soon I would hike up the hill where you could get a close look at the derby cars, I mean really study them, while they were placed in the starting blocks and awaited the count-down.

The top of Derby Downs was higher than nearly any place nearby and it offered a view of the most exciting and important places that I knew within the small domain of an 8 year old. At the bottom near the finish line was the Madison Avenue Little League Park where I gamely struggled year after year to master the game with a ball that I secretly feared whether I was at bat or in the infield. In the outfield it wasn't that I was afraid of the ball, it was the fear of humiliation at failing to catch it when it practically fell into my glove. You could see my little stretch of White River, especially the neighborhood's multipurpose swimming hole and hot fishing spot. Behind the Downs was a city dump that we would explore a couple times each summer. And, behind that, a site of great childhood anxiety; the railroad trestle over White River. Despite immense pressure from all of my friends, I never did get the nerve to walk all the way across it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is NOT Derby Downs in Anderson, Indiana. D.D. was not built until the 1960's. Prior to that, the Soap Box derby was held in Hazelwood, and also on in the 700 blk of Meridian St. to name two former locations.