Excerpt from the essay “Dangerous Speed” by Darius Himes:
I first learned how to drive stick on the family riding lawnmower, of all things. It was an early-80s John Deere model that my father purchased with a healthy employee discount, and which came equipped with a clutch and 3-speed transmission. It wasn’t clear to me then how important knowledge of a manual transmission would be for my adult life. What was clear at the moment was that in the right patch of loose gravel in the alley separating our garage and the back 1/2 acre, you could actually make that thing peel out and leave a tiny puff of dust. The fact that it would assist in mowing the expansive lawn that my little brother and I were in charge of really only dawned on me later.
At top speed, the lawnmower could hit about 8 mph. This was a major disappointment for a 12 year old, to be sure. For years already I had been studying the various dune buggies and three wheelers available in the back of the oversize Montgomery Ward’s catalog that would arrive twice a year at our home in rural Iowa. I already knew, deep in my heart, that I wanted a motorized vehicle with potential for excessive speed. The lawnmower was definitely not it. But it was a step in the right direction.
My first conscious awakening to the thrill and allure of dangerous speed came years earlier while perched on the middle hump of the back bench seat of my father’s 1966 Ford Mustang. My dad, in truth, is no “car guy” but on open stretches of country road, where visibility is high and your foot is connected to the gas pedal of a hunk of barely-sweating-at-60-mph American steel and ingenuity, what guy (or gal) doesn’t become a “car guy”?