Saturday, July 25, 2015

Perhaps There are Times to Leave the Brakes Alone


By Keith N Fisher

I was sitting in my car, parked in the shade of a tree, next to a gated community. While writing, I heard something approach. I looked up to see a little girl on a bicycle, speeding down the sidewalk on the other side of the fence.

In front of where I parked, a locked gate stood waiting, as she approached. I went back to my writing, assuming the girl knew what she was doing and how to get through the gate. After all, she lived there, right?

A thump brought my attention back up, from my writing. The little girl apparently, didn’t know how to stop and crashed into the brick wall next to the gate. She had apparently slapped the wall with her open hand because she looked at it for a long time. Next to her hand was an electrical box with the kind of switch they use for emergency stop buttons on machinery.

After a few seconds the girl pressed the button and got off her bike to walk it through the gate, but it didn’t open. Rather than push the button again, the girl looked around, apparently not sure what to do. Then after a car went through the big gate on the other side of the trees, she walked her bike over there. I assume she followed a car through the gate.

I stopped writing and thought about what I’d seen. I wondered what had been in the girl’s mind as she approached the gate. Maybe she didn’t know it was locked. Maybe she got confused and couldn’t remember how to use the brakes. Maybe, and this is not likely, she planned to hit the button without stopping her bike.

Whatever she thought. She crashed her bike into a brick wall to stop, and that made me think. I considered many similes and metaphors, and remembered my childhood when brakes were hard to apply, like when I crashed the tote-goat into the garbage cans because I got confused and forgot about the brake. I wonder if that’s what happened to the girl.

As a metaphor brakes can have a double meaning. Some of us prefer the freedom of going through life full throttle, never giving the brakes any consideration. I have been one who used the brakes often. Sometimes the brakes were on when they shouldn’t have been, but it’s easier to avoid crashes if you’re already going slow.

To be accurate, however, there have been times when I ignored the brakes. While thinking about those times, I remembered a fond story from my childhood I’d like to share with you. 

I think I was twelve, when I built a three-wheeled go-cart. It was what it was, because I only had three wheels. Built from my father’s scrap pile, I used a school bus seat and the frame was made from galvanized pipe that I welded together. The rear axle was from a boat trailer. I’m not sure where the front wheel came from. I steered with a piece of pipe made into a lever, and as I said, I made the poor welds. I was kid after all. I intended to mount an engine in the rear, but never had the chance.

I was proud of my creation but mostly proud of the brake system. It was no more than a lever with rubber pads made from old tires. When applied, the brakes pushed against the rear tires. It was like the brakes on a covered wagon.

During that time, I lived next to vacant lot, and it was a hillside . . . well, you know where this is going. One day, my friend helped me push the cart up the hill, and we got in. I held the brakes on for a second, then let go. The fantastic ride got out of hand. We were going faster than I’d anticipated. With an ashen face, my friend looked around. He still denies it, but I think he was going to jump ship. As you might’ve guessed, the brakes had no effect.

Keeping my head, I steered toward the spot near the road where the hill leveled out and our driveway began. As we had done with sleds in the winter, I intended to take the cart down the road and stop naturally where the road intersected with another road and everything leveled out.

We never got to the road. I miss-judged how far my rear wheels extended away from me and one of the them ran over an obstacle my father had placed at the end of the hedge to keep people from driving on the plants.

Moments later, the cart lay in pieces. The bus seat rested on top of us, and my friend was okay. We sat up and started laughing. All my work on that cart had been undone in seconds. The irony was hilarious.

Sure, getting killed in a cart crash wouldn’t have been good, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun if the brakes had worked. Just think of the terrifying ride we could’ve had. Down the road, under the freeway toward Utah Lake. When I think of the grin on the girl’s face, just before she crashed her bike, I wonder if we put on our brakes too much.

I’ve been weighing the benefits of caution VS the glorious life with no brakes. Of course I’m older, and have less to lose, but . . .

Yes, it would be crazy to not use the brakes. But there are times when perhaps we should leave them alone. Does caution inhibit our success? As writers, do we hold back on our careers, waiting for just the right moment?

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.    

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