While excessive automotive speed may grip the majority's innards in reminiscence of old school lunches containing meat of questionable origin, an illegal subculture has arisen which thrives off of such excitatory risk. Its intrepid members find illegal street racing to be their prime source of entertainment, working laborious hours at dead-end jobs for funds to modify their cars in zealous pursuit of achieving awe-inspiring speeds. Their sweat is their hair gel, and high-speed their fast food.
In order to experience this intoxicating world first-hand, I relinquished my well being to the thralldom of a man whom I will call 'Chet,' an avid street racer aligned with Club VELOCITY operating in an undisclosed location in Annapolis, Maryland. Chet was more evocative of an IT professional stowed away in some governmental facility behind the glowing screen of a computer screen rather than an inurbane renegade undaunted by imperilment. A man of diminutive musculature with cropped strawberry-blonde hair, Chet was very conversational and humorous. He told me about his job as an ambulance driver in length, explaining how he loved the extreme thrill of weaving through traffic at high speeds, subjecting those nearby to the cacophonous whine of the siren. Chet owned an '81 Cutlass, recovered from the dump in such a shape that it could fool the onlooker into believing that they were witnessing Fred Flintstone's ride. With his meager salary, he built the Cutlass into a racing splendor, resplendent with its new coat of luxuriant black lacquer transfixed by parallel lines of marmoreal white.
As we whipped through the streets, weaving through rust-pocked Honda Civics and monolithic metro buses, the passenger-side compartment began spitting out the jaunty tune of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' in high-pitched, robotic notes redolent of classic Nintendo. He deftly flipped open the compartment, struggled to depress the shallow 'TALK' button, and held it uncomfortably between his shoulder and ear in order to continue negotiating the dense traffic. He muttered a few Ćokays' and jotted down some precise notes (the locations of tonight's hotspots) on a legal pad taped to the arm-rest, already riddled with locations written in perplexing hand-writing. After he completed talking, he let the phone fall to the floor, not minding to turn it off. As I glanced at him questioningly pertaining to the 'flamboyant' tune of his phone, he raised his hands up in defense and muttered, 'I don't even know how to work this damn thing.'
After admiring the colonial-esque buildings composed of beige bricks crested by stark white cupolas, we arrived at our destination at about 2 in the morning, greeted by a profusion of acrid smoke and a raucous crowd of spectators caterwauling at the races at hand. We rolled up into one of the two lines facing an open-stretch of empty road. The Civics here were supernatural in comparison to the salt-rimed ones I had seen on the way up, bearing front and rear strut and tie bars. The one in particular that was adjacent to us had a sunburst of white striations augmenting its gaudy lime-green body, windows lowered to reveal the scowl of its driver: a man of Latin heritage (and proud of it according to the decal on his rear-window reading, 'Latino Orgullo', or 'Latin Pride') with raiment consisting of a sleeveless white shirt purposely torn in a fashion statement and neck drooping from the weight of his countless silver chains hung with bulky ornaments. He pursed his lips smugly and extended a hand with fingers contorted in a gang-sign. I felt my stomach stir with fear.
As we neared the front of the line, I had an excellent view of the next race. The two cars, a white '92 Eclipse with orange decals and a '99 Accord painted in a hue too dark to determine in the twilight, emitted dull roars in chorus. The 'flag-man' standing between the two cars, dressed in a sporty actinic-yellow vest with white shirt underlying, rose both of his hands and then swiftly dropped them, signaling the start of the race. The two cars exploded with ferocity, propelled forward by expensive modifications. The Eclipse and Accord were in a deadlocked tie, the position of leader seesawing between the two for a steady minute before running out of track and performing a series of spinning antics in the far distance.
Then came a daring match: a naked streetbike (Kawasaki ZRX1200R) as white as new-fallen snow outfitted with cornflower blue tracing versus a marigold '88 Ford Taurus bearing the menacing face of a bulldog, so detailed that textured slaver spilled frothily from its jowl. The two revved up, the guttural whir of the Ford mingling with the spitting thumps of the Kawasaki. As I coughed and choked upon the rancid exhaust that sifted into the car, Chet inhaled it with greedy, flaring nostrils, stating, 'Ah, those are some good emissions.' Then all-hell ensued. The Ford stole ahead, having beaten the streetbike at the drop of the flagman's hands. In total disrespect of the rule that demands riders to stay in their own lane, the Ford hogged the street and swerved right and left, mirroring the biker's movements so that he could not pass. All appeared fine until the Ford began driving erratically and the biker began attempting to take the lead from behind. As they had ventured down half of the street in a vehicular game of ĆPong,' the Ford's driver was noticeably losing his quick reflexes. The biker coasted to the right, waiting for the Ford to begin its mirror-movement, then promptly sped left in the opening pocket. The Ford, jostled by the sudden appearance of the streetbike on his left-hand side, instinctively veered left in defense. The two collided with a smack and shower of sparks audible all the way down at the starting line, leading to the fall of the streetbike in a dense fury of exhaust pale as watery milk. The Ford swung about in a futile attempt to stop amidst the turmoil, wheels kicking up spume of metal fragments that was all that was left to serve as testament to the once glorious bike.
'We gotta jet, man,' exclaimed the flabbergasted Chet. 'The pigs'll be swarming here in a minute.'
'But is that guy all right?' I inquired, stricken by the possible death I had just witnessed.
'There's a kinda phrase in racing: the worse-looking the crash, the better chance of survival.'
The subdued tones of red and blue foreshadowed by Chet painted the Victorian-style buildings in the distance, stirring urgency in me to leave despite the legal and moral repercussions. And with one last somber look at the crash through the teeming crowd of those retreating from the cops, I mumbled, 'Let's jet, Chet.'