Visitors
copyright
2000 by lari davidson

Back in the sixties, I had one of those jobs where you drive around town all day. And if you're
in the neighbourhood anyway you can stop in at Fraser Raceways and say "Hey!" at Rube.

Rube (I never knew his last name or if I did I've forgotten it) was day manager at Fraser
Raceways. Most of the raceways action came in the evenings when Bill Eisonsen was on, but
there was a certain amount of right-after-school activity, at least enough to suit Rube. I always
made it a point to drop in between the noon opening and the after-school invasion. Not exactly
that I don't like kids but I wanted time to hang and chat with Rube.

Once the visitors arrived he had no time for anyone. During one of these afternoon visits, Rube asked me if the
SVMRC, the South Vancouver Model Racing Club, was taking in new members. Rube was a short
guy with dark flashing eyes and one of those bubbling personalities. Strangely, he didn't
seem like the racing type to me; you know how you can just tell if somebody follows your interests or
not?

He was also a little older than most of us involved with slot car racing, so it might've
been attitude or something. Anyway, I was in my thirties myself so we got along just fine.

"Sure," I said. "'Bout time you came round to a club meeting, see what 1/32nd is all about."
Rube was a dedicated 1/24th man, insofar as his interest went, mostly because that was all he
ever saw at the raceways. I'd been asking him for quite awhile to drop round so I wondered why
the sudden interest.

" Nope," he corrected me. "Not me, but there is this kid comes around, kind of a pathetic look
about him; stands and watches through the window. Came in once to ask me about a car, a
Mako, I think, and a bunch of the other kids hanging around the counter started making fun of
him. I feel kinda sorry for the kid so I wondered if maybe a club might be better if he's
interested in racing slots."

The SVMRC did have a thing for orphans. Dave Craster joined us from the Coquitlam Club
after they folded; same with Tony Lai and Glen Wong when Clarke Park lost their basement.
Ace Newsom and Tom Diggery wandered over from Haida Circuit although in their case it was a
dual membership thing. O, and Del Prutton and Gordie Parch started out with Thunderbird Road
and sort of drifted from T'Bird to us other over a matter of months even though their track was
in Del's aunt's basement.

So we were all of us a group of guys who were willing to take in a stray. Rube hadn't mentioned how old the kid
was . . ."How old is he?" I said. I was scribbling my home phone on the back of one of the Fraser
Raceways business cards Rube kept beside the till. "Give it to him if you see him again."

"'Kay," Rube said, tucking the card into his pocket. "I dunno: teenager. Hey! You see these
new Candies?"

He passed me a carded baggie containing rainbow-coloured slicks on strange looking wheels.
I looked at them. "These plastic wheels?"
"Probably," he said, frowning. Then he brightened, "Saves weight, huh?"
"Jeez, Rube. I couldn't put those on a club car. They're way oversize anyway. Aren't they 1/24th?"

"I tried 'em," he said. "They work pretty good." He took the baggie from me and put it back on
a hook on the pegboard. I looked up at the ceiling. He didn't seem to be hearing me today.

The following week I got a phone call on a Tuesday night from a woman.
I admitted to my name and she said, "My son came home with this card from a place called
Fraser Raceways and your name and phone number were on the back."

That would be Rube's kid . . . or rather the kid's mother, I guessed.
"My son," she continued. "Seems to be interested in this 'slots car racing''" I put that in italics
to give you some idea of the inflection of her voice. It was plain she didn't think much of our
hobby. "Did you give him this card?"

I had to admit that I did not, but I didn't mention Rube's name either cause it sounded like she
was looking for someone to blame for this dastardly deed.
"Well, I'm all for Josh finding new interests," she continued. "But I'm not sure this 'slots car
racing' is what we had in mind. He is only fifteen you know."

I explained that the SVMRC was not exactly soliciting new members but I had been asked.
Right away I thought I was going to get Rube into something or other but she let the comment
pass.

"Explain to me what goes on at these 'club meetings'"

That would be hard to do. Club meetings, at least ours, consisted of a lot of track practice, an
impromptu race or three, a lot of dicing and a lot of talking and fooling around, and an exchange
of tuning advice between the members, at least those that were talking to each other (don't ask).

It was not only hard to put into words, it was impossible, especially to someone who put 'slots
car racing' into italics with her voice. In the end I didn't have to try.

"Perhaps I should accompany Josh to one of these 'club meetings'." I was definitely beginning
to hate those italics in her voice and I was wondering how she did that. Still, it was better than
'slots' car racing.

In the end I gave her my in-laws' address where the SVMRC track was and told her to come
around to the back basement door on a Thursday night and knock.
As I said it, I thought of Chicago in the thirties, and speakeasies, tommy-guns and bathtub
whiskey. Did I ever deny being weird?

"I see," she said. Didn't really sound like we'd be seeing Josh anytime soon. She hung up
without saying goodbye which didn't match the polite tone in her voice.

A couple of weeks passed and tell the truth I'd forgotten all about Josh and his mother. On a
Thursday evening in November there came a knock at the door.

"It's open!" someone shouted.
The door opened in and a tall well-dressed woman entered. She was wearing white gloves
which she inspected after letting go of the doorknob. You can tell expensive clothes just by
looking at them and this woman was wearing lots of them real good. She appeared to be in her
late thirties/early forties and behind her stood a young boy looking kind of short for a kid was
supposed to be in his mid-teens. He was holding a white plastic grocery bag with both hands. I t
was then I remembered the conversation on the phone.

"You're Josh?" I said to the boy. He looked up at the woman, his mother, of course. It was that
kind of look.
"This is Josh," the woman said. She was taking in the basement and the look on her face was
not that of a person impressed by what she saw. She didn't offer to introduce herself.

I looked around at the other members, most of whom seemed to be in some kind of mild shock
at the sight of this fugitive from high society right here in the basement in front of us . . . or
maybe they were just waiting for her next sentence. We sure didn't see many women in
expensive clothes dropping by. The reaction was partly my fault cause I hadn't told any of them
about the kid at the raceway or the phone call from his mother.

"Which one of you is Rube?" she said. This brought a lot of confused looks around the
basement.
I gave her my name and she nodded.

She said, "You're the one I talked to on the phone." Talk about stating the obvious. Everyone
in the basement looked at me now. Well, they were going to have to keep up cause I wasn't
going to take the time to explain in front of Josh and his mother.

"What would you like to know about the club?" I said. "This is our track." Jeez, it was rubbing
off on me.

"I purchased a slot racing car for Josh." She took the bag from her son's hands and looked into
its depths. She brought forth a 1/24th clear plastic Mako Shark, unpainted, of course, and ugly in
the context of the 1/32nd track. It was like taking a picnic lunch to a cannibal barbecue; you had
obviously missed the point. She handled the car like a landed fish, her index finger for a hook
from which the Mako swung like a tarpon having its picture taken.

"Well," I said. I didn't want to hurt her feelings and I could feel Dave Craster behind me
beginning to waken to the occasion. The room had been quiet before. It was suddenly even
quieter. "That's not really ready to run," I went on. "I'll lend Josh one of my spares."

"You have more than one?" she said. Her eyes got larger.

Somebody in the room snickered. It could have been Craster but I didn't think so.
Josh pulled on his mother's arm and she leaned to listen to his whisper in her ear. She drew
herself up.

"Josh has never used one of those things," she said. Another snicker. We weren't making a
very good impression as a club and I wanted to tell her to step outside for a minute so I could tell
the guys to shut the hell up and show a little courtesy. Maybe I should have.

"How does it work?"

I had an old ready-to-run Revell Sting Ray in my race case, don't ask me why. I put it in the
green lane and plugged in my controller. For a lap and then another I eased the Sting Ray
around. I'd forgotten how far we'd come since the days when we began racing RTR's like this.
There was a time when this kind of car was half decent; those days were way before brass
chassis and Mabuchi rewinds.

"That looks easy enough," she said. "Can Josh try?"

I handed her the controller without a word. She turned toward Josh who was shaking his head.

"Look, hon," she said. She pushed the controller's plunger and the car jumped on the track.
The movement caught her eye and she thumbed the controller again. This time she held it
down and the Sting Ray crashed into the wall at the end of the straight.

"O! I'm sorry!" she said. Gordie Parch put the car back into the green lane. "I didn't know they
came off once you put them on the track."

I had to let that one pass. There wasn't enough time to educate her. It didn't look like Josh was
going to try the car so I expected them to be leaving in a few minutes.

"See?" she said. She bent over and looked at Josh watching her. So doing, she forgot to lift for
the uphill sweeper and the car deslotted again. This time it was Del Prutton who marshalled it.

"Why does it keep doing that?" she said to the whole room. Del answered.
"You have to control it," he said. Did I detect a little sarcasm in his voice? "Try going around
real slow."

She drove around one lap and then another. Josh, watching the progress of the Sting Ray with
wide eyes, pulled at his mother's arm again.

"Mom?" he said in a weak voice.

Without hesitation the woman passed him the controller. Within a few laps Josh was keeping
the car on the track.

"My name is Mrs. Mearnes," she said to me. "How much does it cost to join your club?"

I explained we didn't really have dues or formal meetings. It was just a place for slot racers (I
was hoping she would pick up on the single form) to get together and set up their cars for events
at other tracks.

"There are other tracks?"

"Maybe half a dozen," I said. We were all watching Josh ease the Sting Ray around the course.
It was Bob Woodbody who finally put another car on the track and joined Josh. Bob was a guy
who liked kids and had two girls of his own. Then Dave Craster joined in and Tony Lai took the
leftover red lane and there were four cars circulating.

"Is your car for sale?" she said to me.

How did I answer that? Josh had to start somewhere but was an old Revell RTR the place to
begin? What the hell! I had no more use for it; it had been in my case for over a year. I was
amazed it still ran.

"Know what?" I said. "Josh can have the car, no charge. It's
an old one and he's welcome to it."

"Are you sure?" she said.

"Mrs. Mearnes," I said. " It would give me pleasure to see that old car find a home and
someone who cared about it."

She was watching the rest of the cars on the track. "It isn't very good, is it?" Smart lady, I thought, catches on
quick.

"No," I said. "Still, good enough to practice with until he
gets his feet."

"I think I'd like to try a faster one," she said. "Could I.. . .?"

I had to think. The rest of the cars in my case were pretty racey and I didn't know if I wanted
them busted up. Should I ask someone else?
"Sure," I said. I decided the Ferrari P3 could take the most abuse even though it was my
favourite car. I got the Ferrari and nudged Bob. "She'd like to try my Ferrari," I said. "Can she
borrow your controller?"

"I'm using it," he said, not getting it.
"And your lane."
He frowned for just a second and then understanding settled. "O, sure." he pulled his Chapper
2D in and handed me the controller.

"Try this," I said to her. I put the Ferrari into the Yellow lane and handed her the controller.
She tried to go around slowly like she had done with the Sting Ray but the Ferrari had no
manners and wasn't suited to slow speed running. Still, she kept it in the slot and picked up the
pace until she was circulating at a pretty good pace. Nothing to write home about, but it was
obvious she could learn, given time.

"It's quite fun." It was the first time I'd seen the faint hint of a smile. She looked at me and the
Ferrari whacked the wall at the end of the straight. "O! Your car!" she said. Gordie marshalled it
but she put Bob's controller down and stepped away from the station.
Long story short? Josh ran around for another half hour until finally his mother gathered him
up saying his father was waiting for them downtown and to bring his car. She thanked everyone,
me again for the String Ray, and they left.

A couple more weeks passed and then one night the phone rang.
"It's Mrs. Mearnes," said the receiver. " I was wondering.... ?"      

"Sure," I said. "Josh's welcome any time. We're there every Thursday night at seven." I made
a mental note to see if I could maybe get Josh and Tony Lai together. They were roughly the
same age, Tony being seventeen. A smart kid for his age, Tony, quick and with a very racey
case.

About quarter past seven the same knock came on my in-laws' basement door.
"It ain't locked!" someone shouted.

Josh and his mother entered, Josh with the plastic grocery bag again. I had a twinge thinking
of my old Sting Ray suffering the indignity of life in a plastic bag. The woman, Mrs. Mearnes,
was carrying a box of her own. The white gloves were missing.

This time I introduced both of them to the rest of the members. The woman seemed some
looser than she had been during her last visit.

"Whatcha got in the case?" Totman Harding said. Tot wasn't a guy with a lot of tact, least not
that I ever noticed.
"May I hang my jacket?" she said.
That one stumped everybody. We all just threw our coats across any empty space. I
remembered the nail on the side of the control station and she used that. She opened the box and
pulled out a neat little 1/32nd Lola. I had the feeling I'd seen that car somewhere before.

"Jeez! You build that?" Del said.
"I purchased this from a man at Grand Prix Raceways," she said. "I think his name was Bill."

"Bill McDermott?" I said.

"That sounds right," she said.

I'd seen that green car just three weeks ago at the '68 SVMRC Fall Classic. That Lola was one
fast car. Bill Mac usually built and raced 1/24th scale, but like any talented slot car enthusiast, he
could cross scale boundaries with ease. Bill Mac was one of the two Bills. Along with Bill
Eisonsen he was an automatic invitee to our Fall Classic. Not that either had ever won a final but
one or another was usually in one of them.
I sort of wanted to ask her what she'd paid for the Lola. What kind of money did it take to get
Bill to part with a car like that? A hundred dollar bill waved under his nose maybe . . .? I
supposed from the look of her she could afford it.

Josh took the blue lane. He had a new Cox controller with the alligator clips still on it. I made
a mental note to show him how to switch to a phone plug later. We could all see Josh was having
a lot of trouble controlling the Lola; as it circled the track it jumped in fits and starts. My guess
was wrong resistor in the Cox for the rewound motor in the Lola.

Just as I was about to offer him my own 15 ohm Cox his mother stepped forward and held out her
hand.
"Here,"she said. "Let me show you how, Josh."

Josh's face said two differing things. He didn't want to pass the controller, but on the other
hand Mother must be obeyed. He gave her the Cox. The woman eased the Lola around the track, picking up
speed with every lap. It was pretty plain to us all she could be quick with a little practice. Josh
didn't have time for that.

"Mom," he said, pulling on her arm. "I wanna try."
Suddenly I knew what was bothering me about Josh. He was more like a ten-year old in his
actions than a teen-ager. What was that about? Maybe because he was treated like one at home.
No wonder the kids at the raceway teased him.

Josh ran for another half hour until suddenly they left. The kid never got up to the pace of his
mother.

The following week they were back again. No knock this time. They had two cars and two
controllers. No sign of my Sting Ray. O well, it wasn't mine anymore anyway. Josh didn't get
the Lola this time though. He waited his turn, put a Cooper-Ford down in the green lane and
proceeded to circulate at the same pace as the week before.
When the red lane freed up , the woman asked me, "Do you think I could try this in that empty
lane?"

She was holding the Bill Mac Lola in one hand and a mean-looking Ram controller in the
other. The lady was loaded, and I'm not talkin' about money.
"Sure," I said.
She hung her jacket on the same nail and walked to the stations. Halfway there she turned
back.
"By the way. My name is Lillian."
"Pleased," I said.

She must have been watching all of us closely. As if she'd been doing it for months, she
plugged in the Ram and looked at the underbelly of the Lola. With a red-nailed, well-manicured
finger she picked at the braid and then blew on them just like we all did in case some fluff had
been picked up. I was wishing I had my 8mm movie camera with me. It was quite a sight.

The Lola was fast right off the line. You know how you can tell if somebody's done something
before and it's not for the first time? It was like she'd been running the track in her mind the way
every good slot racer does, and the actual event was anti-climactic. She had a couple of offs at
the hairpin but that wasn't all that unusual in the inside red lane.

As was bound to happen with four cars on the track she soon picked up a small dice. Totman
Harding was running a F1 Porsche in the yellow lane. It was a new car but Tot had been tuning
for an hour, getting it just right for 'that track/that night' if you know what I mean. To be
expected, she had trouble keeping up in the red lane. Anyone would have.

"Josh," she said. "Trade Mommy lanes now, there's a dear."

A little reluctantly Josh made the swap. The Lola did a couple of laps and then parked at the
exit of the uphill sweeper. She had been watching closely; only rookies parked on the main
straight waiting to pick up a dice.

"Looks like somebody's waitin' for me," Tot said. He was a master of the subtle psych.
With no sign she had heard him she allowed the little Porsche to pass and then set off after it.
For more than a few laps only a foot or so separated the two cars.
There are two ways of looking at a good dice. If you're an old pro like Tot with a marginally
slower car, satisfaction comes from keeping a much faster car behind you, not allowing it to
pass. On the other hand, if you're relatively inexperienced and driving a fast car, your
satisfaction comes from simply keeping up, even if you can't pass.

Their little race went on for five or six minutes and they both came out grinning, hers maybe a
little wider, Tot's with a degree of uncertainty to it. But it was plain they both enjoyed it. Lillian
stood at the track, flushed and fanning here face with her free hand.

"That was . . ." she left the thought unfinished. "O my!" The fanning increased in speed.
She put the Lola away and later, as they were about to leave, she came up to me.

"These, uh....events you have," she said. "Is Josh...uh, that is, we....are we members now?"

I could see where she was going with this.

"You'd like to..." But she hadn't finished yet. "Can we, uh.....race in one of these races?"

I thought back to last year's running of the SVMRC Fall Classic. Bill Eisonsen's wife, Cheryl
(well, ex-wife), had, with a little luck but also showing a lot of talent, finished second to Ace
Newsom, leaving Dave Craster way back in third and putting him a grumpy mood for weeks.
Since that time we had encouraged our wives and girlfriends to enter the bigger races but only
Gay Woodbody, Bob's wife, had tried and quickly said she didn't like racing against the guys.
How did I put this?

"Josh," I began. "I think, needs a little more practice." Me, the diplomat. Actually, Josh
needed a whole LOT more practice, maybe even some kind of racey transplant. I'd only seen
him run two nights, but I wasn't holding much hope for the kid ever learning to finesse a slot car.

I found myself liking Lillian a whole lot more than I had when we first met. She'd come down
from her perch and seemed to be an alright lady. With that in mind I couldn't see how she could
have screwed Josh up. What? Maybe the father? I shuddered. I guess I shouldn't judge people
I've never met.

"What about me?" she said. I think she was expecting some kind of O, you're just a girl or a
woman, out of me.

"Sure," I said. "I dunno about the rest of the guys, but 's far as I'm concerned you're one fast
lady." I looked around at the others and no one was disagreeing, maybe except for Craster whose
expression I couldn't read.
Now I saw the full intensity of her smile. It was like a caterpillar going into a cocoon and out
pops a butterfly. This slot car racing is powerful stuff, I thought, can even transform caterpillars.

We promised to let her know when the next event was being held. In the end we didn't keep
that promise but it didn't matter.
A couple of nights later my phone rang and I heard a male
voice I didn't recognize. Again I admitted to my name but the caller did not identify himself in
turn.

"My wife and son will not be coming to any more of your. . .   whatever they are on. . .
whenever," he said. I could detect a hint of menace in his voice.

I don't deal with that well so I simply said, "Josh?" The phone was slammed down hard and I
jumped. I decided my earlier judgement was correct. It was the father who was screwing Josh
up.....probably affecting Lillian, too.

I hope you weren't expecting a happy ending. I never saw Lillian again, or Josh for that matter.
Sometimes I think of them both, her more, and hope she got out of whatever situation I really
knew nothing about. It pleased me to fantasize that she cut loose, her and Josh, and became best
buds and together got more of a kick out of life.
Would it be too much of a stretch to say that slot car racing had given a neat lady a new and
better outlook on life?

Copyright 2000 by Lari Davidson.
Although the characters and some of the incidents portrayed in these tales are based upon
real people, all of the names and often the order of events have
been changed in the interests of readable fiction. "Tales of the SVMRC" will be collected and
appear in book form sometime in 2001, published by Ford Publications of Texas. Permission
must be obtained directly from the author or from Ford Publications before any reproduction or
distribution of this tale or others in the series.
laird@uniserve.com <mailto:laird@uniserve.com>
fordpub@2fords.net <mailto:fordpub@2fords.net>
Counter