I learned a lot about myself when I was a 5-year-old driving a kiddie bumper car. My favorite amusement park (Roseland!) had a kiddie bumper car ride that I adored.
Selecting the car was critical. Most of the cars would be snarled in a mass; I always choose a car by itself, with plenty of room to cruise. Who chooses a car in the middle of a traffic jam?
The other kids, like the adults, would drive for about 20 seconds, and plow into the nearest vehicle to make them bump. Or if they really picked poorly, would be stuck between 2-3 incompetent drivers the entire time. The kids behind you would pile on if you smacked into someone, creating a giant immobile mass of bumper cars going nowhere. The other kids thought I was doing it wrong. You get in the car and drive it into someone else, right? End of story.
Not this kid. No, I drove around pile-ups. I excelled at steering at speed. At not bumping. To me, driving a bumper car was my only shot at before adulthood of driving a car. If I hit someone, it was a glancing bump that let me keep on trucking. Why cut down on my limited drive time to sit in a traffic jam? Not me. Whee! I’d go around and around, while the rest of the cars would jerk forward an inch and jerk to a stop.
And I thought the other drivers were missing out. Is it fun to be with other people who are happy just to be jostled on all sides in a crowd? Kids and adults seemed to think so. Maybe it was road rage or car chase fantasy fulfillment time or spending time with a group, all trying to steer out of the mess. But it got old fast to me. I remember thinking that half the kids were just waiting for the ride to be over because they couldn’t go anywhere. Turn the wheel, hit the gas, no movement.
When I was big enough to ride the adult bumper cars, they were a little faster and hit with more oomph. I slid further on the sticky vinyl seats baking in the July heat because I could barely reach the pedal. But it was the same experience! The big kids and adults acted the same thing as the little kids! Drive, drive, bump, stuck. They’d laugh as their car was hit repeatedly and try turning and accelerating out of the mess, bumping into everyone around them. It was funny when they finally wormed free of the pack, only for the car to lose power because the ride was over.
And then I went out into real life, and people did the same thing! They took some rules for mediocre fun and stuck with them. Some never seemed to get the hang of steering, or keeping their foot on the pedal. Others head right for the traffic jam and join it, willing to sacrifice the rest of the ride for an early, satisfying crash into another car. Me, I saw paths through the stalled cars and put my foot to the floor. And I have been cruising at about 5 mph ever since. Did I mention I’m risk averse?
The parallels to life are pretty clear. When I see everyone else driving into a boring muddle, I avoid it if there’s a better alternative. Nonconformity doesn’t bother me when it allows me to do what I want. I just see the world a little differently, I guess. Flooring the pedal of a bumper car and steering it successfully around obstacles was a dream come true. Take the car sitting by itself and see how much mileage you can rack up in two minutes, before the ride ends. And when the car coasted to a stop, dead, I would hop out, run off the floor, and get back in line.