Man has always been at his best when he is goofing off. A friend snapped this picture of me coming back from the grocery store today. (Dude, eyes on the road, please!) This is the contraption I mentioned in my last ramble, and I think it is one of the coolest inventions in years. It’s called a One Wheel, and the technology to make this work easily exceeds what was needed to go for a stroll on the surface of the moon. It’s a hoot!
It’s also kinda risky. I am not the most coordinated chap to walk about, and when you add balance and uneven concrete to the mix, my skeleton is probably running on borrowed time. Many would say this is too risky – maybe even irresponsible – considering I have a family to support with a job that needs doing. I say that’s hogwash: one of our societal problems is that we have become way too risk averse.
It’s no wonder we can’t get anything done: we are terrified of trying something new, of stepping into the unknown. You can’t buy a bar of soap without being made to feel guilty at the counter for refusing the extended service plan; how dare you gamble your hard earned dollars and the cleanliness of your family’s nether regions to the quality control systems at one of Unilever’s foreign manufacturing plants!
I think a lot of it comes from our quality of life. I used to wonder how anyone could possibly be compelled to crawl into the hold of some leaky (and thoroughly untested) wooden boat and risk their lives crossing an ocean they weren’t completely sure had an actual shoreline on the other side. It was probably a bit easier when life had exactly zero guarantees and was quite literally a continuous, painful, disease-ridden struggle. At that point, the concept that everyone should be given a shot at the pursuit of happiness had not been spelled out, much less our current mindset that happiness is a universal right, its interruption or absence a clear indication that there is someone to blame.
There’s one thing we have really honed to an art: blaming others. You can make a good living at it.
But I refuse to dwell on that. Instead, let’s think about the slow shift in our mindset from our early quest for speed. I remember an exhibit at the Deutsches Museum in Munich where some idiots had strapped a dozen or so rockets straight out of Wile E Coyote’s storage closet to a sled. I don’t remember whatever record or speed they achieved, but it had to be epic to make it into the world’s oldest museum of technology. Crazy? Yes. Progress? Also yes.
You will see more of this mindset if you go to see the upcoming movie Ford v Ferrari (LeMans ’66 if you are one of the two or three people that happen to read this outside the US of A). I have been anticipating this flick since blasting through A. J. Baime’s Go Like Hell, which should be required reading for all Americans or anyone aspiring to citizenship. This insanely dangerous era in motor racing represents the turning point in society from a time in which death in recreational activities was pretty much par for the course (though we had certainly moved on from the Roman Coliseum) to one in which significant risk in any leisure activity is largely unacceptable and requires signing numerous waivers that don’t actually protect the instigators of whatever Tom F-ery you want to get into. In today’s world of umbrella policies and safety mandates, I am a bit surprised that “adrenaline junky” hasn’t been given an ICD10 diagnostic code that qualifies as a legitimate disability.
And now we are paralyzed at the thought of trying anything new. Which is, in yet another fit of incredible irony, killing us. We kinda need to try new stuff.
Like this super-cool electric skateboard. Yes, it’s wobbly at first, but it quickly becomes so intuitive that you have to constantly remind yourself that you are riding a contraption with all of the safety features of a magic carpet, except magic carpets are from an era of wanton death and destruction and thus have exactly zero safety features, and might even try to kill you deliberately. Pay attention, because an unseen hole or a loose electrical connection can send you ass-over-tea-kettle into the weeds. Or traffic.
And that is part of the fun.
People look at my Zebra-liveried race car and think it is ridiculously dangerous. After this movie comes out, that sentiment will be supercharged. Believe it or not, I bought the car because of its safety. My prior race car was an 800 pound formula car from 1978 that is quite literally a coffin on wheels. Open wheels, mind, that will jettison the thing into the air should they come in contact with other open wheels on some other race car. And a roll bar better suited to mounting a GoPro than protecting the driver.
The Elan wraps the driver in an FIA-spec carbon tub that might not be a bad place to hide in a tornado. The motor makes (exactly) the same power as a tuned Miata, keeping the top speed and resulting kinetic energy to much more reasonable values than the sports cars of today, many of which are pushing 600 or even 700 horsepower.
But for sure the risk is well above zero. And that makes it real. As opposed to iRacing, which I absolutely love for the mind-blowing reality that it simulates. But where iRacing allows a safe place to learn new techniques and hone skills and work towards some level of comfort in challenging and complex scenarios, it will always be lacking the critical ingredient that draws one in like a moth to a flame: risk.
Maybe if we all took a few more chances in our spare time we wouldn’t find it so impossibly scary to take a chance or two at work. Why not green-light some project that looks promising on paper, even though you can’t point a finger at a competitor who has successfully implemented it? What’s the worst that could happen? And don’t just flip a switch and close your eyes; take ownership, adapt to uneven ground, and look where you want to go. It’s not like anyone is asking you to zip up a squirrel suit and jump off a skyscraper. So put on a proverbial helmet, strap on some proverbial wrist guards, and make that proverbial electric skateboard your bitch.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we got a lot of gaining to do!