Recently, I had cause to remember an incident from my childhood. Well, adolescence, anyway. I would have been around fifteen or sixteen, and got into an argument with my friends about the maximum possible speed of a grocery cart. After several hours (and consumption of considerable beer), we concluded that the only way to find out for certain was to test the hypothesis.
This led to several of us pushing each other around in grocery carts in the parking lot of the local grocery store at 1 a.m. After a half hour or so of this, we concluded that drunk people couldn’t really push grocery carts fast enough to really challenge the chassis. An external power source was required.
We got hold of fifty feet of rope and tied a grocery cart to the back of Loopy’s pickup for towing. The first field test showed that grocery carts will easily flip at under fifteen miles an hour or so when they hit a bump.
This set off another argument. Lightnin’ concluded that grocery carts simply weren’t meant to go very fast, whereas Candy argued that a laden grocery cart would be far more stable. This, of course, meant that someone would have to ride in the thing in order to test the new theory.
Lightnin’, of course, felt that Candy should have the honor, whereas Loopy was more than willing to do it himself. I wasn’t that drunk, and declined. It was Weeble (who wobbled, but didn’t fall down) that noticed the big stack of bags of fertilizer outside the grocery store. Surely, there was a safer way of weighing down a grocery cart…?
We promptly loaded 150 pounds, three bags, into the cart (there was again some argument as to precisely how much should be used) and hit the highway.
Oddly enough, grocery carts handle remarkably well at high speeds. They aren’t aerodynamic, but their metal mesh construction minimizes wind resistance and effects. Unfortunately, their extremely low wheelbase and lack of shock absorption more than makes up for this; we increased speed in increments of five miles an hour, and the cart totally lost it at 45 mph.
We also learned that fifty-pound bags of fertilizer all but vaporize when they hit pavement at 45 mph. Everyone looked at Loopy, who shrugged. The grocery cart was completely intact, though, although its plastic handle cover had shattered at some point.
Loopy and Weeble felt that the point had been made, and that more beer should be obtained. Candy, Lightnin’, and I, though, agreed that one road test did not a theory make. The test should be repeated at least twice more, preferably with a couple of different carts to change the variables, and the results observed and recorded.
We compromised, and went back for more carts and fertilizer after obtaining another case of beer.
We must have destroyed thirty bags of fertilizer, and we rendered at least one shopping cart utterly fubar. We learned that the redline velocity for a shopping cart carrying 150 lbs. of dead weight is around 40-45 mph, though; the fastest we ever got one going was 50 mph, and they ALWAYS ate it as soon as they hit any kind of bump or crack in the road at that speed.
Testing was facilitated by Loopy’s obsession with getting one up to the highway speed limit before it flipped (55 back then, kiddies!). We never did, but not for lack of trying.
The experiment ended shortly before dawn. We still had beer left, and were more than willing to keep going, but it was then that, during the last road test, Loopy slammed on the brakes at 40 mph to avoid hitting a skunk.
The cart, on the other hand, had no brakes. It hit the tailgate going 40 and flipped totally over the top of the pickup. One of the bags of fertilizer flew out and slapped Candy to the back of the cab, knocking him cold (although we weren’t sure he was conscious before the fertilizer landed on him; he had had quite a bit to drink, and was something of a lightweight). One of the other bags hit the hood and exploded, covering the windshield with dirt.
The third didn’t quite land on the skunk. It would have been better for Loopy’s truck if it had, though. Startled skunks aren’t good company.
We pulled over to assess the damage and tend the wounded. Candy was all right, although he had to spit out a mouthful of fertilizer to tell us so. No one else was hurt. The back of the cab was dented where Candy’s head had hit it. The front of the hood was dented where the fertilizer had hit it. The whole truck was redolent of the skunk’s opinion. The skunk was fine, by the way; I’d seen him jump, spin, spray, and run like hell (almost all simultaneously) when the bag of fertilizer exploded next to him.
The shopping cart looked like an art collaboration between Picasso and M.C. Escher.
Loopy was madder than hell about his truck. The dents didn’t bother him; he considered them badges of honor – but the stench of skunk irritated him no end. “I shooda just ran the little &%$#@ down,” he growled.
Lightnin’ consoled him with the fact that the skunk was covered with fertilizer, and therefore probably felt much the same way; after all, that skunk wasn’t going to be very popular with the other skunks, smelling of cowshit, now, was he?
…and after we peeled Loopy off of Lightnin’, we decided that the experiment was at an end. It was almost dawn, after all.
…and now, I am old, and I go no more drunkenly roving into the night, which is probably a good thing. This stunt wouldn’t work these days; grocery stores and department stores have video cameras staring at the parking lot all night, and certainly someone would have thought to check them after noticing the near-disappearance of a huge pile of fertilizer bags… and if that hadn’t tipped them off, the badly bent shopping cart would have.
Sure, we took it back. We were good boys.
…and sure, some of you are staring in horror at this testament… thinking about your own teenage boys, or the fact that they can get up to such devilment… but it also occurs to me that while we did get up to this kind of devilment and worse, none of us ever shot up a school… is there a connection, y’think?
Does make me wonder what we might have tried if there’d been anything like “Jackass” on TV, though…