Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Road Testing

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

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

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 completely 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. We never did, but not for lack of

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.

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 fucker 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?

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