I have a friend named Snake. Well...no that's not really his name...it's his nickname. There's a story behind why, but I am told it's not safe for human ears. Heh.
I first met Snake when I was sixteen, back when Mum first started going to the track as a worker. He's been a fixture there since dirt. He once told Mum he'd like to take out his dentures and gum her. Yes. He did.
Snake has a mental lexicon of dirty Irish jokes that are knee-slappers. He's Irish by blood, American by birth.
I've worked turns with his kids and given his grandkids guest passes to the track when I had 'em. Our families have gone out to dinner together, camped together, and raised (just a little) Hell together. his Daughter C and my Mum used to tear up the dance floor (also known as the grass/dirt at Fitzy Park) together, dancing with each other because the fellas lacked the chutz to join in...or couldn't keep up.
For many years, Snake has been the caretaker of our radio equipment, keeping our aging and often ailing landline system going with spit and bailing wire and safe-guarding the handheld radios with the ferocity of a really irritated spitting cobra.
Snake is dying.
He's had cancer for...umm...wow, I can't remember how many years. A lifetime of smoking, drinking, sunshine and hard living caught up to him. Snake is a tough old bird, though, and hard to kill. Still...time and tide catch us all, and it is Snake's turn to dance the last dance.
He's in hospice care as I type this. There's not much hope he'll outlast the week...maybe not even the next day or so.
I'm not going to visit him. Not because I don't care - the idea of a world without Snake in it is disheartening, to say the very least. I'm not going because he's not there. Not the part of him that I know, not my friend. He won't care that I'm there, nor miss me if I'm not.
Instead, I am going to relate one of the racing stories he told me a very long time ago...to this day, it's one of my favorites. I've told it my way because I don't have the skill to capture Snake's style...
When I first started working turns, we had a fairly extensive "breaking in" period, with classes to help train us in safety and response and even a fire certification school. A popular pastime for more experienced workers was to tell us newbies horror stories. Snake liked to tell new folks about one particularly horrid incident, which may or may not really have happened and one incident that did happen. The story itself always elicited wry laughs...stick with it to the end and you'll see why.
During one event, there was a somewhat spectacular wreck, the kind that shuts down the session. Back then, we had a lot more workers on the turns, and we would run onto a hot track (hot meaning the session was still...er...in session, race traffic still on the go) if needs must. The incident was severe enough to warrant a call for medical, but it would take a minute to get there, so workers responded to the cars involved. One worker noticed a helmet on the ground by the track and ran to retrieve it - a helmet can tell the medical crew a lot about what sort of injuries to expect. Much to the worker's horror, there was a head in the helmet!
A few years ago there was a motorcycle event at the track. Motorcycles have always been notorious for spectacular incidents and more than a few bizarre injuries (and yes, deaths). New workers are usually given "quieter" turns where more experienced workers help them learn the ropes. At this event, one of the new workers had been initiated with Snake's head-in-the-helmet story, and was hoping that no such incident would occur on his turn.
All was well for the first day or so - good riding, very few riders going down.
Day two, however, was a zoo. Perhaps the riders had partied too hard the night before (What?? Never!!), or perhaps the gremlins were simply having a field day...whatever the reason, bikes were sliding all over the place, and workers were running response and calling for transport so fast and so often, it seemed more like an ambulance race.
Our new worker was sent to respond to one such incident. His corner captain couldn't understand what seemed to be a sudden fit of hysteria, the worker dancing about, waving his arms, signalling for an ambulance, and retching in the tire wall.
The rider was sitting up and seemed OK, so what was the problem.
Oh, wait...the leg still attached to the bike might be a clue.
Wait. Rider over here. Bike over there. Leg on bike.
And yet...the rider didn't seem all that concerned. Must be in shock.
Not so much.
You see, this rider had a prosthetic lower leg...a fact none of the workers knew at the time. While a prosthesis isn't particularly hampering to a racer, it can be a bit of a boor when the foot constantly slips off the foot-peg and hits the track - makes cornering a bitch.
Being a competitive fellow, and somewhat innovative, our rider decided that a judicious application of Duct Tape was in order. He taped the foot to the peg, problem solved.
Until he went down and the bike went one way while his body went another.
Ouch. And, erm...oops.
Eventually the new worker was made to understand the situation, poor fellow. The rider, with some assistance, reattached his leg, got back on his bike and limped (hah!) back to the pits. The worker returned to his station and was the recipient of some not unkind ribbing from his fellows, and the race went on.
So long, Snake...I'll miss you, you grumpy old cuss. The track just won't be the same without you. See you on the other side...
Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!
"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One
For old quotes, look here.
For old quotes, look here.