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By Gordon J. Alexander

A brief version of this story was originally told at the forum, on July 23, 1998. I was contemplating a very involved and detailed web site. I sought advice from many experts, on-line and off.

I really wanted to do it. I REALLY wanted to do it. But all my friends and family, and those experts thought I was out of my mind. After all wasn’t I the guy that was famous (infamous some would say) for saying; Keep It Simple Simon!!?

Yet there I was on the brink of launching an extremely complicated web site, one that would have required much time, money and effort. This is what happened to snap me back to reality. It is a short story that contains some of the most advanced lessons of life I have ever learned.

After a day of consulting with lawyers, accountants, bankers, and all the not-so-silent, and certainly not inexpensive partners you learn you have when you are in business, I paid a visit to my brother.

I told my big brother about all the meetings, all the advice, about the complicated project, all while helping him put some new brakes on his pick-up.

He listened attentively. Didn’t say anything. Just listened.

Then when he was sure I was going to be silent for a while, he went to his locked tool shed, and I heard him rummaging around.

He came out and handed me a steering wheel.

"What’s this?" I say.

He says, "Look."

I turned the wheel over, looked at it carefully, and saw the inscription carved into it. WGGK 1962.

I looked at my big brother and grinned. We both started laughing.

In 1962 I lived at the known Center of the Universe. At a place called Barney’s Busy Corners. It was an intersection, where the cities of Tallmadge, Akron, and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio all meet.

Within an easy 20 minute walk from the Corners was everything a young boy could want.

Two golf courses, tennis courts, baseball fields, basketball courts, TWO swimming ponds right across the street from each other. There was a miniature golf course, trampolines, a driving range, a lumber yard, and even a junk yard.

At the Corners itself was a small Sparkle Supermarket, with a butcher too. There was a custard stand, a pizza shop (where I would later spend my high school evenings working). There was a doctor, two barber shops including my dad’s ABC Barber shop, a beauty salon, a dry cleaners and even a gas station. There was even an insurance agent too.

No wonder they called it the Busy Corners.

And a few quick pedals away, two housing developments that were teeming with nubile teenage girls. Like I said, EVERYTHING a young boy could want.

Barney’s Busy Corners must have been like thousands of places in those remnant happy days of the early 60’s. And to millions of other young boys, I’m sure their corners were the center of their universes too.

But I think you would be hard pressed to find anyplace that offered so much, so close and maintained a neighborhood atmosphere to it. I was a lucky kid to have lived there.

Now we all had Go-Karts, Akron is the home of the All-American Soap Box Derby and the derby was a big deal back then. You could find the parts and pieces of gravity racers strewn throughout every part of the city.

Four wheels, some steel, and a motorcycle engine, and VOILA!, you had yourself some neat and nifty plaything.

One day Chuck the barber pulls into the parking lot that separated our house from the building that contained the store, gas station, dad’s shop and the insurance agent. The ABC was named for Alex (pop) Bill, and Chuck. Pretty clever I always thought.

Well, anyhow, Chuck had his kids into racing Quarter Midgets. This day he was pulling the race car (a glorified go-kart really) and we immediately went running to see it. The whole neighborhood just suddenly appeared, out of thin air it seemed.

We oohed and ahhed. Here was a REAL race car. The black shiny body with the number painted on it in white made us all feel like little kids. What with our home-made karts, with little putt-putt engines. Here was a sleek and apparently speedy racer.

My brother invented the Just Do It concept, and right there and then, on the spot he made a proclamation. We were going to build a race car. We were going to build the World’s Greatest Go-Kart.

We began right then. My brother was in charge, he wasn’t the oldest kid, but he was the one with access to the tools. Even as a youngster, my brother loved working on cars. Model cars. Toy cars. Go-Karts, real cars.

Me and my friend Dave, we were the youngest and got the job as "material handlers". We got to scrounge for parts and carry everything to a central location. Dave and I didn’t last too long on that project, about half of the afternoon.

Well, we, Dave and I, decided we would build our own WORLD’S GREATEST GO-KART. So I hopped in my little putt-putt and raced Dave up to his house. He ran. He also won.

We parked it in his back yard and we both just stared at it for about 15 minutes, in silence.

See, if there was any kid at the center of the universe that was worse with tools than Dave, it was me. We had created ourselves a dilemma.

So we sat. Looked at each other. Looked at the kart. Looked at each other. Finally Dave, knowing us both all too well proclaimed;

"Well, we could paint it."

So we did. Candy apple red. It took 5 cans of model car spray paint. Took us 3 days of solid work. I know, it was a 10 minute job, but we didn’t want to rush it and then have nothing else to do either.

We were so proud of ourselves, that we actually thought of other major improvements we could make. We thought a more comfortable ride would be nice, and maybe some new wheels might help.

Then we spent the next week making these much needed improvements. We added a pillow to the seat. That helped. But then we put the seat on a board mounted on a couple of old car springs we found at the junk yard.

Then we put slightly bigger wheels on the back. Wow, we had done it. Who woulda thought me and Dave could have done it.

We had taken that itty-bitty little beat up old go-kart and transformed it into an Indy 500 car.

Sort of. It did look nicer, well, at least brighter.

It rode great too, and it seemed much faster. The springs and the pillow really helped. It seemed to corner tighter too. So there, we did it.

Sure we had been banned from the "big" project. So what if all the other kids were helping my big brother, big deal. Dave and I couldn’t wait to see what they had done.

We wouldn’t have to wait very long. The next Saturday morning we met for the showdown, for the challenge of the century. We pulled into Sparkle’s parking lot. Soon there was a gang of boys on bikes riding around the corner. They saw our NEW beast.

Dave and I were soooo proud.

Then they all burst into hysterical laughter as if on cue. They were pointing and laughing at us, and we started feeling a little uncomfortable, to say the least. Then we heard the low rumble, the ground seemed to be shaking.

Around the corner comes my brother. I kid you not, it looked like an Indy car. Sleek. LOUD! Thanks to the sawed in half glass-packed mufflers, my brother had paid a visit to the junk yard too.

The cart was, well you couldn’t call it a cart either, awesome.

People came from out of the stores to see what was making all the noise. My brother was peacock proud. He had even picked up an old motorcycle helmet, we’re talking beat up leather here, and a pair of goggles. I just wish he would have worn a scarf, it would have completed his ensemble.

So, we were going to take the carts up to Preston School for the Speed Trials. It only took him a couple of minutes to get to the school, which was less than mile away. I pulled in a few minutes later, right after the bikes and a couple of runners.

Brother started zooming around me. Zooming. Zooming. He was literally doing circles around me, and he was making the glass in the windows vibrate.

I hit a pot hole. I braced for butt bruise. But guess what? Our shocks worked.

The pillow and the springs actually absorbed the shock. WOW. And I loved the red glow that was reflecting off the vibrating school windows every time I went by.

I went over the pot hole, again and again. Every time I braced for the bruise that never came. But the kids were laughing at me. At Dave and I. They each wanted a turn to humiliate us.

My brother was driving in circles around me, and he looked so cool, so professional, so superior. Then he hit the pot hole. Then the World’s Greatest Go-Kart hit the pothole.

And the World’s Greatest Go-Kart exploded. Thank God not into fire. But into pieces.

A 1001 of them.

Parts were flying everywhere. The engine was doing cartwheels across the parking lot. Wood, nuts and bolts went screaming like bullets in all directions.

And there sat my big brother. About a foot past the pot hole, sitting on a battered and bruised and scraped across the asphalt butt.

Holding a steering wheel. Helmet and goggles still on.

I pulled up next to him. He must have been in shock, he couldn’t move. Or wouldn’t. It was a scene straight out of a Little Rascals episode.

I asked, "You OK?"

He kind of shook his head.

Then I almost peed my pants from laughing so hard. Me and Dave both. We were rolling on the ground, while my brother’s "crew" was running around the parking lot chasing pieces of the World’s Greatest Go-Kart in every direction.

It was one of the great days of my youth. Soon, my brother joined in the laughter, after he filled the air with every curse word he knew. But he did managed to see the humor of it all, even if he wouldn’t be able to sit for awhile.

And that was the last we ever saw of the WORLD’S GREATEST GO-KART. His crew went back to buzzing around the center of the universe in their little home made cars. Except my brother, he started driving the Fiat that sat out back. My dad had once got a ticket for driving it too slow. I guess one of the acorns didn’t fall too far from the tree, did it?

My go-kart was almost as big as that Fiat, my brother had to stick his head out the roof, it had a sun-roof, to be able to drive it at all. And my candy apple red, 5 coats, hand polished to perfection cart was much prettier too.

In fact, that cart lasted for many years. I passed it on to my little brother, and he drove it for several years too. He painted it. He changed tires. Put a new pillow on the seat. He made the MAJOR changes he needed to.

That little cart was built simply. It was uncomplicated. It worked. For years and years, even with my improvements, and with my little brother’s. It ran like a top and gave us all a lot of pleasure. Some of us maybe more pleasure than the others. Through the years, it sputtered, and puttered, and continued to work.

So that day in my big brother’s garage, he handed me an old steering wheel. A wheel I hadn’t seen in years and years. My brother said:

"Sounds to me like your Internet program might be just as good as…"

Then he stopped in mid-sentence, and pointed to the steering wheel I held tightly in my hands.

I smiled, handed it back to him, said, "Thanks Brother."

Then we both had a good laugh and finished putting new brakes on his truck.

How is your project coming along?

Gordon Alexander


Copyright 2000 Gordon J. Alexander and Seeds of Wisdom Publishing, All Rights Reserved