The soapbox derby is an annual event where people race custom-made wild-looking non-propulsive vehicles (you could call them “cars” and most people do, because that’s what they are, essentially) down an extensive paved road that swoops through Mt. Tabor Park. Different prizes are awarded for speed, mechanical construction, and artistic quality. The vehicles are a hoot to behold – most of them look like something out of a cartoon. The race is staggered – vehicles go in groups of twos or threes, and spectators line the little road, cheering. It’s a big fun family show that goes on for hours.
The soapbox derby was held last Saturday and I was walking in the park along my accustomed side trails, and at one point I needed to cross the road. At the spot I wanted to cross from – to access the trail on the other side of the road – a gaggle of some 20 people were assembled. There were also a couple of orange-vested crossing guards holding megaphones and walkie-talkies – two beefy looking dudes.
I asked if I could cross. There were no vehicles in sight and crossing would only take a few seconds.
“Just gimme a minute,” replied one of the crossing guards, a little prickly.
“Sure! Please take as much time as you need to make sure I don’t get hurt!” I rejoined cheerfully. I was in no hurry, and besides, I understood that the guy had a responsibility and he had to be careful and there were various liability issues attendant to the situation, and if he let me cross right then, then everyone else would want the same privilege, and then there’d be chaos and somebody could wind up getting hit by a racing vehicle. Besides, these crossing guards were no doubt unpaid volunteers. Good people.
The guy’s megaphone suddenly made a weird crackling, rattling noise.
“Hey,” remarked the other crossing guard pleasantly, a guy in sunglasses with a long red bushy beard and ample biceps awash in lurid tattoos. “It farted.”
“I’m not impressed,” I said quickly. “I can do that too.”
A young man standing nearby chimed in: “Technology’s got nothing on the human gastrointestinal system.”
Red Beard asked his partner, “Now are you really gonna put that thing back to your mouth after that?”
In this fashion, about five minutes of facetious banter and spontaneous group camaraderie passed agreeably, but I could see that the first crossing guard was just a tad flustered because he really wanted to let some of us cross the road already, and he was receiving messages on his walkie-talkie that the next group of “art cars” would be released at any moment. When they didn’t come, his face seemed to register some tension, as if he were under a bit of pressure, though no one was expressing any impatience.
At one point, he announced to us all (not on the megaphone), in a somewhat ironic tone, “Good news. The art cars are on their way. Trust me, I mean it this time.”
“I absolutely 100 percent believe you!” I declared. “I have unshakable faith in you.”
Red Beard queried laconically, “Yeah, you sure? How long have you known him?”
“About as long as I’ve known you,” I replied. “But it’s an illusion that we just met minutes ago. In reality, we’ve known each other for all eternity and this moment was predestined from the beginning of time.” I was just riffing, spouting whatever came to my mind.
Red Beard didn’t miss a beat. “Yup, that’s true,” he said calmly. “And we’re both descended from the same One Divine Being.”
I think he meant it.
Then the cars actually came! And it was a bit anticlimactic because they weren’t really all that interesting to see. These three “art cars” were not nearly as weird or imaginatively constructed as we might have expected. Rueful smiles and shrugs of mild, amused disappointment were exchanged as they whizzed by and the crossing guards finally let those of us who wanted to cross the road go ahead and do so.
As I took my first few steps on the trail at the other side of the road, it occurred to me that I could have said to the first crossing guard, right when the cars went by, “Gee, no wonder your megaphone farted.” That would have been a cute in-the-moment quip, and people would have laughed.
And just for a few seconds, as I walked on, I regretted not having said that – not having seized the fleeting moment when that comment would have been funny.
My mind habitually manufactures regrets from the flimsiest of raw material.
Then I remembered a song my friend Lulu – a song leader and self-love coach – had made up and shared with me a week previously. The words go:
And I laughed at myself internally and felt very, very good.
(Heartsongs are great medicine for a mean mindtrack. Lulu offers a bunch more too, on her website.)