Justin, desperate for a date, tries a computerized dating service with no success, then goes to an autocross racing event and there meets the girl of his dreams.
Dodging the Cones
Justin sat in front of the dusty computer screen, reluctantly and disgustedly perusing “dating services.” He imagined that the screen looked critically back, making ribald fun of him, as if to say, “Loser, loser, you can’t find a girl any other way.” He was offended and embarrassed that his best friend would even suggest he use such a service. One was worse than the next. He squirmed with distaste. Anything with “Adult”, “Asian Ladies”, “Mail-order Brides,” “Immigration Information” or “Phone Contact” he discarded immediately, and with much irritation. There was even a site for “Alternative Dating.” He speculated on that a while. Did it mean if it didn’t work out with a fat girl, you could try a thin one? And if that didn’t work out, you could try a boy? Maybe online is not the right place to look. The phone book? How quaint. Under D for “Dating Services” in the yellow pages, he found a service called “Togetherness” that promised “quick results” and “confidentiality”. So does a hernia operation, for God’s sake. He felt faintly queasy even contemplating using something called “Togetherness.”
His best friend, Joe, suggested over dinner last week that he contact a dating service.
“I’m sick of hearing you moan on and on. If you’re really serious about finding someone, it’s not a bad way to go. You’re always complaining about not having a girlfriend. It’s not as if you have to tell anyone you’re gonna use a dating service. An old high school buddy of mine out East, you know, the kind of guy whose caption under his graduation photograph in his high school yearbook was “Most Likely to Remain Single”, met a girl through a dating service five years ago. They got married and have two kids now. He’s a tool and die maker, a dull sort of guy. I dunno what they talk about. Wrenches I guess, but who cares? You’re thirty four and have everything going for you, except maybe you’re a bit picky, more than a bit, I’d say.”
“I don’t know. It’s embarrassing. Why should a guy who’s serious about finding someone, but who goes to church and doesn’t drink or go to clubs have such a hard time finding a girlfriend? It really makes me mad,” Justin groused, as he sucked on his soda straw.
Justin had graduated from the University of Missouri at Rolla, with a degree in computer science. He was the only child of successful, law-abiding Chinese immigrant parents. Even though there had never been any discussion or hint of prejudice toward Westerners, he knew that marrying within his culture was expected of him. But Justin was born in the USA and had a thoroughly Western outlook. He found most Chinese girls either inhibited or too aggressive, depending on what part of China they came from. Every Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM he attended the local bible study group.The girls he met there were either ugly or too avidly religious for his taste. On Sunday mornings he usually attended the service of Rev. Richard T. Scaggs at The First Baptist Church of Farmington, Missouri. He’d never had trouble finding a job, working now for the Department of Transportation and had saved plenty of money. He’d recently bought his second house and even had an old Corvette sitting in his garage, which he sometimes drove to work. In short, he’d done everything right all his life and now he found himself in his mid-thirties considering a dating service! He was reasonably good looking, not in the least freaky. He didn’t have B. O. He didn’t have bad breath. At least he didn’t think so. Maybe he did! He did a quick check with a cupped hand, just to make sure. No. He popped a Pez, just in case. There had to be another way to meet women than to join a dating service. That’s for losers. I’m not there yet. If he didn’t find someone soon, people would think he was gay. Desperation was setting in.
The Corvette! I’ll go to an autocross, impress a few beautiful girls, dodge a few cones and put the car to some other use than getting me to and from work. I could afford to improve my driving skills too. While he was at the computer, he looked up “Sports Car Association” and “Autocross, Farmington, Missouri.” “Corvette” didn’t turn up anything except an invitation to buy a newer model than the ’88 he had. The next competition, if you can call it that, was in two weeks, about ten miles from where he lived. As he slumped in his leather computer chair, he fantasized about the girls he would meet. One would be called Vickie. She would be tall, slim and sexy, wearing a red jump suit, that she could possibly use for sky diving as well as racing. Her light brown, billowy hair and ironic but friendly smile were compelling The way she flicked her hair out of her face while she wrinkled her nose was amazingly attractive.
Justin woke up on Autocross Saturday Morning, hot and sweaty. The humidity was left over from yesterday and it promised to be another scorcher. The alarm gave off its insistent beeps. He hit the snooze button and turned over with a damp groan. For one sleep-besotted moment he thought he was late for work because he usually got up at 5:30 AM and the clock read 6:30. Then he remembered today was the day his life was going to change. He turned on the AC to get rid of the musty smell, showered, then dressed with care in his green trousers and matching Polo shirt that his mother had just sent him along with a not reminding him to take his vitamins. As he admired himself in the mirror, he thought, I’m really not a bad-looking guy. I’m tall, light-skinned and I have thick, black hair. What more could the girls want? Today is going to be a good day. I can feel it. He hurriedly packed a cooler and stuffed it and a folding lawn chair into the Corvette’s tiny trunk. Lastly he placed his new leather, wide-brimmed hat on his head, securing the leather pull under his chin. I hope it doesn’t look too new, like I bought it especially for this occasion.
The airport runway where the autocross was to take place was steaming, the waves of heat radiating from the tarmac. As he looked around, he was immediately disappointed. The beautiful people he had expected to find were not here. In their places were dumpy, ordinary middle-aged couples, wearing shorts and t-shirts and ambling around carrying water bottles. No rangey super-model-like girls. No unaccompanied nymphets to drool over. He felt out-of-place and prissy in his smart clothes, driving his slightly vulgar Corvette. There were lots of Miatas, a few Porsches, two Jaguars, several old fast-back Datsuns, some modified, some not, and three elegant Italian-looking sports cars. He looked in vain for another Corvette.
Three folding tables were set up to dispense information about future events.
“Are you participating today or just watching,” asked an overweight blonde woman, wearing her Saturday morning smile. “Either way you have to sign this waiver. This is a driving school today.”
He put on his ID wristband, walked through the chain-link gateway and joined the first group he saw. As the group walked the course the girl next to him said, “You look really hot.”
She blushed to her hair roots when she realized what she’d said.
“That’s not what I meant! I can see that you’re sweating under that hat. I have another bottle of water in my bag. Want it?”
Justin smilingly accepted the bottle of water, mouthing a “Thank you” and taking in her tall, slim sexiness out of the corner of his eye. They were silent for a long time. The leader of the group was talking loudly, trying to make himself heard above the sound of a tiny plane taking off. He pointed out the tricky turns and spoke about a mysterious process called “apexing.” Today they were going to do a “slalom.” The scoring system was intricately explained, how much was deducted if you knocked over a cone.
“Which car is yours,” the girl asked.
“The maroon Corvette, the only one here. Which one is yours?”
“The second red Miata, over there.”
“Have you done this before?”
“My first time.”
“Got a helmet?”
“No. Where do you get them?”
“In that old white van. You hang your driver’s license up on a clothes pin and then choose a loaner helmet that fits you. I’ll show you. C’mon.”
The cars were lined up. Justin watched the silver Porche in front of him. The driver left the door open as if doing so was a good luck charm . As the green flag came down, she slammed her door and took off, expertly negotiating each cone. She didn’t knock down even one. Her time was 39.1. Now it was Justin’s turn. His heart was thumping.
He just saw a green blur off to the left; it took a second to register that it was HIS green flag. He was off! He gunned the engine and took off flying, kicking up a shower of gravel. Around the first bend and he slammed the car into second gear, cursing himself for the lost seconds at the start. But no time to worry about that. The first big tight turn was right there in front of him. He punched down hard on the brakes and pulled the steering wheel to the right as fast as he could. Made it around that one with a skid and a smell of burning rubber. Got to calm down, focus, concentrate, he told himself. Another tight turn, this time to the left and the slalom approached. Tight to the cones, light on the brake then gas, brake, then gas, pounded in his head. He was flying!! But here comes that ugly wide sweep to the left, followed by the long straight. Third gear? Nope, no time. He already had to slam on his brakes for a sharp 180 degree to the left. Now foot to the floor, gun that engine and storm across that finish line to trip the timer. He skidded his way to the timekeeper who leapt up smartly and out of his way. She ran back to give him his time slip. “Not bad for a novice” she said, grinning. He looked down at his time…43.75. Over already, and all those mistakes. That was bad, I can do a whole lot better, he thought, and made his way, head spinning, heart racing, back to the grid.
Each driver had five tries. It was easy to see that the smaller cars were at an advantage. That’s why there were so many Miatas. Corvettes were too big and unwieldy. Justin had spun out a couple of times, but he was not the slowest. A huge, ugly, chocolate-milk colored Jaguar sedan with big patches of rust on it was even slower than he was.
After his runs, he located his cooler and chair, which he’d been forced to leave on the parking lot. Everyone seemed to know each other and there were a lot of couples, so he unpacked his cooler and prepared to eat alone, looking around for the girl.
“Mind if I join you? My friend Milly was going to come too but she couldn’t make it.
I don’t know anyone else here.”
“Neither do I. Sure Bring your stuff on over. Need some help carrying it?”
Justin, normally shy, took the opportunity of her going to get her cooler to admire her behind encased in her tight jeans. Her billowy, light brown hair blew in the breeze. She kept flicking it out of the way as she returned, smiling.
“The Miata belongs to my friend, Milly. She’s always encouraging me to take risks. Says I’m too sane. She’s making me go sky-diving tomorrow. How did you do?”
“Not too bad for a beginner. 43.75. What else do you do besides race?”
“I teach fourth grade.”
“That’s pretty risky right there. I remember when I was in fourth grade.”
“What do you do in real life?”
“I’m a computer programmer.”
“I like to fool around with my computer, too. I guess I’m what you would call ‘computer savvy.’ You have to be these days if you teach school.”
“Are you staying this afternoon?”
“No, I have a meeting this evening and I don’t want to be tired.”
Hmmm, Justin thought. AA meeting? Bi-Polar group? Well I’ll just ask.
“What kind of meeting?”
“I’m almost embarrassed to say. You’ll probably be completely turned off. You’ll think I’m a Jesus freak. I go to a….. bible study group at The First Baptist Church of Washington. There, do you think I’m nuts,” she said, wrinkling her nose.”
“We’d better pack up. They’re getting ready to start again. There’s another auto cross in two weeks. Coming?”
“Uh-uh. Milly needs her Miata.”
“Do you want to come together? That is, if you don’t mind a plastic pig.”
“O.K. Give me a call. I’ll write my number down on your time slip.”
“I’ll call you. I never even asked you your name. Mine’s Justin.”