In this photo, from left to right we have my sister Maggy, Mark Looman, me, and Wendy Looman. We’re standing in the Salina Kansas International Airport. Maybe it wasn’t really international. But we’re there for the 1981 Solo II Nationals.
Mark and Wendy’s dad Davey sent this photo to my mom, along with some sort of memoir, to be published in the next issue of North American Pylon. My mom says it’s good stuff. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I’ll have to wait for the next issue just like everybody else.
So while I wait in heavy anticipation, let me describe to you my own scenes from “the life.” Every September, some early morning, usually on the first day of school — yah — Mom and Dad would pack up the our van, the Great White Whale, with wheels and tools, suitcases and a cooler filled with Kraft cheese slices and Pepsi Cola, and attach the trailer with Li’l Stroker the Lotus on it. We’d take a two-week long vacation to Salina, Kansas, staying in hole-in-the wall hotels and eating at all the greasy spoons, with only a single speaker AM radio for entertainment in our old Dodge van that for some reason could only channel John Denver tunes.
We would then camp out in Salina, usually in a hotel, once in a motor-home, and spend a week in the autocross paddock completely unsupervised while our parents went off and participated in something we understood as very important, on one level, but on the other, we were completely isolated from them and I honestly have no idea what was happening, but that was fine, because, again, we were completely unsupervised.
I’m one of the few who can say I’ve been on both sides. I think I may have gone to more nationals as a kid than as a competitor, but I’ll have to stop to do the math. Both sides are good, but one might be better.
Mark and Wendy are Davey and Joyce Looman’s kids. They’re from Michigan. I have no recollection of how we met, but I remember how we’d run around the paddock and then around the halls, some of them secret, of the Salina Convention Center. Four days in Salina wasn’t enough. I couldn’t wait for September for it to happen all over again. The first time I ever remember feeling heartache was when we went to Salina one year and Davey told Maggy and me that Mark and Wendy were staying with their grandparents. We never saw them again. Nationals would never be the same.
So while I may say I learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube to impress Barry Schmitt, it was Wendy who taught me that it was possible. She had brought with her the Rubik’s Cube book, the manual to the stars. I never felt more smart.
Wendy also taught my sister and me a secret language, and she does not know this, but my parents have never forgiven her. I dare say that it was Wendy herself who opened the door to my linguistic fascinations. I always wanted to be bilingual, and I had no idea that all you had to do was at a “b” sound to every syllable, and you, too, could pronounced words intelligible only to those who knew the secret language.
For our whole week in Salina, we spoke nothing but this language. The whole four-day drive home back to Pleasanton, Maggy and I spoke nothing but this language, deepening our sisterly bond. I would further my practice by translating the all the highway signs.
Ebelkobo, Nebevabadaba, thibirteebeen mibiles, Mobom!
I think the year this photograph was taken, all of our parents won national championships. Bah, I can’t remember. Who cares. But it was one of those years. I don’t remember a time in my parents lives when they were more happy. That meant that Maggy and I could do no wrong.
Years after this photograph was taken, after I’d crossed over to the other side, I made my first try at running in the Open class (some people call it the “men’s class”) at nationals, co-driving with my dad in Del Long’s Lotus 7. I have to say that it was a scary thing to do, because it was the wrong thing to do, and it was the wrong thing to do because women just didn’t do that. My parents had fought for the existence of Ladies classes (their motto: a family that plays together, stays together), and who was I to go and mess up all their efforts.
So, let’s say, I wasn’t getting that much emotional support on the home front. My father could barely speak to me. Autocross had taken on a whole new meaning for me, as it it was now not fun.
One morning, at breakfast in the hotel, Joyce and Davey sat at our table. My dad explained with shame what foolishness I was trying. “I just want to push myself. I just want to run with the best, to see where I stand,” I tried to explain, quite afraid of what Joyce might tell me, because she had won fifteen national championships in a row in Ladies classes.
“You’ll go very far in this sport,” she said, very calmly. Wendy’s mom understood. It’s not about winning.
I nebeveber foborgobot thabat.
When we were innocent, we played with boundless energy, we snuck off the premises and onto the nearby golf fields, stole golf balls, and only got caught once. We crafted entire homes with complicated floorplans, basements, attics, you name it, with LEGOs. Grown ups drove around pylons for a piece of wood and a jacket and worried over what people might think about them, while we kids solved complex mathematical problems and invented a language.
It’s pretty amazing what you can do when you’re having fun.