(NOTE: Based on today’s The Daily Post writing prompt)
It was a hot summer day, the kind only occur in childhood and which stick with you forever as the benchmark for all summer days to come. He sat on the bare metal bleachers toward the top because he and his father wanted to see the action on the track below. His uncle was racing that day and it was the first time he’d been invited to see it happen.
The racetrack stretched out in either direction like a length of ribbon that had been cut and fallen to the floor. To his young mind it took forever for the cars to get ready at the starting line to his left, especially considering the entire race was over in less than six seconds. Six seconds to go a quarter-mile. That didn’t seem overly impressive to him. How far was a quarter-mile, really? He could see the end of the track and thought it wasn’t that big an accomplishment.
They’d been there since morning but his uncle wasn’t racing until the afternoon. The bleacher seats were uncomfortable, not like the seats at Wrigley Field. He could sit in those forever. These were hard and unyielding, the exact opposite of a seat that encourages long-term viewing of the events at hand. From the seats he could see the cars approach the starting line, at which point his father would have him watch the Christmas Tree, the vertical installation of lights that went from red at the top to the green at the bottom and which signaled the beginning of the race. As the start got closer and closer the cars nudged up on the line, trying to gain the three inches of advantage that could make the difference between victory and defeat without faulting on going over the line. He wondered how the drivers could tell where they were in relation to the line and decided, as with most things, it was based on experience he didn’t have and likely never would.
The lights turned green and the cars roared to life, jumping off the line like panthers that have been let off a chain. The engines that had been loudly idling at the start suddenly belched, their sound filling air making the metal bleachers shake along with his teeth, even all the way up here. It was so loud but there was something vital in it, some important element. Maybe it was just the mastery of man over machine. Maybe it was the way all the drivers and crews all seemed to know each other and were friendly, right up to the moment of competition. That was cool in a way he was too immature and unformed as a person yet to identify.
When it came time for lunch he knew his father had packed something but he didn’t know what. So when the cooler was opened he saw a couple sandwiches wrapped in plastic and a couple soda cans. The soda wasn’t that cold – the cooler wasn’t that good – but he was glad for it and took the sandwich he was offered.
Before he could eat it, though, his father explained what kind of sandwich it was: peanut butter and mayonnaise. Well that was different. He’d had hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of course, but…this? It was an odd combination but his father had explained it was one of his favorites that he was now sharing.
All of a sudden the day became all the more special. His father was sharing something with him, something just between the two of them. It was important, even if it was just a sandwich. As he bit into it he enjoyed the different combination of flavors, the vinegar and egg of the mayonnaise contrasting with the smooth, slightly salted taste of the peanut butter. He washed it down with a drink of Coke and declared it good.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with more races. The smell of motor oil and gasoline wafted around them to the point he wasn’t sure he was breathing anything that didn’t come out of the exhaust pipe of a race car and the sound in his ears dulled to the point he couldn’t hear anything below a shout. His uncle’s race, when it finally came, did not go well as his matte black 1967 Camaro flipped over halfway down the track, briefly sending everyone scurrying to determine his safety, which was eventually proven. That resulted in an explanation of the importance of rollbars in the cars being raced.
The sandwich quickly became a favorite, his go-to option. It elicited, over the years, more than a few raised eyebrows from people skeptical such a concoction could be enjoyable. And he never really encountered another person who had come to the same combination themselves. So it remained special in a way that only a discovery found in youth can be, a connection between him and his father that would come back to him, even decades later as he made it. With each sandwich he made, he was transported back to those metal bleacher benches as he was handed something new on a day when his senses were otherwise overwhelmed.