Kids, don’t try this at home

Brian Golden

With summer fast approaching I find myself thinking back to all of the fun times my friends and I had roaming the hills and forests of Pratt Road. Whether we were hiking, camping, barbecuing, playing sports or just hanging out, it seems we never lacked for something to do. To put it another way, we were never bored and always found some way to amuse ourselves, even if it sometimes involved an element of danger (or stupidity). What can I say, we were teenagers (actually, my friends Jay, Dave, Jared, Sean and stepbrother Geoff were teenagers, I was only 12). But one early summer evening will forever remain etched in all our memories.

As the youngest member of the “Pratt Road Gang,” I was often persuaded into all manner of idiotic behavior, and it’s a wonder to me at times that I lived through all of the tormenting, dares and foolery that accompany a 12 year old surrounded by 17 and 18 year olds, as I’m sure you can imagine. Yet in retrospect, there is one particular event that sticks out. The Amazingly Stupendous Flaming Scooter, navigated by none other than yours truly (mom, if you’re reading this, stop now and forget I ever said a word).

My friend Jay, who lived just down the road from my dad’s house, had an extremely intelligent father who had his own shop located behind their home, which was filled with all manner of tools, machines and nifty gadgets. We spent hours in that shop raising all sorts of mayhem, until one afternoon we discovered the “mystery liquid.” This stuff smelled like it could peel the bark off of a tree and was extremely flammable, but through a rigorous series of (we’re so lucky we didn’t blow ourselves up) tests we found that an object coated with the mystery liquid would not burn, the liquid simply burned off until it had evaporated (my eighth grade science teacher demonstrated something similar with a dollar bill. Soak the bill in the liquid and light it up and after the flames died down the bill was untouched). Needless to say, our imaginations ran wild with the possibilities for a little pyrotechnic entertainment, and that’s where my scooter came in.

Now for your information, self-propelled scooters in 1989 were nothing like the models available today. They had miniature bicycle tires, about a foot in diameter, and you actually had to expend a little energy to get one going. No motors, no propulsion system, no light speed, nothing of the sort. Of course, seeing as I was the only one in our group that owned one, and due to my young, impressionable age, I was “volunteered” as the test pilot for our little launch (keep reading and you’ll understand).

First off we built the ramp. Due to the massive popularity of skateboarding in Norwich circa 1989, ramp-building was a crucial talent for anyone age 10 to 18, so we had tons of experience to draw from (I briefly considered a career in skateboarding when I was younger, until I realized I really wasn’t all that good at it). Next, we waited for my father and stepmother to vacate the premises, which they soon did. And lastly, we doused our recently constructed ramp, the road leading uphill to my “starting point” and the tires on my scooter with the mystery liquid.

What followed was quite possibly the most amazing pyrotechnic display in the history of Pratt Road.

The quick flick of a Bic lighter to my front tire and I was off, flames racing ahead of me in a straight line toward the soaked ramp. The timing was perfect as I approached the “launch zone,” and moments before lift-off the entire ramp whooshed up in flames. As I made my landing, skidding to a stop, I turned to see the stunned looks on the faces of my friends, as we watched the flames quickly disappear as the mystery liquid was consumed.

Looking back I can hardly believe my stupidity in attempting this ridiculous feat, and my only excuse is that it was designed, implemented and successfully achieved by a group of professional idiots. My only regret? Why couldn’t we have had a digital camcorder and access to YouTube back in those days, because I can not even imagine how many hits the Amazingly Stupendous Flaming Scooter would have accumulated.