THE CAB RIDE (1997)

by

The press conference isn’t scheduled until noon. I sleep kinda’ late, saunter downstairs in the casino for a leisurely breakfast and grabbed a copy of the Reno Gazette.

I drop my fork.

The bottom left quadrant of the front page has a small feature about the arrival of the Brits and their Thrust SSC jet car that notates – in so many words – that after seven years of research and development as well as “dancing-as-fast-as-I-can” cajoling of corporations, the joust is finally on: A quintessential California hot rodder (Breedlove and Spirit of America) arm wrestling a permutation of the British military industrial complex (Noble and Thrust SSC).

And although the match is on, there are still many obstacles in the path of both teams, not the least of which is negative cash flow. To facilitate the arrival of the Brits from Farnborough into Reno Int’l Airport – keep in mind it required 250,00 gallons of jet fuel to top off an Antonov AN-124 Russian cargo plane (the only vehicle in existence with enough trunk space to transport the Thrust’s 80-ton portable skunk works) – Noble appealed for alms via the London Daily Telegraph and the internet. The vox populi responded with a vengeance, mailing checks and forking over credit card numbers in a frenzy worthy of St. Vitus. Thrust SSC gets its jet fuel all of which is documented in the Reno Gazette I continue to peruse while hailing a cab outside the casino. (Ultimately, 20 percent of the funding for the Thrust effort came from Noble shaking the virtual bushes of cyberspace and the print world. Amazing.)

So I grab a cab, a two-toned yellow and black beater that pings and knocks, and is driven by a guy who has the look of a fallen factory worker from Oakland who has decided to culminate his working days here, shuttling tourists who can’t quite raise the capital to gamble in Vegas to various casinos and cathouses just beyond the city limits. He asks me if I want to go to the Mustang Ranch and I tell him no so then he asks where I am going and I tell him I’m in a hurry to get to the Peppermill Casino for a press conference that will announce an attempt to capture the Land Speed Record.

“The press conference for the Land Speed Record is at the hotel you just left,” he says.

“No, that’s the venue for Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America’s announcement,” I tell him.

“You mean there are two guys trying to get the Record?” he asks.

“Oh yeah,” I say, “there is a British team that arrived last night in a massive cargo plane big enough to transport their crew and their race car.”

“You mean that’ s why that Russian plane is parked at the airport?”

To a paranoid survivalist like this cab driver, whose sense of history ended with the Fall of Saigon, the Brits represent the unholy union of NATO, the United Nations and the Beatles. As we pull into the parking lot, the SSC rests on an open trailer, raked at a 45 degree angle, pointed towards the sky. Milling about is a local Betacam crew with a blond news correspondent, flanked by a camera operator and a soundman umbilically tangled in their cables. This is the only electronic media I can see, although a couple of reporters are scribbling notes while chatting up the British team, who are resplendent in a sort of Royal Air Force green. The cab driver gives me his card for a ride back to my hotel once the SSC conference is done and I pay the fare. All the while though, the cabbie keeps a distracted eye fixed on the dual jet engined monstrosity resting placidly like a black widow in a tennis shoe.

To my cab driver, this wicked land speed streamliner may as well have been a black helicopter.

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