THE PHONE BOOTH

by

I am waiting to make a phone call to the editor of HOT ROD Magazine. I wait outside the booth as Richard Noble is fumbling for the proper change to dial out, and I notice all he can summon is lint and some British coins.

Here he is, Richard Noble, the fastest man on the planet, desperately trying to make lodging arrangements in the middle of the American Outback, the weight of an entire LSR operation on his shoulders. The SSC’ers got no rooms and their leader can’t even make a fucking phone call.

The Brits are boycotting that turncoat opportunist Bruno. They adjourn to the bar next door, “Bev’s Miners’ Club,” and discuss Plan B. After enjoining Bev the barkeep to “Give us a fag, wouldya’ love?” (Loosely translated, “I’d like to purchase a package of cigarettes”), the affable Brits begin making friends with the locals, particularly Bev.

So picture this: Richard Noble and his lads (twenty-odd clamoring Brits clad in matching RAF-khaki) are hoisting Coors in a dusty, desert Dew-Do-Drop-Inn (this about as bizarre as it gets, in my book) when one of Noble’s crew members shushes the entire bar. The local teevee news is reporting on that morning’s press conference (“Going 700 mph does not interest us. We are here to go Mach 1”) at the casino in Reno. Suddenly the videotape cuts to the chipper studio humanoid broadcaster who closes the report with this coda, “Noble and his team are taking Saturday off in observance of Princess Di’s funeral.”

Simultaneously Richard Noble, OBE does a “say wot??” double take while his overworked and underpaid entourage cheer and Bev pours more drinks and opens more cans of beer.

They didn’t get the day off. Nor did they care, really. All of which underscores this question: What is it about Noble that inspires his troops, his lads to persevere in high-desert heat to erect a portable self-contained military-industrial complex that meets the criteria for the digital era’s standard for data gathering, all on a dry lake bed that time forgot?

(The massive amounts of hardware assembled by the SSC to facilitate the penetration of this phantom waveform amounted to nothing short of a hi-tech paramilitary invasion of a forgotten lake bed that – excepting for the war games and impromptu fighter plane dogfights staged sporadically by the military back in WW II and the alterno-tech paganism of the annual Burning Man Festival – had more or less been bypassed by the techno-industrial revolution of the 20th Century and had never seen electricity, much less microwave satellite uplinks, portable airsheltas, rescue vehicles, hundreds of channels of real time telemetry and supersonic motorcars.)

The answer is not explainable by the notion of “technological enthusiasm,” a phrase that has recently come to explain everything from hot rodding to the Apollo moonshot. The answer is deeper, more atavistic and completely primeval. The answer has roots which extend into the quintessence of matter: The universe is expanding. By extrapolation, consciousness is expanding, constantly encroaching into realms of the unknown. The technological enthusiast must go THERE, the technological enthusiast will devour and outmaneuver whatever is in his or her way: Pauites, the laws of aerodynamics, Newtonian physics, whatever.

Thus you have some of the finest minds of our lifetime sleeping on other people’s couches, on their hands and knees picking up pebbles off the desert floor (to keep them from getting Hoover’d into the jet engines intake), all so they can have their moonshot.

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