When I was growing up, my father and brothers were very competitive, or, more accurately, completely ruthless at videogames, board games, sports, bowling, air hockey, and especially go-carts. My dad is a great man, but he would completely kick my little toddler ass at Candy Land and any other board game I'd waddle over to him with. As my brothers grew, they became equally cutthroat. I went in the opposite direction. As the family softie, I began to dodge opportunities for competition. I'd sit out when my friends went bowling. The idea of my playing an organized sport was laughable, and I had a bad habit of resetting our videogame console anytime I felt losing upon me. Go-carting? The time my brother put me in the wall to get me out of the race was the last time I ever did that.
If I end up drinking and driving on a Monday night, it's never planned, but I read Xtreme Indoor Karting has an indoor go-cart track as well as an adjoining full-liquor sports bar and an expansive arcade. Though a place with so many different arenas for gaming might be a bad spot for someone as unnerved by competition as I am, there is one game I don't often lose: drinking. Also, I'm a helluva good spectator.
Ambiance: Xtreme Indoor Karting (5300 N. Powerline Rd., Fort Lauderdale) is an all-in-one extravaganza that's pretty much heaven for a young adult male with a lot of expendable adrenaline. (All that's missing are racetrack bikini babes.) The 90,000-square-foot building is divided into racetrack, refreshments, and arcade games. A half-mile asphalt racetrack and sideline sit comfortably positioned behind glass, sound-proofing the rest of the building (the simultaneous growling of 25 go-cart engines could make it really hard to focus on slurping down cheese fries and eradicating zombies on the House of the Dead 4). Black-and-white-checkered tile cover all ceilings and floors, creating the sensation that you have somehow wound up inside a race flag.
I walked past the cashiers and through the arcade, plentifully stocked with gambling games, air hockey tables, videogames, Dance-Dance Revolution, and an assload of racing games. I saw the faint fluorescent glow of what my brain registered as a place where beer might be procured, so I darted down a corridor with a row of conference rooms on one side and a bright, colorful "children's arcade" on the other. No doubt positioned so close to the bar so Mommy and Daddy can leave Junior to play lonely rounds of ski ball while they liquor up.
Bartender: Xtreme's alcohol hot spot is low-lit, with several red-felt pool tables and flat-screen TVs (all showing sports). Mike, a bald-headed guy in an orange "pit crew" shirt, was occupying the bartender with a story about his cat's inclination to lick people's eyeballs. (No, seriously; it was a slow night.) The place was clean, with a small stage in a far corner and a dartboard and popcorn machine nearby. Jennifer, the full-figured, blond bartender, brought me a bowl of freshly popped corn (and several more throughout the evening).
Drinks: "Are you going to race today?" Jennifer asked me when I tried to order a Newcastle.
"No," I said. "But what if I was? You against drinking and carting?"
"We can't let you drive if you've been drinking," she said.
"I bet it's pretty dangerous out there in those little carts," I said.
"Well, the carts can hit 45 miles per hour," interjected Doug, the events coordinator, a pale man in a shirt with Helsinki printed on it.
"So what if I change my mind and decide to race after imbibing?" I said. "Who's gonna stop me?"
"Well, for starters, you can't race in flip-flops," Mike said, leaning forward to point at my feet.
"The guys up front will smell the alcohol on your breath," said Jennifer, raising an eyebrow, possibly daring me to try it. "They'll give you a Breathalyzer."
One's first Breathalyzer test should be a special experience. My first was not going to happen in front of a bunch of bratty adolescents playing arcade games.
"So do you guys take bets on the highest blood alcohol levels you see in a day?" I asked.
By now, I'd earned enough trust for them to put a delicious Newcastle in my hand.
"No, ours just detect alcohol. It doesn't matter what your level is; if you have any booze in you, you can't race," Mike said.
But Mike had a gleam in his eye. "It would be much more fun if we could see the actual levels," he conceded. "We could put the numbers out on the big racing display screens, like first, second, and third place."
Patrons: I ventured toward the racetrack, hoping to see drifting aplenty. Along the way, I encountered the friend I'd brought along who had disappeared into the maze of arcade games and pinball machines. He was staring at the screen on a Silent Scope machine, gripping the game's plastic gun. "You couldn't stop the terrorist attacks," the screen read solemnly, announcing "game over."
"Fuck yes, I did," he growled at it, his trigger finger twitching as he prepared to pay for another go. No arguing with a machine,
Without a word, I breezed past him and pushed through a glass door that took me out to the track's spectator area. Two people — one in a green helmet, one in a black — were engaged in a heated race that, from the sidelines, looked like it could have been right out of The Fast and the Furious. A couple stood near the wall, photographing the two 17-year-old Dale Earnhardt wannabes as they whizzed around the track.
"Who's winning?" I asked Rella, the woman, who had dark hair and wore white Capri pants.
"It's close," she said, snapping another shot. "One is our son, Ari — in the green helmet — and the other is his best friend, Gabe."
"Oh, I can smell the testosterone and adrenaline from here," I said.
Just then, Gabe smashed into the wall, and it cost him a few precious seconds as he fought frantically to free himself and get back in the game. I silently thanked an array of various deities that I was just a spectator.
"They're both on a golf team, and they're fiercely competitive about that," Rella said. "But I don't know how that translates to racing."
"Guys are competitive about everything," I said, thinking of my brothers and dad.
"They were trying to meet girls on the beach today, but no luck," said Mike, Rella's husband. "Maybe this'll make up for it."
The Results: Ari and Gabe finally surfaced near the race results desk and were examining printed documents when I made my way over to them.
"Heard you guys were busy picking up chicks at the beach all day."
Ari, who wore a white cap and had a compact, muscular build, and Gabe, who was taller with sandy hair, were caught off-guard. They exchanged wide-eyed glances, and Rella and Mike laughed, relishing (as parents do) in their child's social discomfort.
"So, how'd the race go? Who won?" I asked.
"Umm, I'm not sure," Ari said, examining his score sheet. "Maybe me. He might owe me."
"But my fastest lap was faster," Gabe said, pointing at his sheet.
"Only by six-tenths of a second," Ari countered.
"You guys bet on the race?" I said.
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"Yeah, but actually, he'll just deduct it from the debt I owe for losing to him at golf," Ari said.
"You guys ready for NASCAR now?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Ari, grinning. "Or we might hit the arcade." Some people just can't get enough competing.
After I found my trigger-happy friend again, I accepted his air hockey challenge. Baby steps, you know? Going to get through the childhood fear of competition somehow — and what better way than with beer in my blood? Yeah, he played ruthlessly and won, but it wasn't the end of the world — maybe I'll even be able to play a game of Scrabble with my dad and brothers sometime soon without having a breakdown. And maybe someday I'll even be able to give racing a go — without the fear of being jammed into a wall like a fresh, new, rocket-propelled cinder block.