Single mothers working at clerical jobs don’t have a lot of status in a place like La Jolla (OK, anywhere) but for a few years, there were two weeks a year where I owned this place. I had the official scale for the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.
Always feeling bad for the kids who were eliminated early on, a fellow Mom, Linda, and I decided that we would make this the kinder, gentler Cub Scouts, probably exactly the sentiment that founder Baden Powell created scouting to combat. Every year, we got a local pawn shop in Pacific Beach to donate a lot of scout-appropriate stuff to us which we spread out on a big table, so that as soon as a kid lost, he could go over and pick out something. Some of the donations, like a guitar and some camp stoves, almost made it worth throwing the race.
We softened the blow of losing even further with 20 boxes of Girl Scout cookies (early cross-merchandising) and six gallons of lemonade, but Linda and I also decided to award every kid a ribbon of some kind on the grounds that even the kids who had never seen their car before the night of the race should go away with something. To this end, Linda and I spent an entire evening making 77 ribbons for the “aesthetic judging”. (Sorry, Baden.)
As we rapidly discovered, there is only so much you can say about a five ounce block of pine. We sat there with a thesaurus and some brochures from cars I’d looked at recently. Problem is, brochures that described cars I could afford at the time more often had descriptors like “peppy considering its 1.2 liter engine” and “Voted least bad in its class by Car and Driver.” An appropriate ribbon category would have been Kid Most Covered in Graphite.
But back to the scale. For two weeks a year before the Pinewood Derby, a steady stream of Dads and kids streamed through my house to use the official scale. During the day, I would return calls to some of these Dads during my lunch hour. A snippy secretary would cooly inform me that Mr. Jones was in conference all afternoon and would not be able to take my call. But as soon as I mentioned the word Pinewood Derby, she’d cut me off with a frantic, “DON’T HANG UP! HE’S ACROSS THE STREET HAVING LUNCH. HE ASKED ME TO COME GET HIM RIGHT AWAY IF YOU CALLED!” I’ve never had so much power in my life. (Or since.) From low-class single mom to Pinewood Princess. Everybody took my call. I had the scale. I had parts. The day after the Derby, of course, my Cinderella life was abruptly over.
But fyi, if you need them, I’ve still got some boxes of extra axels around someplace.