Yesterday I went to Martinsburg, Pennsylvania with a couple of friends to take in the newly-revived tradition there of outhouse races, a fundraising event sponsored by the local firehall. This was my first exposure to an activity of apparently quite widespread popularity: a Google search for “outhouse race” turns up photos, videos and articles on events from the Ozarks to Michigan to Alaska. One of the outhouses in attendance (and the one that won) bore a painting of the Confederate flag, which led me to wonder whether outhouse racing is seen as a Southern thing originally.
Contestants were judged on design as well as speed, and each outhouse had an occupant and four pushers. There weren’t that many outhouses this year, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. It was, among other things, a rolling display of folk art, notional shithouses with painted-on names — The Midnight Dumpster, The Boss’s Office. They ran multiple heats and everyone yucked it up. One of the outhouses lost a wheel, but otherwise there were no NASCAR-style crashes. I suggested they have a pit crew next year, but making a pit stop in an outhouse might be kind of redundant, come to think of it.
Afterwards, we joined the crowd at the pavilions in the park, where the firemen were cooking cheap dinner fare — roast ox sandwiches for $2.00, barbecued chicken for $4.00. I had the former: a round, brown patty in a bun. It wasn’t too bad slathered with condiments. We sat with a friendly couple who, seeing our photographic equipment, peppered us with suggestions of cool things to go see in Pennsylvania. He had worked for Conrail, he said, but quit after “the rebels” (meaning Norfolk-Southern, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia) took it over and ran roughshod over workers — a story I’ve heard before.
Afterwards, we sat out on the main drag until dusk, talking and watching a steady stream of classic cars, tricked-out Harleys and other outlandish vehicles go past. It was an all-American kind of day, I thought. I was led to muse about how, as a people, we are in love with speed and consumption. The result: when we gotta go, we gotta go.
I got home to discover my night-blooming cereus had opened, filling the room with a pungent, aromatic scent. By morning, it had already deflated, consigned, as it were, to the midnight dumpster.