Friday October 5, 2012

Tom Pinsonneault

White-knuckle driving is not a sport, although most NASCAR drivers are familiar with this term. The nomenclature is derived from a temporary condition brought on by gripping the steering wheel much too tightly. Aside from white knuckles other hallmarks of this phenomenon are stiffness and aching of the fingers, hand and wrists and pain shooting up the arm from the tip of the fingers to the shoulder.

An instantaneous cure for white knuckles is to simply let go of the steering wheel. However, releasing the wheel while the car is in continuous motion is not recommended. You will not find white knuckle driving in your driver's manual. I suppose that's because it comes under the category of driving defensively and using common sense.

Seasoned veteran drivers seem to be more adept at driving during white-knuckle conditions, or by using common sense avoid this condition simply by paying attention to weather reports and forecasts. I have been known to disregard weather reports of impending rain or snowstorms in favor of the infamous "road trip at all cost." It is important to note that the white-knuckle phenomenon is a syndrome because it occurs during activities other than driving.

A few daring souls would hop on their bikes at the top of Silver Street and proceed to see how fast they can coast to the bottom, crossing over Union Street and gliding to a finish in front of the library. Hanging on to the handlebars was no easy feat and by the time the ride was completed in less than two minutes one's entire body was white along with the knuckles.

I remember when my first experience with white-knuckle syndrome came during my Senior Class Trip in May 1965 at Riverside Amusement Park in Agawam, Mass. Not all seniors attended this field trip; however, most of us did and we really had a blast.

The first ride on my "to do" list was the roller coaster. I rushed ahead hoping to be one of the first seated. I was a bit intimidated as this was to be my first roller coaster ride and, as it turned-out, my last. We boarded the coasters that were stationed in a long, low and narrow building resembling a miniature wooden covered bridge. This was the beginning and end of the ride, the alpha and omega. The Geronimo and the Surprise Finish.

Once we were all seated the coaster began its ascent up a steep track. It was a wild ride full of the usual ups and downs and curve following curve all at what seemed like a reckless break-neck speed. Kids all around were screaming and laughing and gave the noise created by the coaster's metal wheels squealing on the metal track some good competition. However, the fun part was to come to a premature conclusion.

The ride ended with a steep and rapid descent into the "covered bridge" at a 45 degree turn at the bottom. Nearing the final approach to the last hill we were instructed to hold on tight. The brakes were not working properly. We could see workmen running everywhere doing whatever to slow our final descent.

Down we plunged. Screaming much louder than before and with a real sense of horror. The roller coaster hit the 45 degree angle at the bottom of the track at heart pounding speed. The entire line of coasters shuddered, careened and wobbled past the stopping point scraping and screeching along the side rails but slowed, finally, and as if in one continuous motion rolled slowly backward to the disembarkment platform.

Most of us had trouble prying our hands from the safety bar we were all clinging to for dear life. After having been helped from the coasters many of us stood around breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing our hands together to relieve the pain of white knuckles. My first and only roller coaster ride turned out to be a disaster. I never would have believed that so many parochial school kids had such a command of curse words, had I not been there and witnessed it myself.

White-Knuckle Syndrome is not an unusual phenomenon it is familiar to most of us. When we say we are hanging on for dear life, chances are, well just look at your knuckles. It affects all ages and all kinds of life circumstances from teeter-totter to sitting in the dentist chair, listening to the drill and feeling the vibration on your teeth. All the time your grip on the arm rest gets tighter and tighter.

You can pause for a minute and recall your last white-knuckle episode. Where were you? What were you doing? Myself? I try to avoid driving the I-90 during a cloudburst.

Tom Pinsonneault is a retired history teacher who lives in Orwell. He grew up in Bennington. He can be reached at tmap@shoreham.net.