(Last) Weekly Roundup: (Not All Of) The Kids Are Alright Edition

Kids really do have it better nowadays: As two yoofs in the Eighties, brother Bark and I had relatively few options for unconscionably expensive evening entertainment, most of them being some kind of take on the Mechanical Rat And Child Casino known as “Chuck E. Cheese” or “Showtime”. (Columbus, being a primo test market, had both, naturally.) There was a Malibu Grand Prix in the area as well — and I’ll have more to say about that in a future article — but our age difference prevented us from competing directly.

Thankfully, we can now rectify this for our own children by dropping $250 for an evening of “high-speed” go-kart racing at Full Throttle Karting in Cincinnati, Ohio. How did it go? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if everything had gone perfectly, would I?


I expected my son, John, to do well, and he did, taking the overall win in his first look at each of Full Throttle’s two courses. I expected Bark’s son, Kevin, to come up to speed quickly, and that happened as well; he started the day about five second a lap off John’s best time and ended up being 0.4 seconds away after just four sessions. In one of the races, Bark and I tried the “dad karts”, which are full-sized karts supposedly performance-equalized to the kid karts. They’re actually quite a bit faster than the kid karts, particularly in a straight line, but even with that advantage I was only able to make one pass on my son in ten laps. He’s a strong defender and not afraid to swivel his head at speed.

So far, so good. But I was concerned by two behaviors I saw our kids display. Bark’s kid obviously preferred playing a video game on his phone to any interaction with his cousin or even the kart races themselves; in the end, Bark took the phone away, at which point the two cousins ran around the building and played Tag just like they would have in 1975 or, for that matter, 1875. (In 1775, they would already both be in a coal mine.)

As for my son, he prefers “real life” to “screen life”, but that doesn’t mean his expectations of the world haven’t been formed by screens. In the final race of the evening, Kevin managed to beat John, who blamed a bad kart for his off-pace performance. In response to this loss, John threw a first-class temper tantrum and refused to speak to anyone for about ten minutes. How much of this is due to modern video games, which carefully lead their players by the nose as they dole out a “success path” of continual dopamine hits? The video games of my childhood, like Galaga, were designed to beat you out of quarters. Today’s games are far more sophisticated; they step you through “quests” and “tutorial missions” and everything else you need to enjoy a steady succession of successes. You’re always given the weapons or tools you need to complete the quest. Nothing is ever simply too hard. No wonder today’s kids don’t have the ability to cope with losing at anything; their online lives are designed to eliminate that particular sorrow. Maybe kids don’t really have it better nowadays.

It also depressed me to see how generally inarticulate and piggish the bulk of last night’s under-16 racers were. The vast majority of them were fat to some degree, thanks to a devil’s cocktail of corn syrup and sedentary hobbies. They communicated in the garbled, incomplete English that has long been the de facto tongue of the service sector but which is also now becoming universal among children of all classes who spend most of their lives with their noses pressed to a screen.

I did see three children who were were anti-pattern: fit, articulate, expensively dressed, well-behaved. They kept to themselves, huddled in animated conversation, and after their race they were trundled off by their two sets of parents to a pair of near-identical German SUVs. They didn’t have phones or tablets on hand. It made me think of how the West Coast tech elite now keeps their kids off the Internet and away from phones. Look at it this way: Two hundred years ago, being fat was a luxury. Now it’s literally free, thanks to welfare and junk food. Today’s upper class is thin and fit because that’s more expensive than being fat. By the same token, access to the Internet and the best digital experiences was once the exclusive province of people who afford $2,500 computers for their kids. Now the Web is prole fodder doled out to the Third World via $49 Chinese smartphones, so the children of the rich are being forcibly returned to a Huck-Finn-style acquaintance with the physical world.

My son didn’t like being beaten by one out of twenty-five kids last night. Even if it was just once, and even if it by was his cousin, “who is like a best friend to me.” So on the drive home, he didn’t turn on his Kindle tablet. He laid out his time sheets, and he studied them. Then he asked me questions. About line theory, about racing techniques, about experiences that I’ve had in competition. About one question per mile, for seventy miles. Then, when he’d run out of questions, he looked out the window, into a darkness of no particular distinction, the same way I did from the back seat of my father’s LeSabre Custom, thirty-six years ago. I suspect he’ll remember the evening as a defeat, but in this pitched battle to ensure his future, once in which time is increasingly short and his imperfect parental paladin is always subject to early retirement from the field due to motorsports mistakes, the long arm of the law, or simple middle-aged medical frailty, I’ll count it as a victory.

* * *

For R&T, I told some outrageous stories of homelessness and Ferrari crashes, then lamented the demise of the popular-priced V-8.

23 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: (Not All Of) The Kids Are Alright Edition”

  1. Dirt Roads

    It’s fantastic that your kid gets to have these moments. Frustration at being beat (even by your best friend) is what motivates us later to do better. His study of time sheets and incessant question-asking proves that out. Next time, He will be harder to beat.

    Sounds like Bark’s kid learned quickly. John will have to learn and improve faster than if he was “only” self motivated. That motivation from coming in as “the first loser” is what drives successful people to excellence.

    Good on ya, both sets of parents, for taking the time and forking over the dough to give their kids time away from cell phones and time studying and using physics.

    Reply
  2. Danny

    How does full throttle karting compare to Grand Prix indoor karting in Columbus? Within the next month, the RX-7 will be stashed away and I’ll have to get my fix via indoor karts, but the ones closest to home (Pittsburgh) are electric, slow and unexciting.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Full Throttle has two courses. One is shorter than Grand Prix’s current layout and the other is longer/faster. Overall I’d say it is a better choice.

      Reply
  3. cognoscenti

    Jack, thanks as always for a well written and thought-provoking post. It’s a continual battle in my household to encourage real-world experiences over the virtual, and in this case it seems that they get the secondary benefit of lessons in real life competitiveness as well. Is it going to be enough to counteract the participant trophy culture they are swaddled in seemingly everywhere else?

    Reply
  4. Bark M

    As a bit of counterpoint—

    I don’t worry about the fact that my son likes playing games on his phone. I’m pretty sure Jack and I spent just as much time, if not more, playing Legend of Zelda and Baseball Stars as my son does playing Fortnite. If we could have played RBI Baseball online with our friends somehow, I am damned sure that we would have done it. The apparatus might be different, but I think the result is the same. Boomers worried about Nintendo rotting our brains, and now we worry about iPhones rotting our kids’ brains. I don’t allow him access to social media of any type, and his internet access is heavily restricted. His iPhone is basically a cooler Game Boy at this point. And I wish it were as cheap as a $49 device!

    Plus, he spends upward of ten hours a week on the soccer pitch, and about the same amount of time practicing saxophone. He has massive amounts of homework every night, too—kids today are crushed with homework, far more than we ever had as Gen Xers. His report card just came in for his first quarter of intermediate school, and he has all As with one B in Art, which I call a win.

    And a small correction—I didn’t take his phone, he put it away after the first race, when he became incredibly interested in improving. This was his first time ever karting with somebody else on the track, and only his second time karting, period. I think he was mostly playing games because he was incredibly nervous about racing. I really had no expectation for him at all—I figured he would just have fun driving around a bit. When I saw him powersliding through turns with his foot firmly on the throttle in the final race, I was happy for him because I knew he had finally realized that he didn’t have to be scared or nervous—this was just about having fun.

    Our trip back to Kentucky was very different than the trip described above. Kevin was worried that his cousin was so mad that he beat him. He was excited that he had done well, but didn’t want a victory at the expense of his cousin’s happiness.

    I asked him if he wanted his own helmet in case we decided to go again in the future, since the loaner kids’ helmets were too small for him but the loaner adult helmets were too heavy.

    “Well,” he said, “karting is kind of John’s thing. I don’t want him to be mad if I start doing it too.” I reassured him that nobody would be mad, and that if he wanted to try to fit karting into his already jam-packed schedule, that we’d try to find a way to do it. He brightened up and said that yes, he would like his own helmet—and maybe his own kart too. I believe that is literally putting the Kart before the horse.

    Anyway, maybe I’m a bad parent for letting my son play video games, but I think in the end I really just want him to be something that I’m not sure either my brother or I ever really were growing up, and that’s Happy.

    Reply
    • ScottS

      The key concept which you touch on is parental involvement. Smartphones for many parents are a replacement for involved parenting. I think you and Jack both spend far more time with your kids and know far more about their activities than average parents.

      Reply
  5. Ronnie Schreiber

    The U.S. Army says that 1/3rd of recruits are too unfit to be soldiers. They’re too sendentary to have basic fitness. Medical school professors say that the incoming classes these days are very bright, but have very poor eye hand coordination and don’t have the skills to be surgeons. Nobody taught them how to cut and sew.

    We’re experiencing what Heinlein described ironically as “bad luck.”

    Reply
  6. Ronnie Schreiber

    You know who else keeps their kids away from computers, tablets, and smartphones, besides tech magnates? Bible believing Christians and orthodox Jews.

    Reply
    • AoLetsGo

      I got my “sport” V8 pickup not long ago, it’s the ducks guts!
      A few mods here and there keep it interesting.
      If I can stay at my 10k/year and no salty winter driving I figure I can keep it for 30 years.

      Reply
  7. Eric L.

    > They communicated in the garbled, incomplete English that has long been the de facto tongue of the service sector but which is also now becoming universal among children of all classes who spend most of their lives with their noses pressed to a screen.

    Could you give an example or two for the ignorant? I’m sure I’ve heard it spoken, but I’m having trouble summoning specifics.

    Reply
    • ScottS

      Maybe the incorporation of text “words” into the vernacular? LOL, OMG, ROFLMAO. What does this do for one’s spelling skills?

      And Atlas Shrugged.

      CUL8R

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Just go to any McDonald’s and listen to the English-language conversation, if there is any, behind the counter. You’ll hear speech impediments, a lot of mumbling, a very small total vocabulary.

      Reply
      • safe as milk

        i’ve been noticing this low level english a lot lately. i’ve become used to it during encounters in the city at large but what’s fascinating is how it varies by neighborhood. i live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country and you rarely hear it on the streets here but a short walk to broadway and it’s everywhere. my kid attends what they call the regents (i.e. advanced) program in a public school across town. her classes are very ethnically diverse but the kids all speak well and no one is fat. the rest of the school is a sliding scale down to the level that you are describing. it stuns me that there is anyone with english as a first language who speaks like this…

        Reply
      • -Nate

        “Just go to any McDonald’s and listen to the English-language conversation, if there is any, behind the counter. You’ll hear speech impediments, a lot of mumbling, a very small total vocabulary.’

        In the late 1970’s a lot of Blue Collar Adults began working at McDonald’s due to lack of other basic jobs, I don’t eat there but havn’t noticed this much in the last year or three .

        As some here know, I live on the edge of America’s 3rd world and I speak passable Spanish .

        Sometimes I will engage Spanish speakers asking them how they expect to prosper and get ahead of they don’t assimilate, this includes making a serious effort to learn the basic language of the land they’re living in .

        I’m not rude, rather I ask them don’t they want their children to go far ? .

        I try to do this so they’ll think, not just angrily talking down to them .

        -Nate who’s Scots – Irish and doesn’t speak Gaelic nor with a burr

        Reply
  8. Jorge Monteiro

    Loved the article and Bark’s fellings too.
    I wish I have the money to afford some karting experience for a (future) second son.
    BMX will be garanteed :)))

    Reply
  9. hank chinaski

    That sounds like a healthy competitive spirit. Billy Martin, McEnroe, and now Williams….those are tantrums.
    For a tantrum/videogame crossover, there was a recent e-sport shooting, and they are known to SWAT each other.

    Before it was mostly supplanted by Fortnite, I would occasionally squad with the kids in PUBG. Their tactical teamwork was nothing to sneeze at, and of course their raw reflexes and hand/eye put mine to shame.

    Reply
  10. safe as milk

    good on you jack and bark for getting out of the house and providing real activities for your kids. i would suggest that there may be a way for you to communicate to your kids that it’s good to have real competition. winning shouldn’t be easy. john needs to learn that having kevin challenge him will help him grow. i’m sure with a little maturity, they will understand that they can have a fierce rivalry on court and still be best friends the rest of the time.

    Reply
  11. Mike B

    There’s a reminder in here about how important it is to have intelligent real world conversations on a regular basis to keep critical thinking skills sharp. Unfortunately my daily grind puts me face to face with at best, high school grads from 10-15 years ago (often today’s management in retail world). Without any reason to engage in nuanced long form discussion from time to time (why talk face to face when you can just reply quickly with an emoji?) I can see how the decline of language and speaking skills is possible.

    Reply

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