“Money doesn’t bring happiness, but it helps”

Mike Stafford

All rights reserved by the author

 

 

The crowd at Mojave Airport in California was enormous. It was the morning of June 21,2004. The first flight of the first ever private-ventured craft to ever attempt to leave the atmosphere was about to take place. Pippin was about to witness a team of engineers actually beat NASA. Then it happened: the countdown, the take-off, the roughly half hour climb of the SpaceShipOne on the underbelly of the twin-jet engined White Knight carrier jet, and then the release of the SpaceShipOne manned rocket ship from the White Knight. The two ships were barely visible to the crowd at 15 kilometers, even with the use of powerful binoculars and telescopes. It was brief, difficult to see, yet still amazing when after about 10 seconds of floating, the SpaceShipOne began its 80 second bum, of which only about 10 seconds were seen by Earthlings. Then the crowd patiently waited for the return of the two separated crafts.

This event reminded Pippin of his foolish childhood dreams. Pippin thought space travel was pretty cool, but never really pursued his interest. He tried to always think realistically. An astronaut was definitely a career he dreamed about as a kid, just like he wanted to be in the military too. In both careers Pippin would be able to get in great shape, and proudly represent his country. Unfortunately for Pippin, his genes got the best of him, and he did not quite have the lungs for either of the careers. Not to say the teen was "out-of-shape," in fact, he was far from it. Even at age 17 he could have passed the test to begin training for either profession; of course, he had to use his Albuterol inhaler before doing any strenuous activities. Pippin suffered from exercise-induced asthma, a common condition among active young adults, where airway narrowing is triggered by vigorous physical activity. It also happens to be a disqualifying factor in the astronaut and military careers.

Coming back to reality from his daydream, Pippin watched, after about a half hour wait, the White Knight cruise back and land. Not too long after that, the SpaceShipOne descended back and touched the Earth once again after a quick skim of the lower thermosphere. There was a roar of applause as the pilots exited their crafts unharmed, with of course pride for their country. Pippin couldn't help but feel a bit jealous of the pilots as he walked back to the car with his mother, father, and younger brother by three years, dragging his feet with each step. He didn't realize the significance of the event then, but Pippin would later encounter someone in his travels who would explain to him a secret about space travel that would change his life forever.

 

A week after the event, people congregated on a local backstreet named Farwood Drive, behind an old run-down factory. Pippin blended into the crowd, mainly because he was not with his car, which he had parked around the other side of the factory. He knew exactly what was going to take place, what punishment he would receive for attending if caught, and to him, it was still worth the risk! Huge, lightweight rims wrapped by slick, wide rubber tires gripped the hot pavement on the summer day like a tongue to a metal pole in winter. The sun reflected off at all angles from the newly waxed bodies with brightly colored paint jobs. When the drivers revved their engines, the nitrous oxide made flames shoot out of the chrome sports muffler exhausts. They lined up side-by-side, the crowd was silent, and sweat beaded off the brow of the two young men harnessed into their racing seats. A lot of money ridded on these illegal street races, and even more pride was up for grabs among the people who raced. VREEAAHHH-ksss­ WREEAAHH two cars engines' screamed, hissed when slammed into the next gear, and screamed some more down the quarter mile track. For 10 seconds all eyes were on the two cars. Some of the spectators were a little more nervous than others, friends and gamblers alike. In an instant it was all over. The winning driver exited his car to cheers, congratulations, a wad of cash, and respect from the other racers, and pride in himself and his car. Pippin lived off this stuff.

Pippin was jealous of all the racers, even the losers. He had the need for speed, but no way to fulfill his craving, at least not in his 1998 Hyundai Accent. However, Pippin was still thankful that his mother and father worked hard and bought him this car for his 17th Birthday. Pippin's mom was no fool; in fact, she had a few reasons for buying Pippin such an awful car. Mom worried constantly about her precious Pippin, so a car that had airbags, a top speed of about 90 miles per hour (and started shaking violently at 70 mph), and most importantly, was cheap, was perfect. Pippin hated it with a passion. He was thankful; it was definitely better than nothing, but not by much. The body had dents, the paint job had scratches, the seat had a cigarette burn, the windshield had a crack, the taillights were both cracked, and each of the four tires were made by different companies. He made the best out of it, with the little money he had, by giving it some "snap 'n shine," which is exactly what it sounds like: chrome painted plastic car accessories that snapped onto one's car. He made a point to park quite a distance from the illegal street races. If the racers knew he drove such a tiny, slow, piece-of-crap... he didn't want to think about it.

The racers were all about Pippin's age, most being older by a bit. All however were blessed with very rich, generous parents. Pippin wasn't jealous of their parents: he was jealous of their wealth. He wondered 'fhy they never shared their money with others, but rather spent it on themselves. As much as he was jealous, he loved his parents with all his heart and wouldn't give them up for any amount of money. Neither of his parents had gone to college, so they didn't have the highest paying-jobs, but had steady jobs, and could provide for the family enough to live comfortably.

Pippin had a job as well. He worked at the local garage and was paid minimum wage ($5. 15/hour) for his hard work. Pippin's official title was "garage assistant" since he had no proper training, but he was, realistically, more like "garage bitch." Pippin worked weekends and a few weekday nights, so he could keep up his grades and stay on high honor roll. Since it was summer break, Pippin was working as much as he could, which was about 30 to 40 hours a week. His boss happened to be a cheapskate, and kind of a jerk for making him work on holidays without extra pay. Pippin had worked there for over a year and not received a raise, so when he asked for one from Mr. Spindel, he wasn't surprised that it was only a 15 cent raise. Pippin only put up with this to be near the cars. All the cars from the Farwood Dr. Street Races came to the garage pretty often for the hot new parts to make their rides even faster. The only thing Pippin ever got to do involving the cars was fill the windshield washer fluid, change the oil, and clean up the messes the mechanics left in, on, and around the cars.

So why did the young men, with all this money from their parents, go to this little old garage: Pippin's boss sold and installed illegal nitrous oxide boosters. There was nowhere else in Rosetown, California to get the parts, and Mr. Spindel knew it, and his high prices showed that he knew it. That didn't bother the rich kids. They could get almost any amount of money they wanted from their parents, just by asking. As jealous Pippin was of this privilege, he could never do anything to harm the cars. They were just too good looking, and he didn't have the heart.

The second and final street race on the humid afternoon of June 28 was about to start. Pippin awoke from his daydream about work by the revving of two new engines, signaling that it was all about to start again. Just then, flashing red and blue lights and the loud siren of a California police car issued a state of chaos among the racers and spectators. This was bad. Everyone made a break for their respective cars. Above all the ruckus, Pippin still managed to hear some beeps of keyless entry, the inflating of airbag suspension and raising of hydraulic suspension. Still making his way to his car, which was about a quarter mile from where he was standing, he heard engines starting, lots of squealing tires as the mass of cars took off, and engines screaming as they drove off into the distance. Pippin was almost home free as he rounded the comer of the once-factory, on the verge of an asthma attack He spotted his car, and he had never been so happy to see the pathetic excuse for a car. Pippin fumbled around his back left belt loop where his keys were attached with a carabineer. He didn't stop from his all-out sprint to do this, and had his key in his hand as he reached the driver's side door. Wheezing for precious oxygen and sweating uncontrollably, he unlocked the car. He felt relieved. It took Pippin just under 60 seconds to run the quarter mile back to his car, which in track terms isn't a great time, but decent for not using his inhaler, wearing casual clothing, and not stretching before-hand. Pippin took a few seconds to sit and recover himself, feeling a little light-headed from the dash to his bad excuse for a vehicle. His feeling of freedom was short-lived. Through the windshield, he saw out of nowhere a cop pull up from the other side of the building. Pippin's guts felt like they all dropped onto the pavement. He was royally screwed, and his mom was going to kill him.

The cop already had her lights on, but turned on the siren for just a quick BWOOP­ BWOOP to tell Pippin to stay right where he was. This was his first time being pulled over (even though he was already parked) and if he wasn't already sweating profusely, he would have started then. The cop was a woman so Pippin thought he might try to charm her out of a ticket, then got a good look at her hideousness, and threw that plan out the window. He would have to just be polite and try not to laugh at her I've-had-one-too-many-donuts figure. The cop car door swung open and with a gun pointed at Pippin, the cop shouted at him to get on the ground. Pippin was sitting in his seat like a lifeless blob from fatigue, and he raised his head to look at the officer in disbelief. He thought he knew the punishment for being a spectator of an illegal street race, but apparently it was a little more serious a crime than he expected. He obeyed the lady, moaning part in annoyance and part in physical pain as he got up out of the car, kneeled, and then laid on the ground with his hands over his head. Pippin was still wheezing a bit when the not-so-kind-or-attractive lady handcuffed him, read him his rights, and said he was going to take a nice trip to the police station.

Pippin's Irish luck paid off in the end. He was let off with a warning. All it took was a look at his car and the cops knew in no way could he have been racing that piece of junk. Could mom have bought him the Hyundai Accent predicting he wouldn't try to race it because it had sloth-like-speed? Pippin definitely owed his mom one. While at the station, they took down Pippin's personal information, called his parents to say he had been arrested, and got his fingerprints. Both of Pippin's parents came to the station, one to drive him back home, and the other to the drive back the Hyundai. If Pippin hadn't already got lectured about how it was "bad to street race" and "people get killed" enough by the police, then his parents definitely finished the job up. Pippin's car was "taken away" for a week except for driving to school and work; plus he was grounded for a week.

A week later, after Pippin got his car "returned," he went to a party on the night of July 5 with a bunch of friends. It had been a while since Pippin had gotten the chance to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana with his buddies. He didn't do it often, but it was always exciting when he did. Once sufficiently buzzed, Pippin chilled out for a bit on a lawn chair and looked to the stars. He almost fell asleep, he was so relaxed, but then he spotted something strange in the clear night sky. It was bright, and it was heading towards the field Pippin and his friends happened to be partying in. Pippin at first thought someone might have slipped something in his drink. The object was still getting closer. Pippin got up, and started to run towards the rest of the group, tripping along the way. All of his friends were passed out when he finally made his way back. He tried unsuccessfully to wake people up to make them move. The object started to turn red hot; it must have been entering the atmosphere. Pippin, not giving up yet, started dragging the unconscious bodies further away from the open field towards some more protected areas, like near cars (it seemed like a good idea to the drunken, high Pippin, who wasn't thinking about the glass). In a matter of minutes, Pippin was able to drag one person to "safety." By then, he had given up, because when he turned around a spacecraft similar to the one he saw at Mojave Airport three weeks ago was hurling towards him. Before Pippin had time to blink, and who was sure he was going to die, the spacecraft shot flames out of the bottom that suddenly but surely brought it to a complete stop. The flames were unexpected and temporarily made Pippin see spots for a while. When the canopy opened, a bipedal, vertebrate emerged. It had blue fur and was short, about half the size of an average male. Pippin was short himself, but rarely encountered people shorter than him, and even more rarely encountered extraterrestrial beings (as a matter of fact, this was the first time). After exchanging judgmental glares and Pippin rubbing his eyes for a while, making sure he wasn't just seeing things, the blue thing spoke, and in English.

"Hey. I'm Kouga. I'm from Jabiim. Do you live here?"

"What up. I'm Pippin. Yeah, I live here. Who wants to know?"

"Me. I need to tell an Earthling the secrets of space travel."

"Like hyperdrive or wormholes?"

"No, you aren't ready for that yet. We'll start with the basics. Fuel is important."

"Fuel? You serious? That sounds pretty unimportant to me."

"Well, you are human, you would think that. Lem' me ask you something. What happens when you use up all the oil on your planet with your silly gas-guzzling vehicles? Sure some have made "hybrids" where the engine is part gas, part electric, such as Toyota and Honda, but that is so far off."

"What's your suggestion?" asked Pippin with resentment.

"Nitrous oxide and synthetic rubber"

"NOS and Trojans? Good plan, Koogle." The sarcastic remark made Pippin giggle to himself.

"It's Kouga, and the solid mixture is laughing gas, and yes, it can power rockets. You just witnessed it."

"Why are you telling me this, furry blue space midget?" Once again Pippin giggled to himself.

"Because technology shouldn't be hoarded, except of course, the technology that you will kill the entire human race with. It should be shared with everyone. The SpaceShipOne designers wanted to keep all the information to themselves, just like the government keeps secret technologies to itself. Now, are you ready to learn how you can make a fortune by learning these secret technologies?"

"Yeah... sure man" Pippin became curious.

Kouga went on to explain to him how some simple rocket science, some new science, and made sure Pippin wrote everything down because he had the feeling that the Earthling wasn't acting like himself. When Pippin awoke the next morning, he thought he had just had the craziest dream ever, but reached in his pocket to find many pieces of paper with ideas written on them about space tourism. This shocked him, and he tried to hide it so his friends wouldn't find out. Pippin then remembered what Kouga had said. He told his friends about it and they laughed in his face. It was up to Pippin to prove to the world that space tourism was not only possible, but with inexpensive fuels, and rocket-landing gear among many other things, it was going to happen.

Pippin went on to make his own company to the disbelief of friends, but not family (they always supported Pippin in any career he chose). Kouga Space Tourism Co. made millions for Pippin. He shared this money with his family, buying them a nice house and beautiful cars. As for the Farwood Dr. illegal street races, Pippin built a sanctioned race track there, where drivers could take a weekend course and race legally for a very affordable price. Pippin was able to buy many beautiful cars for himself, and could drive them as fast as he wanted to on his Farwood Dr. Race Track. Through his adventures, Pippin learned the importance of sharing wealth and technology with others. Pippin never saw Kouga again, and he was never jealous of anyone ever again.

 

© Copyright 2005 by the author

All rights reserved