New Yorkers enjoy a reputation for not being the friendliest or the most helpful people, but my experience while recently training for the car-pushing record was just the opposite. In fact, I was amazed at how kind my fellow New Yorkers could be!
The record for car-pushing by an individual is 12 miles. The car has to weigh a minimum of 1609 pounds. The engine cannot be running and a person must sit in the driver’s seat to steer. I was practicing with a friend’s Ford Festiva (which weighs about 1850 pounds) around a ½ mile loop along streets of Howard Beach, Queens. Guinness requires you to push the car on a loop to eliminate any possibility (and advantages) of a downhill course. On a loop, whatever respite you get from the downhills, you eventually pay for on the corresponding uphills! It’s called the law of car-pusher’s karma!
I chose the Howard Beach course because it was relatively flat, and somewhat quiet. I spent several happy afternoons huffing and puffing, while car-pushing along my Howard Beach neighborhood loop. The neighbors clearly got a kick out of it. Once they discovered what I was doing, they contributed their own funny comments. One neighbor noticed that the car had Ontario license plates. “Hey, don’t tell me you pushed that thing all the way from Canada!” And another comedian yelled out, “You’re a genius. What a great way to save on the cost of gas!”
Invariably, during the practices, several passing cars would slow down to offer help. “Do you need a jump or a tow?” I would smile and wave them off. “No thanks, I’m just exercising,” to which they would respond, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Since I was having a hard enough time breathing without having to carry on a conversation, my driver-friend Vinaya would also assume the task of convincing the considerate person that I was actually serious.
One driver in particular truly impressed me with his kindness and concern. He drove up alongside me after I had been pushing for a couple of hours, honked and yelled out with an offer of help. Although the honking jarred my nerves, I smiled and said, “No, thanks. I’m actually training for a Guinness record.” He laughed and said, “Now, that’s creative. Come on, stop pushing the car and let me help.” I was exhausted so I just blurted out, “No, really! I’m fine. I actually enjoy doing this” and I pushed the car past him. But I guess he just couldn’t believe it! He drove up alongside and honked once more, saying, “Look, it’s okay. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. People break down all the time. I should know. I’m a mechanic. Please, let me help you!”
As much as I liked the atmosphere in Howard Beach for practicing, I had to find a better location for the record. I thought it would be perfect to use a car-racing track and, gratefully, Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, said they would be happy to have me train and attempt the record at their track.
Racing season hadn’t started yet, so Vinaya and I had the place to ourselves. The race track was smooth and flat and I enjoyed the view of the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. I remember one experience which could just never have happened in the city. It was at the end of a long, hard practice and I was struggling. I spotted a large bird circling overhead. At home, all I ever see are pigeons, sparrows and an occasional dove. I yelled out to Vinaya, “Hey, check out that bird. What is it, a hawk?” Vinaya responded, “No, you must look pretty bad. That’s no hawk, it’s a vulture!”
By the first week of March, after months of training, I felt ready to attempt the record. We set a date with Raceway Park and made the usual preparations including alerting the media. I felt confident, but when I arrived at the track that morning, I was in for a huge surprise. The beautiful, smooth track that I had practiced on was completely covered with a horrible black substance. The racing season had just begun and the track was covered anew with this tar-like adhesive to give the cars better traction. Oh, God! Pushing the car felt like I was moving through molasses. The pavement was so sticky that with each step I could feel the road trying to suction my running shoes right off my feet!
Fortunately, the track had a shoulder which could be used, but it was rough and much more uneven than the track, making the pushing more difficult. But, because I had a good meditation, I was in a really good space and felt undeterred. In fact, this added challenge now made the event even more exciting.
Several reporters came by and were amazed by how quiet and peaceful the track was. One photographer said that it was the best experience he’d ever had at the raceway, explaining that whenever he covered a story there, he was overwhelmed by the crowds of people, the noise of roaring engines, and smoke mixed with bits of rubber flying all over the place.
I have to say, it was also a very positive and peaceful experience for me. While pushing the car, the reporters interviewed me. Normally, while attempting a record, the required concentration demands silence. Talking is an unhelpful distraction. But here, something unusual happened. Every time a reporter stopped by to interview me, and I began talking about my meditation practice and Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence, I got a renewed surge of energy that lasted for miles. The interviews were so inspiring that they helped me overcome my growing fatigue. Some of the reporters were real seekers and we got into some long, deep discussions. This happened 3 or 4 times and, before I knew it, I had broken the record and gone on to push the car a total of 17 miles!
The Raceway Park people were thrilled and they invited me back anytime to try to re-break the record. I might just take them up on their offer. Car pushing is such an excellent workout and I think, with training, there is potential to go further. I know that because, after the event was over, Homagni and Arpan, the guys who steered the car, told me that they looked up into the clear winter sky and there was not a single vulture in sight!