Bleach on the Streets

Sedville will shine tonight, Sedville will shine.

When the sun goes down and the moon comes up,

Sedville will shine.”

The old high school fight song rang true as we rolled into Sedalia. The sun was down, the moon was up, and Sedalia was prepared to let its Brylcreem shine, and revel in its ducktails and its sideburns, its Bel Airs and Deuce Coupes, its ‘Vettes and Goats, its Challengers and Chargers and Mustangs. As we rolled into Sedalia under a full moon, we happened upon a smoky shroud that hung around the mother of all classic car rallies. The highway had an unnatural sheen, and the smoky smell alternated between engine exhaust and Clorox.

It was on Highway 65, along the edge of the Missouri State Fairgrounds, but this was no state fair. A giant car rally spilled onto the road in a nocturnal parade. Must’ve been a thousand hot rods on the highway, so we pulled into a parking lot to watch the procession. It was a massive chain of hood ornaments and hubcaps, hardtops and tops down around high-gloss candy colored quarterpanels, with enough chrome to sink a barge, enough leather to dress a battalion of masochists. The tail lights represented every character in the Morse code, the tailfins illuminated by headlamps shining through white smoke coming not from the tailpipes, but from the tires. The smell of bleach wafted up into my nostrils, as I joined the three-deep crowd lining the road.

At regular 30-yard intervals, uniformed highway patrol troopers kept onlookers on the curb. But with a laser focus that rivals a cat watching a bird, the troopers fixed their eyes on the cars’ front bumpers and their fat rear tires. Cops watched for drivers and their crews smuggling small containers of bleach to the path in front of the car, and when they thought the cops weren’t looking, they’d dump the bleach on the asphalt. Then the drivers would roll forward onto the slick bleach, and spin their tires in screeching burnouts.

In defense of the hot rodders, each burnout is a science experiment: the chemical reaction from blending rubber, asphalt and bleach at 8,000 RPMs makes a cloud as white as Santa’s beard. The cloud gives gifts, too, as it wafts into waiting lungs and eyes, depositing microscopic particles of blasphubber. The cops had to catch the perps in the act of pouring bleach on the street to make arrests or write tickets. I didn’t see any arrests, which is probably a good thing, since such action could touch off a riot.

It was a carnival atmosphere, with happy crowds watching hot rodders do what they do best: Parade like peacocks in souped-up penis extensions. 

Sedalia is the perfect place to stage a car rally. Every driver will agree that for a town of 20,000 people, this is the longest city in the history of western civilization. You can eat lunch on one end of town, and only hope to make it to the other side by dinner. Especially if there’s a road rally on the streets. –from A Road Trip Into America’s Hidden Heart

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