LEWISTON — Realizing a boyhood fantasy: It’s not as easy as it looks.

I’m at a secret Lewiston location with two Kora Shriners and a whole lot of tiny cars. There are 16 cars in the fleet and one paddy wagon for bad guys. My mission today is to drive one of the Kora Crazy Cop cars and I’m looking for a little advice on the matter.

“Just remember,” says Shriner Rob Madore. “Don’t slam on the brakes and don’t slam on the gas. That’s 200 pounds of car right there.”

No slamming; got it. There’s a pedal on the left, a pedal on the right and a steering wheel in the middle. How hard can it be to drive one of these things?

When I mention to Madore that riding one of the iconic cars is every boy’s dream, he doesn’t shrug it off.

“Yes,” he says. “It is.”

And with that, I squeeze myself into the tiny car, which feels a bit like a standard go-cart but with a sturdier frame. The Shriners own the patent on the molds for these things so there is truly no fleet like this one. These are the cars you see whipping down city streets during yearly parades, with oversize drivers delighting children with exotic figure-eights and other advanced maneuvers. The Crazy Cop cars are beloved. I really don’t want to drive this one into a tree.

Shriner Cliff Brown doesn’t roll his eyes at my wariness, but you can tell he wants to.

“It’s a blast,” he says. “You’re going to love it.”

Madore starts the engine with the yank of a cord, exactly like one would start a lawn mower. The engine doesn’t roar, but it does purr pretty good and the car vibrates around me. Madore climbs into his own Crazy Cop car, gives me the thumbs up, and tears off down the road. Happily, I follow.

Or would follow if I could get the car to go. Because while you don’t want to stomp on the gas pedal, you do have to apply a little pressure; a tender touch just won’t do it. Once I get that figured out, the car starts to move, slowly at first, then fast and then faster still, until I’m roaring along at what feels like a buck twenty in my head but which is probably more like 20 mph.

These Crazy Cop cars move along pretty good. The steering wheel is touchy so that just a nudge in either direction will cause wild movement. Wild movement typically translates to fun so I begin weaving from one side of the road to another, carefully, like a noob.

Madore, meanwhile, is making wild loops, maneuvering his car through those familiar figure-eights and changing direction at will. I clutch my tiny steering wheel with both hands and try to follow suit. I can’t quite do it, though, because in my head I see the headline, “Dolt reporter wrecks Crazy Cop car in explosive crash at secret location.”

Madore, assistant director of the Crazy Cop unit, will later assure me of the unlikeliness of this news story.

“I suppose it’s possible to roll it,” he says, “but it would take quite a lot to do it.”

With that in mind, I start driving more boldly. I’ve got the wind in my hair, the sun on my skin and maybe some bugs in my teeth. I can see why the Shriners are so happy to perform at the parades, but according to both Madore and Brown, out on this lonely stretch of road, I’m missing the best part.

“When we’re at the parade, we’re not really doing the precision driving,” Madore says. “We’re mostly riding along at the edge of the crowd, slapping hands with the kids and all that. That’s definitely the best part.”

“You have to be careful,” Brown tells me, “because the kids will jump right out in front of you. They get excited. I love that interaction with them.”

So I don’t have any kids to impress, but I do have 200 pounds of Crazy Cop power beneath my butt and that’s not bad. While everybody from the community has seen these cars, few people get to drive them. I have bragging rights and I have the fact that I didn’t run anybody over or smash some poor woman’s mailbox. That’s important to me because the cars serve an important function that transcends entertainment: They’re mainly used at functions aimed at raising money for the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, a system of 22 health care facilities.

The cars will be rolling Saturday for a parade that will help wrap up the Northeast Shrine Association Field Days celebration. It’s different driving in a parade, Brown says. Some streets are narrow, some are wide and you have the unpredictable nature of large crowds to consider. You have to have drivers who know what they’re doing.

In other words, hand over the keys, noob. Your Crazy Cop driving days are over.

It’s probably for the best.


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