Cynthia van Elk

In Pennsylvania, the derby is sacred
7 May 2021
54 files
With their right hands on their hearts, from the top of their lungs, the audience sings the American national anthem. The last notes have not yet died down, or the outdoor arena fills with the deafening roar of rumbling engines. Mud splashes in all directions. Dark clouds and exhaust fumes fill the air. Cars ram into each other. People boo, some stand up, cheering, hot dog in hand. The ecstasy is complete when cars roll over, engines go up in flames, and firefighters rush in. ~Welcome to the demolition derby in the American state of Pennsylvania. The state where the American industrial revolution began and where steel was forged for the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyscrapers in New York. And the state where one Amazon distribution center after another now rises along the highway. Yet Pennsylvania remains palpably the cradle of industrial America.~In this state, these kinds of demolition events are beloved. Since the 1960s, they have been the main attraction and finale of American summer festivals. On average, about two thousand of these events are organized throughout the country. You wouldn't know it at first sight, but the cars and the driving style are subject to strict rules. For example, all windows must be removed from the cars, gasoline tanks are replaced with jerry cans, and doors and flaps are lashed down with chains. In the hood there is an 11 by 15 inch hole into which the hose of a fire extinguisher fits. Colliding with other cars is mandatory, but intentionally crashing into the driver's door results in disqualification. ~During the day, race participants work in coal mines, are truck drivers, garbage collectors, car mechanics or cashiers at the gas station. At night and on weekends, they tinker with the cars. Even if their wages don't exceed two thousand dollars a month, hundreds of dollars are laid down without hesitation for a car from the junkyard. And that' s not all there is to it. Because making a car roadworthy can cost thousands of dollars. Behind the scenes, where the cars wait in the arena out of sight of the spotlights, you would imagine yourself in a junkyard. Young mothers with babies on their arms lug around strollers, toddlers hop between the dented cars, boys crawl daydreaming behind the wheel. When they are twelve they are allowed to drive themselves, in the junior class. They barbecue on the tailgate of a pickup, fill the radiators, do some quick welding and apply the last lick of paint to the car. There is no lack of national pride: American flags are flying everywhere, interspersed with the controversial Confederate flag. ~In recent years, the car cemetery has also been decorated with Trump flags with the text: 'no more bullshit'. The demolition derby is a cycle of dying and resurrection. Like gladiators, the cars lose their lives in the arena. But if they are still somewhat viable, they are patched up. For another derby.
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45 files
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17 Jan 2018
26 files
Culinary Sicily
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56 files
A culinary trip to the south of Italy. Cynthoa van Elk takes us on a food & drink tour of Sicily
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2 Mar 2017
50 files
Cheese in America is experiencing a renaissance. The farm-to-table food movement has sparked a surge in artisan cheese craftsmanship. Stefanie Angstadt is a young cheese maker out of Oley, Pennsylvania. Her operation houses in an old milk house on a property adjacent to a beautiful covered bridge. Every day starts with getting the milk cans loaded in her car and driving up to a farm up the road, where she gets milk from organic grass fed cows. The rest of the day she makes cheese.
Voting for Trump
30 Dec 2016
12 files
People of all sorts and walks of life are rooting for Donald Trump. See this cross section of Trump voters in Pennsylvania.
American Demolition Derby
24 Jun 2015
39 files
A typical demolition derby event consists of five or more drivers competing by deliberately ramming their vehicles into one another. The last driver whose vehicle is still operational is awarded the victory.
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