Fair warning

Today, for your reading pleasure, a bumper sticker (“BS”) inspired story.

Bumper stickers

The astute reader will note in this picture the two stickers addressing the less-than-wisdom of getting too close behind an in-training, stick-shift driver, with special reference to topographic gradients. As these stickers were seen not but 75 yards from the site of a memorable high school incident of mine, a blog post was instantly hatched, which I shall herewith inflict upon you, should you be bored enough to keep reading.

‘Twas sophomore year it was, springtime, baseball season, on a non-game (hence, practice) day. We had two buildings at our high school, separated by a creek/ravine. We practiced on the main field, but the equipment (bats, ball, helmets etc) was all kept in the other building, a solid 15-20 minute round trip by foot. With practice about to start, the coach realizes he’s forgotten the bat bag. In an instant of temporary insanity, he asks for volunteers to go get said bats. Using his car. Sixteen year old boys.

Medium to largish-size mistake in judgement.

Three of us volunteer and he tells us all to go. Coach’s car is a VW Beetle, pretty new, stick shift. I learned on a stick so I’m ready to do the driving if need be, but instead my friend Herb jumps right into the driver’s seat, so I get in the passenger side. And off we go, across the school parking lot. We get started OK, just enough to get beyond sight and sound of the coach, but I quickly notice that Herb’s less than smooth in engaging the clutch and shifting gears and I sort of nonchalantly ask him how much driving on a stick shift he’s done, wherein the reply comes back “zero”.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a summary of the physiography of northwest Ohio, Toledo area in particular. To cut to the chase, after the glaciers planed the area and then melted away 12,000 years ago or so, the whole area was the bottom of the predecessor to Lake Erie, extending to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for several thousand years. It’s flat as a table-top, except for some old beach ridges and moraines here and there. Just so happens though that the aforementioned creek cuts between the two school buildings, thereby creating the only elevation gradient for many miles in any direction. Nothing severe, but big enough to draw all the local sledders when it snows.

“Zero” I repeat to myself. While also considering the stoplight at the top of the hill, just in front of the other building. Conversation ensues:

Me: “Herb, if you haven’t driven a stick, why did you volunteer to drive?”
Herb: “I thought it would be fun, and a chance to learn”
Me: “What?”
Me: “OK Herb it would be wise if you note the color change of the light well ahead of time, and approach it so as to insure that you make it through on the green without stopping”
Herb: “Why?”
Me: “It will make things a lot easier”
Herb: “Howso”
Me: “No time to explain, just trust me. Make it through on the green without stopping”
Herb: “OK”

100 yards from the light and the light is green.

Me: “Herb, accelerate!; get through the light”
Herb: “OK”

Herb accelerates to well over the 25 mph speed limit but the light goes yellow when we’re about 40 yards short; he tries to accelerate even more but realizes it’s futile and dangerous, the light goes red, and he slams on the brakes without engaging the clutch, screeching to a dead stop with a stalled engine, right at the very steepest part of the top of the hill. Whereupon, this elicits hysterical laughing and tears from Herb, and the other two of us are having a hard time holding it together also.

Bouldin is thrust into the role of emergency driving instructor in what must necessarily be a very brief class. Class begins:
Me: “Herb, push the clutch pedal in with your left foot, keep your right foot on the brake pedal, and turn on the engine, all at the same time”
Herb, still hysterical: “What?”
I then repeat the instructions, and after a try or two he gets the VW started.
Me: “When it turns green, let the clutch out, take your foot off the break and quickly give it some gas, in first gear”
Herb, still hysterical: “WHAT?

Whereupon of course, when the light turns green, Herb lets the clutch out too fast and/or gives insufficient gas, and immediately stalls it again. This in turn is accompanied by even greater hysteria, to the point that he is now almost non-functional. And there is now a car or two behind us. Rolling backward a few feet while getting “this damn pedal thing” right is no longer an option.

This sequence is repeated several times, through three full light rotations. Finally I tell him in no uncertain terms, “Herb, let the clutch out and floor the gas pedal at the same time”. Which he does to perfection, leaving a patch of burning rubber, smoke and a screech clearly audible for a great distance, as we rocket through the intersection like a top end dragster, all with Herb not seeing particularly well due to the tears in his eyes and the other two of us pinned back in our seats.

We got the bats.
And I drove us back to the other building.

Scene of the crime:
Scene of crime

Have at it

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