Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Learning Experience

(Source)
So, do you have a driver's license?

Yes, I do. Would you like to see it?

No, that won't be necessary. When can you start? Any time? Great come in Monday at 7:30.

And thus went the interview for my first job, well, the first job that wasn't a paper route.

I had just finished my freshman year of college, where I had learned how to drink beer, in mass quantities, and just barely manage to not flunk out. If you were to say that I was an indifferent student, well, I'd not argue the point.

My Dad had indicated that a summer job would be just the thing and he knew a place that might take on a lad of limited skills. I was to be a handy man. Whatever needed doing around this map company owned by three brothers (as near as I can recall) I would be one of the guys to do it. I was, I guess you could say, the assistant handy man.

What this boiled down to is I would get all the crappy jobs the senior handy man would rather not do. Didn't bother me, after all, a fellow has to start somewhere.

So my first Monday I show up, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, wondering just what I'd be doing that day. Turns out that Monday was trash day, the task was to collect the trash from around the office and at the homes of the brothers. All of whom lived rather close to the company itself.

I rode shotgun as the main guy drove, it didn't take long as there wasn't a lot of trash to collect. It didn't even begin to fill the bed of a truck of similar size to that depicted above. (The actual make and model escape me after these many years. It had a stake bed, was of middling size and might have been a Chevy. Or a Ford. Maybe an International Harvester. It was a long, long time ago.)

Once the trash was collected we returned to the office and the head handy man asked me if I knew where the dump was. (That's what they called the place where you dumped your trash back in the day. Probably has some fancy name these days, but it was a dump back then.)

Why certainly I know where the dump is. Why?

That's when he handed me the keys to the truck and said, get thee to the dump where ye shall dump the refuse we have collected this day.

Uh, I don't know how to drive a stick.

Great consternation, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments occurred.

Didn't you say you had a driver's license?

Well, of course I do, show me on your license where it says you know how to drive a standard transmission.

Uh, I guess you're right. We asked the wrong question.

Indeed, you did.

After a quick briefing, "Push this pedal in, move the shift lever to the next gear, then let the pedal back out. Gently now."

So I figured, yeah, I've got this.

Um, no. Not really.

Have you ever driven two miles in first gear, attempting in vain to shift to a higher gear and having absolutely no idea what was wrong? Well, I have.

Now in those days, folks were a lot less uptight and more accommodating, so to speak. I mean, at gas stations they would not only fill the tank but check your oil as well. As I had to get gas anyway, I said to the nice fellow filling the tank, upon his query as to how my day was going...

Not very well thanks. This is the first time I've ever driven a stick and I have no clue what I'm doing.

At that the good fellow offered to give me a quick lesson. He'd drive, I'd watch what he did, then I'd drive while he commented and corrected my technique. Before you know it I was running through the gears like nobody's business and hardly grinding them at all. Well, a little at first, but I got better.

Off I went, down the road, up into fourth gear, the wind in my hair and a song in my heart.

Now some of you might know that Vermont is a hilly place. Not much flat to it. Well, where the gas station attendant had given me my lessons was one of the few flat places in Vermont, at least the part of Vermont where I lived.

When I got into town I had to go up a hill. And wouldn't you know it but some fool of another driver just had to stop near the top of the hill to make a left turn. And yes, he had to wait for traffic.

Can you see where this is going? The standard transmission rookie, on his first solo, did indeed manage to stall the truck and couldn't (for the life of him) get it going up the hill again. So clearing my six, I let her roll back and off to the shoulder so as not to block traffic.

As I did so, a member of the local constabulary inquired as to why I was parked there, with no apparent reason to do so, and would I mind moving along?

After my explanation of my newness behind the wheel of a standard transmissioned vehicle, the kind officer took pity on me and didst verily drove the truck up to the top of the hill, not twenty yards from where I had stalled. As he did so he gave me a few pointers as to how to handle hills and stopping thereupon while traveling against gravity.

Newly armed with this knowledge, I made it all the way to the dump, some ten miles further on, and back to the office. Even stopped on hills a couple of times just to practice my technique and for the fun that was in it.

By the time I returned I was merrily running through the gears, up hill and down, using lower gears to slow myself without wearing out the brakes and everything else that driving a standard entails. I was an old pro by then, very proud of myself I was.

Until I rolled into the yard and promptly stalled it right in front of the head handy man. Shaking his head, he told me that over time I'd get better at it, etc., etc. He was right, by the following Monday I collected the trash all by myself, got to the dump and back and didn't stall once.

And that my friends is how I learned to drive a standard.

Do I drive one now? Nope. I proved my manhood long ago, now I let the marvels of modern technology do all that clutchy, shifty stuff. I've learned to let the machine do the work. Can I still drive a standard? Of course.

Can The Missus Herself drive a standard? No, but that is a story for another time. During her first lesson, The WSO was along (we were practicing in a school parking lot) and said, mind you, this is a direct quote -

Can we stop letting Mommy drive now? My stomach hurts.

A bit traumatized was the young lass. As was I. As was I.

Do we recall this incident from time to time?

Yes, yes we do.

Does The Missus Herself deny the tale and the way we tell it?

Yes, yes she does.



58 comments:

  1. I hear a standard is the new car theft deterrent. I have a 94 Toyota pickup that is standard everything. Not even power steering. I love that little guy. 5 speed even! We have a low spot in town they call the river park. It's really just a stagnant pond full of duck butter. There is a hill you have to climb to get out of that malarial swamp, with a traffic light at the top. I usually pull just over the loop at the bottom of the hill, then zip up the hill when the light is green. Drives other folks nuts, but I'm getting old and starting to enjoy being inscrutable.... hehehehe..... I hate having to heel-toe to hold my self on a hill....

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    1. Ah yes, the old heel-toe technique. I remember it well.

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  2. This truck reminds me of my 63 Chevy with 3 on the tree. My grandfather gave me an old U-Haul truck my senior year of high school. The gears were forever getting jammed when shifting from 1st to 2nd. Someone showed me how to raise the hood (very heavy in those days especially when I was all of 5'2" and 112 lbs)and then reach inside to jiggle the gear thingies. I've driven standard vehicles ever since, and still have one now. When I had an 1980 Honda 4 speed, I let my little sister learn to drive in it. It was a small town where everybody knew everybody. The town folk would say to me, "I saw your sister driving your car. What's wrong with your car? She was lurching along and laughing." People started calling her Lurch.

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    1. Lurch, I love it. Describes exactly why the youngest had a belly ache from Mom's practice attempts!

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  3. The Manual Transmission- the millennial auto theft deterrent. Glad my family had two cars with sticks when it was time to learn. If you visit Europe, there's a good chance your rental will be a manual. Would I like to teach my daughter to drive one? Yes, but I haven't had a stick since my old VW in the late 80s. https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheManuals/

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    1. Professional car thieves still know how to drive a stick. It's the joyriders who are deterred. Still, if it works...

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    2. You're probably never going to deter a professional car thief. It's the drive by carjackers I'm worried about.

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    3. Which is why I try to avoid the urban homelands of the drive-by carjackers.

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  4. Isn't it all about the time and place? I was riding a horse on my own before my fourth birthday. Driving a tractor before my eighth birthday. My parents didn't find anything remarkable about it.

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    1. It is pretty much all about the time and place. I doubt I could drive a "coach and four" right off the bat, but hey, I did learn to ride a horse in my twenties, so there's hope for me yet.

      Suddenly I realize that I've never driven a tractor, and the thought depresses me somehow.

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    2. Tractor or airplane tug - not a lot of difference.

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    3. Never driven a tractor? C'mon Down! Got me a nice Mahindra (International Harvester with a red dot) you can tool around on.

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    4. Yet another reason to visit Rancho Juvat!

      And to WSF, yes, I can see the similarities. Never driven either. Poor me...

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  5. I learned with a VW. On a hill I used the hand brake to slowly release along with the clutch...piece of cake. Years later I had a jeep without a hand brake and hills were a pain, had do be much quicker and smoother on the release. My wife insisted on half clutching and burned the thing out. The old VW lost its syncromesh and downshifting from third to second required double clutch action, clutch in move to neutral, clutch out and rev the engine, then clutch and downshift. I actually learned to like that process.

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    1. Ah, the hand brake in the VW Bug, I had lots of fun with that, especially in the winter!

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  6. Fellow Vermonter here, though I live in Ohio now (mostly flat). I learned how to drive a stick during college. One of my roommates would let me borrow her car on occasion, but I had to learn stick first. My senior year in College at UVM, we lived in an apartment down on Church Street and in order to get to class (or pretty much anywhere else), we had to go up some a steep hill. No problem when I walked, which I usually did. But to drive her car, and have to stop several times on the way up the hill.....had to be able to navigate first gear and not stall out! Good times. Haven't driven a stick since my mid-twenties, but pretty sure I still could if I needed to do so....three decades later. However, I'd love to teach my kid (he knows only automatic) but I don't know anyone who even has a stick nowadays.

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    1. That is indeed a steep hill coming up out of downtown Burlington. Even more fun in the winter when it's snow covered and a bit slick. That hill is no less steep now than when you were attending Groovy Uvy.

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    2. Sarah - I don't know about the rest of Ohio but I've driven across the northern bit, very flat, should have no trouble with hills.

      ;)

      (Always nice to have another Vermonter around.)

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    3. Marcus - the one time I was in Burlington was shortly after the last glaciation period, I don't remember hills. Then again I was there for a wedding, many adult beverages were consumed.

      And where have you been?

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  7. I learned on a stick as my father had every intention that I be able to drive anything I might encounter. Whereupon my first car was a 6-speed stick (overdrive doncha know). This turned out to be a very useful skill when I arrived at my first duty assignment in New England and had my Army driving test in a jeep where the tester, knowing I was a relatively new lad to the Army and from Southern California at that, he had me stop the jeep on an ice and snow packed covered hill. Disappointed he was when I put it in 4WD, then in 1st, and carefully slipped the clutch so I could smoothly move up the hill sans slippage.

    Years later it turns out that motorcycles are manual transmission beasts. While you use a combination of hands and feet, the principle is the same so it was fairly easy to master driving said iron horsies. Decades later this specific skill and the ability to drive stick in general proved a boon to riding around on my "two cylinder hemi" known as a "Hog". Almost 1600cc's of fuel injected engine which has been tuned for power and speed, I usually only stall it one or two times at the beginning of each season. Number One Daughter cannot and will not drive stick while Number One Son is also a rider of things two wheeled, motorized, and fast. With the attendant implications thereof.

    Over the course of my life it has been surprising at how often having the ability to drive stick has come in handy. To this day that remains the case. And yes, I find people tended to be more forgiving and helpful when we were young, foolish, and inexperienced.

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  8. Taught my daughter to drive in my (then hers) 73 Karmann Ghia. I was so proud of her when she stalled it in an intersection with oncoming high speed traffic. She calmly got it restarted and moved us out of the way of the offending traffic. I knew at that point she was ready to go it alone.

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    1. Wow, the Karmann Ghia, a cool little car!

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  9. The hills of San Francisco are a real experience in a vehicle with a stick.

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    1. My mom thought so! Coming of driving age right after WWII, there weren't very many automatics around. Stories of her learning from my Dad were highly entertaining. She told me the first story when I was learning to drive and left the wheels straight when parking downhill. I remember laughing very hard, but still cock them in the appropriate direction to this day.

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    2. Sorry, should have read Granddad (or Her Father) instead of My Dad. (or Her Father)

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    3. Yes, San Francisco certainly has some hills.

      I've been on them, the movies, if anything, don't really give you an appreciation of their steepness!

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    4. Was there such a thing as an automatic transmission immediately after the war?

      Something I need to track down. It's those little historical details which fascinate me.

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  10. My first car was a 1964 Barracuda with that big 4-speed tall, curved hurst shifter with the big white knob, Was smooth as silk.

    First time my Dad tried to teach my Mother to drive in the early 50s--in an automatic 49 Ford--ended with her in tears and him washing his hands of the whole thing and handing her off to family friend and head of the univ driver tng school, lol

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    1. Each of the progeny had one lesson with me.

      In frustration they refused further lessons and let Mom teach them.

      What do you mean I can't yell at them? It's how I learned. (Nah, I just like to yell.)

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  11. My Dad was a rancher and all our vehicles were standard shift. A couple of the oldest trucks even had the starter pedal on the floor. I learned to drive a stick shift when I was 10 when my Dad would put me behind the wheel of one of the old pickups while he would get in the back with bales of hay and we would go through the pastures and hay the cattle. I was too small to be able to sit and use the pedals but I got pretty good at standing behind the wheel, pushing in on the clutch and shifting. (It was a three on the tree)

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    1. All the farm kids where I grew up learned to drive a tractor about the time they started walking.

      But then again, momma and papa expected them to pitch in with the chores after school and on weekends.

      I was happy walking on my paper route. ;)

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    2. The difference between a tractor and a standard shift car or truck is on a tractor, you don't run through the gears from low to high to get up to speed. On a tractor you just put it in the gear you need and go.

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    3. Good to know! (In case I ever need to drive a tractor.)

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  12. I learned to drive in an automatic-mobile, but had the foresight (i.e., lucky hunch) to learn stick in a '52 Chevy around the time high school ended. Came in handy in A School after boot camp, when I rented a dune buggy in Orlando to drive to Daytona Beach. I taught Older Daughter to drive a stick, too, but Younger Daughter refuses. Can't say as I blame her; there aren't a lot of them around, anymore.

    Sad, that.

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  13. I remember when one of the hydraulic clutch components failed on my manual tranny '73 Datsun pickup, no big, put it in neutral, start the engine and warm it up, then turn the engine off, put it in first, and step on the clutch pedal to override the switch, turn the key and the truck would move ahead in fits and starts, after that I could shift up or down by matching the speeds.
    This didn't work at all on hills, and not very well when reversing. Luckily it was only a few days until I could get the part.

    But after commuting twice a day on I-95 I got one of those newfangled automatic transmission thingies and never went back to a manual.

    My wife cut her teeth on VW bugs and had no trouble with a manual tranny.

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  14. Great story!

    Nothing better than rising to a challenge and acquiring a new skill. That's where all great stories come from!

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    1. Thanks and very true as to the challenge thing.

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  15. Very entertaining post and comments. I've had several manual transmission vehicles, but my favorite was my '49 Chevy pick-up. It started with a three on the tree, but later I had a five speed, floor mount put in. It would go anywhere.

    Paul L. Quandt

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  16. "Do we recall this incident from time to time?

    Yes, yes we do.

    Does The Missus Herself deny the tale and the way we tell it?

    Yes, yes she does."


    As my Pappy used to say "Never let the truth interfere with a good story!"

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  17. Driving a stick still seems normal to me. Here in the land of fruits and nuts, I drive my son's '95 Toyota extended cab truck - "blue lightning". 210,000+ miles and now the platform for the grandson to learn upon. He had a "red lightning", an '89. At one time, we had five various Toyota sticks parked in the driveway. I drove my '64 Porsche from May of '64 'til three years ago. The spouse has conveniently "forgotten" how to drive a stick. Her dowery was a '63 bug, which she drove from Live Oak FL to Victorville CA in 1964 (in order to meet me)

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    1. For a long time it was normal for me. From '72 to '91 it's all I drove.

      When The Missus Herself started driving it was just easier (in so many ways) to drive an automatic.

      Would I go back to a stick? Depends. I am getting lazy in my dotage.

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  18. So I was 12 or 13 when I learned how to drive standard on a Massey Ferguson tractor. Did ok with putting the bucket down, then pointed it down slope across the side of the hill (we were picking up rocks out of the field) and all of a sudden gravity took over...did I mention it was March in the backside of the cow pasture...mud was the texture of the ground. I was headed for the back fence, sliding sideways at an increasing rate of speed...there was lots of yelling of "step on the brake!!" going on...all of a sudden, one of the farmer's nephews jumped on the step of the tractor and stood on top of my foot...I was already standing on the brakes (all 115 pounds of me at that time). He cranked the steering wheel over and we stalled out 2 feet from the fence. I just stuck to the Ford 8N after that, hauling hay wagons.

    My first car was an automatic, (used), but my first new car was a Dodge Colt with a manual transmission. The salesman took me out to show me how to shift it. After about 5 minutes, it all came back. Now I'm driving a Chevy Impala from 2012 (new to me in 2013) that is an automatic. Everything I drove, the Honda, Subaru, Saturn, were all standards. When I gave my daughter in law my last car, I asked if she could drive a standard..."yup, no problem", she got the car and it is still running. Must be pushing 300,000 miles now.

    Loved a standard, especially in winter. Not so much stuck in a traffic jam though, spent 4 hours on the Mass Pike coming home from an uncle's funeral holding the clutch in one afternoon. Stupid traffic accident! My legs were killing by the time I could get out of that mess. Got off in Great Barrington and took Route 2 home that day.

    Don't teach anyone how to drive. I'm a wreck just sitting in the passenger seat! Didn't help when my son got behind the wheel, pushed in the clutch, started the car, popped the clutch out and blew out the linkage cable. Poor kid, didn't even go 4 feet. His dad and step-dad did the honors from there on out. After I got it fixed.

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    1. Hahaha!

      Great stories Suz, thanks for sharing them.

      (Mass Pike in heavy traffic, been there, done that. No fun at all!)

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  19. Grew up as a young lad on a ranch in the gold rush country of California in the early 60's. By age eight I was tooling around the ranch in our WWII surplus jeep. I knew how to use all the levers---the main shift, and the two on the transfer case. We also had a surplus trailer. This proved useful later when I was stationed in (the former) West Germany in the mid-70's. I was one of maybe three people in our company who could back a jeep-trailer combo in a straight line.

    I was with the 156th Maintenance Co. and my MOS was Small Arms Repair. Our section had one of these---

    http://www.nf6x.net/2005/07/1970-kaiser-jeep-m109a3-2-5-ton-6x6-shop-van-for-sale/

    My buddy and I would routinely hop in the van and travel to customer units to perform weapons maintenance on site. So, I
    got comfortable driving a deuce and a half in German traffic.

    My POV before and after my hitch was one of these, but in white, that I bought used from the original owner---

    http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/bmw-2002-road-test-review

    I returned home to my dad's place (he had re-married long ago) in the hills above Oakland, CA. It was about three months before anyone would ride with me in that 2002. Subsequently, I jazzed it up a bit with a Weber carb, headers, and 320i rims, tires, springs, and shocks. It was one snappy go-kart!

    During my college years (post military) I worked summer jobs on ranches. I got to be a fair hand running (and starting) a D8 Cat with a blade, similar to the one in the video below. 2-cylinder gas pony motor (which can be a PIA) is started up and then engaged to spin up the diesel. After the oil has a chance to circulate in the diesel, the throttle is opened to start it, and the pony engine is dis-engaged and shut down.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHedjnXdZXM

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    1. Wow, a little engine to start a big engine, learn something new every day.

      I think I will be spending some time watching those videos. Love the big tracked vehicles, even when they're not tanks!

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  20. I learned to drive a stick on a '74 Opel Manta. Gadzooks, but that was a fun car to drive!

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    1. Heh. You have the honor of being the first person at The Chant to use the word "gadzooks" in a sentence.

      I only wish I'd thought of it first.

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  21. But you gots to be careful with sticks. I was at a car crash once, in a Chevy 4X4 pickup. I slapped into neutral, and leapt out of the truck after stomping on the parking brake, so the engine would continue to run, and provide power to the radio and lightbar. When the truck passed me as I ran down into the ditch was when I realized that I had missed the parking brake. I had wondered why the red lights seemed to be keeping up
    with me.

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    1. Kinda reminds of the scene in Band of Brothers where Bull Randall is cut off from his unit, he's in a ditch taking cover and as he crawls down the ditch a burning Sherman is trundling along beside him looking as if it's about ready to fall on top of him.

      Replace the burning Sherman with your truck (it's the red lights which put me in mind of the Sherman) and I can picture the whole thing. More or less...

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    2. Well, except for the artillery fire, yeah, that works. t was actually a very shallow ditch, and the rough ground stopped the truck before it went very far, so when it was all over, I just drove out again. But it makes a good tale.

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  22. 54 comments and there is little old me.

    My girlfriend's mother taught me to drive a stick shift so I could help drive to Annapolis. Chaperones are nice. They add a subtle je ne sais quois to girlfriends.

    I had a summer jhopb at Selfridge Air Force Base where they made me get an official US Government license..... Oh, it was so sweet. The clerk/typist filling out the pointless but official form asked each of us our birthdate. She was doing it alphabetical because that's the way beaurocrats are and so I was the last employee to be interrogated about my birthdate. Turns out, I was born years earlier than my mother thought. That stupid thing worked just fine at every bar in State College, PA. for years.

    and jheah, I really did mean to spell jhopb that way.

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    1. Great story Cap'n.

      I had a sneaking suspicion about "jhopb."

      :D

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)