Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sticks II -Teen Paradise Lost

This was originally written as a Threadstart, the initial post for an in-game thread on the Davidson College Basketball message board.  That will help explain some of the references.  We were playing the University of NC at Wilmington.  The car is only a bit player in this story, but it was important in its own way.

In the Spring of 1964, my senior year in High School in Greenville SC, my Dad bought a new car.  He actually ordered it from the dealer, picking the options.  I really don’t think he had ever bought a new car before.  But what was amazing was that he bought what I wanted!  It was a Corvair Monza, 4 speed two door.  He actually popped for the high compression engine, the 110 HP version.  Considering that the family stable at the time consisted of a ’53 Chrysler and a ’56 Studebaker, I considered it a major step up.

My friends all wanted Chevy 409 Impalas and Pontiac GTO’s, but I of course heard a different drummer.  I had been allowed to drive a Porsche about a mile and a half a few years earlier, and I was a sports car guy.

The Corvair was not my car, of course, but I was allowed to drive it when it was available, and drive it I did.  I didn’t have to have an errand or a mission, I just drove, mostly in as curvy a place as I could find.  I learned my way around the shifter in about an hour, and it was speed-shift city from then on.  It was really a nice transmission for its time.

And She liked it too.  She and I were getting along pretty well, after a half year high school adversarial romance.  We had kind of finally decided we belonged together, and the summer was fun.  She liked to shift, so I would do the footwork and she would move us up the gears on command.  I let her actually drive once, until she refused to give it back.  Finally, She stopped at a light and I reached over and turned off the engine and pulled out the key.  She was not pleased.

In the Fall, I went off to Davidson and She was off to a small college in Alabama.  It never occurred to me that this might have some effect on our relationship.

We didn’t talk much, telephony being in its infancy in those times.  She was in a competition for “Class Favorite” and I sent her flowers, using the phone next to the furnace in the fratty-club basement and promising to mail a check to the florist the next day.  Times were different then.  She won, of course.

I got the bright idea of going to visit her unannounced. Even today, I consider this the single stupidest thing I have ever done, not counting momentary spur of the moment things. Using a combination of airline discount cards and hitchhiking I made it there without a problem, and She was actually glad to see me.  We had a nice weekend, but getting back entailed a whole lot more excitement than I was counting on, although it turned out OK in the end.

For Christmas, somehow a plan was developed, although I don’t completely remember how.  I stayed at Davidson, and She drove up to get me in the Corvair.  I have to point out that my parents really liked her, probably better than they liked me.  They thought She was a good influence on their socially awkward son.

It started really well.  She made it to campus, and I took over my rightful driver’s seat.  We went in to Charlotte for a nice dinner in an actual fancy restaurant.  I was on a roll, quite full of myself.  We drove back to campus, and I found a nice dark “parking spot”.

I have to point out that considering the times, and the two people involved, there was no possibility of any activity with potential medical or procreative consequences.  But I did expect, considering the evening’s events, a bit of serious smooching.  I mean, a lot of serious smooching.

Instead, She kind of huddled against the passenger door, and said quietly, but firmly, “I don’t love you anymore”.

Now, that’s a statement that doesn’t really allow for a lot of clever rebuttal and counter arguments.  There’s just not a whole lot you can say.  I certainly couldn’t think of anything to say, as most of my teenaged world crumbled around me.

Words failed me, but I did still know how to drive, and that seemed like the only thing left.  I backed out of my now irrelevant secluded refuge, and ran up through the gears.  We then proceeded to cover a wide swath of the countryside around the college.

First, second, third, fourth, and then hope for curves.  Stop sign ahead, third, second, first.  Pick a turn, right or left, kick it up again through the gears.  There was no conversation, just an air of mutual loss and the muffled drumbeat of the exhaust.

I didn’t offer to let her shift.

I’ve always had a pretty good compass in my head, and after what seemed like a very long time, or maybe it was a very short time, we were parked in front of the house where She was staying.  There was not a lot of conversation at the door.

I picked her up the next morning and we headed home.  I-85 is pretty much a top gear run, so I didn’t have the helpful distraction of shifting.  I could have used some distraction, as the conversation was pretty sparse.  We stopped for lunch in Gastonia, at a restaurant where I had eaten before with the high school football team. It didn’t seem as good an idea as it had when I was planning the weekend.  I still have an unfair grudge against Gastonia.

We got back to Greenville, but I can’t remember the logistics involved after that.  That next summer I made an unannounced visit to the summer camp where She was working.  She was neither amused nor interested.  I haven’t seen her since, in the intervening 50 years.

The Corvair didn’t seem to care about all the teenage drama.  I drove it in the summers, and actually was able to have it at Davidson for my senior year.  It went to Canada for Expo ’67 and slid into a ditch on the Blue Ridge Parkway (earning me a distinctive and rare Federal traffic ticket).  I crunched the left side headlights in the snow coming back from a basketball game in Greensboro, and backed the left taillights into a very strong bumper on the Davidson campus.  It was pretty ragged by early 1969, when it served as the trade-in for the Porsche.

And as for She, I got over it relatively quickly.  After all, there are a lot of streetcars in the sea.  As I got older, those old memories were eclipsed by much worse new memories which involved multiple lawyers and venues.  I didn’t think about She much.  But with the advent of the ‘net, searching for old friends got to be a lot easier and more  anonymous.  Killing time one night, I did manage to track She down a bit, and found about what I expected, a nice stable life with a husband and kids.  I’m not bitter at all, and wish She well.  I’ve never tried to make any kind of contact, but there is one thing about She’s current life that I noticed.

Wait for it…

Here it comes…

She lives in Wilmington.

Go Cats!

Sticks I

Pink Hair pops her head into my office.

“Can you drive a stick?”

First of all, I’m a bit offended.  Can’t she see the piece of an old race car mounted on the wall?

But there must be a story here, so I listen.  Her friend Matthew is stuck downtown.  In his family shuffle of automobiles he wound up with a stick shift econo-box in need of attention.  He had picked it up at a repair shop and tried to drive it home.  However, he is inexperienced with a clutch, and driving through historic Savannah with its squares, traffic  lights and meandering tourists is not a suitable training exercise.  He has wisely parked it in a hotel loading zone.  He needs help.

We trundle downtown and I get out of the car to help him out.  Then it turns out that with all his false starts and sitting with the flashers on to avoid a parking ticket, the battery is stone dead.  An hour of various alarums and excursions ensues, but finally I’m in the left seat and the engine is running.  It dawns on me that I haven’t driven a manual transmission for many years, and this one has a nearly dead battery.  Choking it down would mean a massive loss of parental face.

I get it rolling with way too much throttle, and we’re off.

After a few shifts, it’s starting to come back.  Hey, I remember how to do this!  Soon we’re stopped at a light, waiting to cross Oglethorpe Boulevard.  I’m in first, holding down the clutch.


Suddenly it’s 1970, and I’m in Jacksonville Beach on my way home from the ship.  I’m first in line for the traffic light, just the way I like it.  Just across the intersection is an overpass, a short concrete tunnel.  The car is a 1965 Porsche 356SC, with  milled heads and a custom camshaft.  But the best part is a magnificent bit of metallic stagecraft hanging out the rear end.  It appears to a casual observer be a muffler, but it’s actually a megaphone to dump all the noise to starboard.  If I work this right, and I usually do, I can hit 6,000 RPM  in first gear by the middle of the overpass.  The resulting reverbatory cacophony will be exquisite, as usual.

But then I’m back in 2011, and it would be ungentlemanly to blow up Matthew’s little Ford.  I ease on down Price Street.  This thing doesn’t have a tach, just a wildly conservative light that tells you to upshift just as things are starting to feel good.  But the past comes back.

It’s 1974, and I’m driving a Lotus Esprit as the pace car for an SCCA sports car race.  My boss at the dealership thinks this is a good way to show off the car.  The rule of thumb to start a race in this class is “on the cam” in second gear, and I’m there, watching all those wienie cars in my rear mirror.   It dawns on me that I could keep my foot in it, hit third, and most likely lead the first few laps.  But I don’t think that would be appreciated, and I pull into pit lane like I’m supposed to.  By the way, I also took my mother to K-Mart in this car.  She thought it was kind of silly.

We’re cruising South, out of downtown, and things are opening up a bit.  About Gwinnet street, I have another flashback.  I’m in an Alfa Romeo Spider, (red of course) with the top down.  In another “show the flag” deal, I’m driving in a rally.  This is not a race, but a geekish navigation exercise, with the goal being to match a predetermined average speed.  But we have missed a turn, and I’m trying to catch up on these backwoods Georgia roads, to get back to the calculated speed.  I need to point out that the Alfa has a classy chrome shift lever mounted right on top of the transmission.  The box itself is smooth as a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and I’m flying.  Over the wind noise, my navigator says, “You know, I think you LIKE being behind!”  Guilty as charged.

I’m getting comfortable now, and it’s time to enhance Matthew’s education.  “You know, Matthew, you don’t really need a clutch if you know what you’re doing.”  I drop back again to the early 70’s, selling cars with hydraulic clutches notorious for blowing seals and ceasing to function as planned.  We were used to it.  When a customer called in to complain of a lost clutch, we’d take a shop car to them, trade keys, and drive their car back.  Sometimes we’d beat them to the shop.  It’s a simple drill.  If you have to stop, turn off the engine, put it in first, and hit the starter when the light turns green.  Then, with a little care and footwork, you can run through the gears with your left foot on the floor.

With the confidence of five minutes back in the shifting business, I announce a demonstration.  Matthew turns a bit green, but I make it through the gears clutchless.  He turns a deeper shade when I demonstrate the old heel and toe trick by downshifting, blipping the throttle and braking all at the same time.  I confess, by now I’m showing off.

We turn left onto Derenne Avenue, and we’re in four lane traffic .  I’m transported back to the early 80’s driving conservatively down I-95 with my elder daughter, who was herself a beginning driver at the time.  We are in a 1978 Saab WagonBack, a nice family conveyance.  I’m in the left lane at a gentlemanly pace, easing past a semi.  Suddenly I spot his turn signal in my peripheral vision, and I realize three things:

  1. I’m under his mirrors, I’m a little guy, and I don’t think he sees me.
  2. My EPA approved horn is too weak to get his attention.
  3. There is a lot less truck ahead of me than trailer behind me.

I quickly grab a handful of fourth gear out of fifth and a boot full of gas pedal.  The old girl picks up her skirts and moves smartly forward.  My daughter’s big brown eyes get a little bigger.  “I didn’t know this car would do that!”  “Well”, I replied, “Usually it doesn’t need to.”

In 2011, we’ve turned left onto Matthew’s quiet street.  But I’m thinking Saabs again, this time my 1982 silver four door sedan.  With a turbocharger.  A turbocharger with an attitude.  When you get it into the boost, it whistles, shakes and starts dropping miscellaneous parts onto the road, but it sure is fun.  I’m almost to Matthew’s driveway in 2011, but in my mind I’m at the intersection of US 301 and some anonymous road in South Georgia, running my traps.  I’m at the stop sign, with no cars in sight in all four directions.   It’s time.  I hit first through fourth at full throttle, turbo wailing and enjoying itself.  I’m well into triple digits when  a modicum of discretion requires a slight lifting of the right foot and a shift to fifth.

Turning into Matthew’s driveway, I realize that for the last 8 years I’ve been driving a four wheeled living room that Pink Hair calls “The Cloud”.  It’s no slouch, and even has a shift-friendly transmission, but it’s not quite the same.

So I’m old.  But I CAN drive a stick!




A Tale of a Toenail


A while back I was watching TV in my recliner and looked down at my bare feet.  I noticed that the nail on my left big toe had grown to an excessive length.  I got to wondering what would happen if I just let it grow.  (I have always been attracted to scientific enquiry that involves doing nothing, such as leaving leftovers in the fridge for a very long time or not mowing the grass for months.)

Toenail growth is not a rapid process, and I didn’t notice much happening for a few weeks.  Since I don’t wear socks I didn’t have to worry about snags.  I generally put on my shoes while standing, sticking my toes in and then stomping on the heel to convince the rear of the shoe to cooperate.  At my age, any strategy that reduces bending over is preferred.

Eventually, however, I began to detect some serious interference in the left shoe.  Luckily, I remembered an old pair of shoes where the stitching had come undone near the toes, so I shifted to that pair.  I considered just switching the left and wearing a newer more attractive right shoe, but I thought that might direct too much attention to my little experiment.

The toenail seemed to like the fresh air environment and got stronger and tougher as it grew.  Eventually it was, pardon the expression, “hard as nails”.  I experimented on it a bit, trying to trim it up with ordinary toenail clippers, but it was beyond ordinary means of control.

I thought it might come in handy in the yard, but with my bad knees I couldn’t get my leg swinging fast enough to cut anything.  I began to consider the possibility of ending the experiment.

Then one night I stabbed myself in the right ankle rolling over in my sleep.  Another morning I woke up and found a small slit cut in the sheet.  I had to wait until The Boss went to work to remake the bed so that the damage was on her side, hoping to avoid suspicion.  I knew I had to take action.

Ordinary clippers were hopelessly outclassed, so I looked through my tools.  Most of them were sized for puny little electronics jobs, but I did find my big pair of lineman’s pliers.  It could cut OK, but the jaws were so big it was hard to avoid my younger toes.

Finally I put a grinding wheel in my drill and clamped it to a workbench.  I could lean back in my chair with my leg outstretched and work the nail down.  I wound up using a few Band-Aids on the fleshy parts after some slips, but eventually I was back to a normal dull and boring set of feet.

And that’s a true story.  (Some exceptions may apply after the first two sentences.)



After all my effort I was somewhat proud of myself.  I told Pink Hair, “I actually created a blog and did a post!”

She replied, “Do you know how many people there are with blogs with only one post?”

So I came back and did this one, probably moving way up the standings with 2 posts.


Over the weekend I installed Word Press, thinking about doing some blogging.  I went through all the installation, but kept getting a system error when I tried to run it.  I searched for a solution, but my efforts not only did not fix the problem but I managed to break parts of my web site.  This was a bit higher priority so I shifted to work on that.  Eventually I got the web site back to normal and in the process found the glitch with Word Press so everything was back to working.  It was all very educational.