This Standard Should Be Automatic

“Pop the clutch!  Do it now!”  The exasperated screams were coming from the rear end of the 1966 Ford Falcon, where three teenage boys and a forty-something year-old man were now running as they pushed the white car down the road.  Inside the vehicle, the driver refused to follow their directions, encouraging them vocally to “push faster”.  Frustrated and confused, the hapless crew struggled to comply.

It was a hot afternoon in the early 1970s and the old worn-out car had refused to start for the young lady, the fiancee of the boys’ older brother, as she headed for work.  Dead battery!  She would be late for work if they took the time to recharge it, and there was no money for a new one.  Her father-in-law-to-be suggested that they could give her a push start.  It was, after all, a standard transmission.  They could easily get the car rolling fast enough to turn over the engine.  Perhaps, they should have communicated their expectations for the process a little more completely with the young lady before they headed down the road.  Perhaps.

The fellows were winded by the time there was any further response from the driver’s seat.  Finally, their shouts rose to such a pitch that she could no longer ignore them.  Dropping the transmission into first gear, the clutch was engaged and the motor caught and started immediately.  The car shot ahead of the exhausted group (Yes, the pun was bad…and intended)  One of the boys almost fell, as the resistance he had felt a moment ago was suddenly absent, but he caught himself before tumbling down completely onto the burning pavement.  The others slowed to a stop and stood, gasping for breath in the hot Texas sun.  As they stood in complete confusion, the young lady circled around to stop beside them.

The questions were hanging in the air instantaneously.  “What were you thinking?”  Why would you make us run that far pushing this pile of junk?”  “Seriously?  Two blocks?”  The poor girl didn’t know how to respond.  She could only stammer out her answer.  “But you never got over thirty miles per hour!”  A silence fell for a second or two, as the group turned that one over in their heads.  The  man asked the next question, “What are you talking about?”  Now, she was confused.  “But, I thought you had to push a car over thirty before it would start.”  Again, the group mulled it over.  Then, the same thought occurred to all of them at the same instant.  “That’s for an automatic transmission; not for a standard!”  Although, it is no longer true, some of the older cars from that era (in the fifties and before) with automatics could be push started, but only by using another vehicle and then at a high speed.  It was definitely not the case for the standard shift cars, which could start at any speed faster than a dead stop, provided the pushing power was enough to turn over the engine.  She had expected them to push her car over thirty miles per hour on foot!  Seriously!

It was many years ago.  We still laugh about it.  Just last week, we sat together and introduced the story to another generation of the family.  They didn’t really understand it.  It doesn’t matter.  The old folks laughed and laughed at the picture of the guys panting behind the jalopy as it whizzed silently up the street.

Of course, the fun memory aside, you realize that there is an important lesson to draw from this event.  On this day, it was someone else, not me making the error, but it has been a besetting problem for me all of my life.  I acquire a little knowledge about a subject and then determine that I must be an expert.  The young lady in the above incident was absolutely sure that she had her facts straight.  Transmission in first gear?  Check.  Clutch pushed to the floor?  Check.  Speed at thirty miles per hour?  Not yet.  Maybe a little encouragement will help…”Push faster!”  What a letdown, to find that one little part of the scenario was in error.  It is embarrassing to realize that the wrong application of a perfectly good piece of information leads to discomfort or pain for others.

Some time past, a fellow who was involved in an organization in which I also participated, did something I thought he understood we hadn’t approved.  My reaction was immediate.  Speaking with others in the group, I insisted we had to confront him.  Surely he did this intentionally, to demonstrate his own sense of purpose!  Notes flew back and forth, mostly from me, until a couple of days later a young man who was also part of the group suggested that a private conversation with the man might be helpful.  Within hours of their conversation, I received a visit from the man.  He was in tears as he apologized, realizing that he had offended, albeit entirely unintentionally.  The realization of my own error hit me immediately and it hit me hard.  Within moments, my tearful apology had also been made. 

I would like to be able to take back the multitude of times I have committed similar offenses.  I cannot.  I would like to have the angry, accusatory words back.  They are gone beyond recall.  Much like the young lady in her car, tempers have cooled; forgiveness has been granted.  The memory, however–that will last a lifetime.  It is, at least, a slight motivation to be sure of the facts ahead of time, and to be careful of the application of these facts.  Things are not always as they appear.

A little knowledge can, indeed, be a dangerous thing.  We need to either become smarter or learn to keep our mouths closed tightly.  Since I can’t seem to be able to achieve the latter, I’m working a little harder on the former.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

“It is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
(attributed to President Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, among others)

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
(Colossians 4:6 NASB)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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