I’ve been in my share of trouble.
I was 18, and one day these Mucky Mucks - as my father likes to say :) - were touring the Chicago Park District courses where I worked. They started at one, played a round of golf, then moved onto the next. Their last round was at the course I worked at: Robert A. Black.
Well as the group got ready for their last round, a guy came into the pro-shop and told my boss that he screwed up. He left his car at the first course, and hoped someone could pick it up and drive it to him. Here were the keys to his BMW.
My boss was busy hosting these VIP’s, so he smiled and handed me the keys. He trusted me. He also knew I would love driving this car.
I was driving a 15-year-old Oldsmobile Toronado, a Flying Bull. It had no horn. No air conditioning. No speedometer. Which is really fun on lonely highways when cop cars pull alongside. The real interesting bit was that it had no reverse. Yes. You couldn’t drive it backwards. I had to get out and push it. And I did. Often.
Anyways, more stories about the Flying Bull another time.
So I hitch a ride from an employee going home, and she drops me off at the first golf course. I locate the BMW. It’s awesome. I get in. Put the key in the ignition. And…
It’s a stick shift. I don’t know how to drive stick shift.
I mean, I know the concept. There was a manual transmission lawn maintenance car with a clutch and three gears I’d drive at the golf course, so I’m familiar with a clutch. But I’ve never driven a real car using a manual transmission.
I’m not one to give up. There’s also not an easy solution. My boss is busy with the important guests, and there’s no one at work who can drop everything and pick this car up.
So I try my best.
And it stalls. It stalls a lot. I’m having a really hard time getting the car to drive in first gear. What the hell!? I thought I understood a clutch, but it just keeps stalling.
Then, someone, seeing my constant stalling, taps on the window of the car, and helps with some advice. Really nice of him, but I’m still having trouble.
This gentleman offers to jump into the driver’s seat and show me. In my predicament, I thought maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea. I even had the door cracked open an inch. Then, common sense started trickling back into my 18-year-old brain.
One, this isn’t my car. Two, I now realize this man is homeless. The golf course I was at had a sheltered clock-tower area where homeless would often sleep. And not that I distrust a homeless man, but he might have a stronger incentive to take this car than most, and if he did drive away, how is anyone going to find him again?
But like magic, I get the car into first gear and I’m rolling. I yell thank you and goodbye out the window to my helpful new friend. Then I had it in second gear! And then I got onto Chicago’s Lake Shore drive, an 8 lane highway, where drivers treat the speed limit of 45 MPH as a minimum.
Don’t worry. It’s not fast driving that’s going to be a problem for my new BMW… it’s rush hour traffic. And so with the traffic, comes back my constant stalling. I’m sweating like crazy. My shirt is soaking wet. I can’t deal with the stop and go traffic and my stalling. So I get off at the first exit. Pull into a bus stop. I don’t even want to try and parallel park the car into a proper space. I run across the street to use a pay-phone.
I call my Dad.
I’m pretty sure he was settled in his favorite chair, relaxing at the end of the day. I heard a grunt as we ended the phone call. But 30 minutes later, here he was with a smile. We switched cars and headed back to Robert Black. That was it. BMW returned. And we didn’t tell anyone at my employment what happened that afternoon.
This is a thank you for all the fathers who keep finding themselves comfortably doing what they wanted, but drop everything to help their kids when they’re in trouble. Of course, we don’t say thank you enough, but we never forget these moments.
I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day this weekend. You deserve it.
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