Sunday, February 23, 2014

No. 102 – Eight Miles High

Performer: The Byrds
Songwriters: Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, David Crosby
Original Release: Single, Fifth Dimension
Year: 1966
Definitive Version: None.

Embarking on a big music-buying jag, at least back in the day, meant signing up with one of those record clubs. I’d seen the ads for years, of course, as they went from being record clubs to tape clubs to CD clubs.

They always seemed like scams to me. You’re going to give me 12 albums for a buck, but then I have to buy three albums a year for the next three at $12.98 per when a record typically costs $4.99? I was good enough at math to see that that might not work out for me in the end.

After I bought my six-CD player, I did the math again and decided that … it DID work out. OK, I’m in.

I was in one for about a year, paid off my contract and then cancelled. I rejoined after my discovery of the Seattle scene made my appetite for new music practically insatiable, but I quickly learned that I had to join both competing clubs. See, Columbia House carried Columbia titles exclusively, which meant Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc. The other one, whose name I’ve forgotten, carried Tool exclusively. Fine.

During my first foray into record-club, sorry, CD-club membership, I bought a greatest hits album by The Byrds. I think it was one of my 12-for-a buck picks where I struggled to even find a dozen. The first eight were automatics; then what? OK, I’ll try this Animal Logic album … and, oh yeah, The Byrds …

At about that time, I also joined the new-car-buyer’s club through my purchase of the Happy Honda, already documented. I really was excited the day I went to pick it up in February 1991. I also was nervous, because, well, I still didn’t know how to drive a stick.

My performance anxiety was well-deserved, because, sure enough, as I drove off in my new car, I stalled it … and then I couldn’t get it going again. I imagined everyone looking out at this doofus who can’t even drive his new car, and my flop sweat flowed out of me until, finally, I got the damn thing moving … and promptly stalled it again trying to turn onto Grand Blanc Road.

By the grace of God, I made it home, but obviously I couldn’t keep stalling my car at every intersection. I didn’t have a lot of intersections to drive through when going from home to work, and I made that drive when few people were on the road, so going to and from work was OK, but I had to do something about this. My shifting from first gear to second and up was fine, a bit jerky at first, but easy to smooth out. The real issue was starting from a standstill.

So I continued with my behind-the-wheel practice sessions that I began with Sue’s car (good ol’ No. 146). In the evening before I went into work, when few people were on the road in my neck of the woods, I drove around and practiced my starts.

I could get the car going from a stop about half the time, but no better. I remembered what Jin told me about the magic spot, when you can keep the car standing still with just enough release of the clutch and just enough gas to not stall it but also prevent the car from moving, but I couldn’t find it. I kept trying … and stalling.

Along my route, one road intersected so the stop sign was on top of an incline. I went down that road a lot, because it was good practice to try and start from a standstill while on an incline. I’d stall out the car repeatedly—with no one around—and then finally somehow get lucky and get the car moving again.

One night that February, I came to the stop, released the brake and clutch, eased on the gas … and suddenly realized I was inching forward, not jerking, not stalling. I eased off the gas a bit and began to roll backward as I played the clutch but held my place. Ah ha! That’s what Jin was talking about! That’s the magic spot! I get it now!

To test my theory, I went turned left and drove back around until I was back at the same stop sign. I stopped, put the car in first and started right away again … and drove home. My practice sessions were over. Sure, I stalled the car after that, but within a few days, those times became the exception. I had mastered the stick.

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