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January 5th, 2010 - Three On The Tree

Yesterday, after scraping off both the outside and inside of my windshield, I began driving my -10 F car down the -10 F street.
Before I continue here however, I have to point out a serious flaw in the movie 'Fargo'.
In one of the early scenes of the film, William H. Macy portrays what is supposed to be a typical Minnesotan chipping thick ice off of his windshield at an outdoor airport parking ramp. Admittedly, his character is very upset and frustrated because his blackmail scheme is backfiring, but this is what he does:
He walks up to his car, unlocks it, gets his standard Minnesota-issue combination snowbrush and ice-scraper out of the back seat, and begins failing away at the bombproof layer of ice on his windshield. Fatal flaw. Real Minnesotans and I would assume any other day-to-day cold weather commandos, ALWAYS start their car before doing ANYTHING else, to get the essential engine heat circulating and the defroster defrosting, and more importantly, to make sure the damn car is actually going to start at all, as why waste time and energy chipping ice off your windshield when there is a chance your car won't even start. (Always a possibility in MN. We call it playing the 'Car-Starting Lottery', though usually our odds of the car starting are a leetle bit better than winning the lotto.) And these Cohen brothers are from where again...? Preposterous.

ANYway... After about ten minutes of freezing-my-ass-off-driving I began to realize I was 'warming up' enough to fold back the tops of my 'flip-back' mittens. They are the sort of affair where the tops of the mitts fold back and you still have "fingerless gloves" underneath. I really like them, especially for photography out in the cold, you can pop your fingers out for a short bit to adjust your tiny camera buttons and then flip them back in for "added warmth"; psychological or otherwise.
I also wear these whole mitts under some heavy-duty army surplus choppers on the killer cold days, and they are pretty versatile, what with all the different finger possibilities.
The thing is, they have these tiny Velcro tabs on the back for the finger and thumb fold-backs that don't always stick, so sometimes you get this floppy fabric waving around on the back of your mitts until you "flip back in."
This reminded me of something that brought on a chuckle the other day.
I had a flashback to the days of driving a "three on the tree." Nowadays automatic transmission is nearly ubiquitous. Back then, most cars, or least most old trucks, had manual gearing. This meant using the foot clutch and either a floor-shifter (if you were lucky) which usually was a four-speed (four-on-the-floor... hey, hey, really "racey") OR the dreaded "three-on-the-tree," which meant the gearshift was on the right side of the steering column, (screw you if you were left-handed) but it had the basic "H" shift pattern:
So the "H" was on the right side of the column facing the driver's window. You started out in 1st gear, or 'low', which put the shift lever down by your right thigh. As you picked up speed, (normally about halfway across the intersection) you depressed the clutch with your foot and rammed the shift lever diagonally up into 2nd gear as fast as you could, so you didn't lose much speed with your five ton vehicle of the day, this put your hand and the gearshift up over the dashboard.
The company I used to work for was known for being, let's say, 'frugal' and bought the cheapest beat-down fleet of vans possible. Many still had three-on-the-tree, and this was in the 1980's when manual transmissions were becoming a bit of a dinosaur.
So the funny bit was, and I was amazed at how many times this happened, was as you were jamming your three-on-the-tree into 2nd your hand would come over the dashboard and stay there until you built up enough speed to go for third, and people that you had never seen before, would start to wave to you at intersections! Hey howdy! Just going into second here, thanks for the greeting! Have a nice day! Must be what is known here as 'Minnesota Nice.'
It's strange how we build up relationships with cars, but there was one van the company bought that I spent a lot of time in, and we bonded well. It was a 1980 Ford Econoline 150, red, with a converted interior for sleeping. It had over 350,000 miles on it when I first got in it, and I can't remember how many after I left the company after nine years, but it was still going. It had something like a 235 V-6 engine and I towed a U-Haul trailer to hell and back with that thing. I remember going from Minneapolis to California and back twice during two weeks one summer.
It started out with a three-on-the-tree, but the shift linkages began to slowly wear out and it would get stuck in a random gear or neutral just as you were needing to get a across a busy intersection or climb a steep hill. Cursing, you would then have to coast to the side of the road, usually pulling a trailer, get out, get under the truck, and free the shift linkages any way possible from below to get back to a place that you could make it shift back into first. Finally after getting soaked in a huge downpour in Oklahoma after doing this, I said I wasn't going to drive it anymore unless they fixed it. The "fix" was to install a three-speed floor shifter. This would have been pretty cool were it not for the fact that the transmission on a vehicle like this is actually behind the driver's seat, so when you were shifting, it looked like you were either getting up from the driver's seat to take a walk into the back of the truck, or were reaching for a beer in some far-away cooler. It did get you some strange looks. Good times, good times. I still miss that truck though, we went through a lot together.
So back to the present day. Another funny thing was, sometimes when I wore my flip-back mitts that wouldn't stay flipped-back, people I had never seen before would wave to me as I was making a left turn through an intersection! Same sort of deal. Howdy! Minnesota Nice.

I also used to have a 'very' old truck that I loved dearly; my '62 Chevy Panel.
It had a "straight-six", with no oil-filter, no seat-belts, no back-up lights as standard 'non-options'. I drove it all around California, and then back to Minnesota when it got too cold to surf. It went about 50 mph top speed no matter what amount of weight was in it or was being towed, and would get about 15 mpg with a strong tailwind. It had a great vibe though. We called it the Magic Bus, after the Who song. It actually had an 8-track tape player with a Bob Marley tape in it when I bought it.

It also had a bit of weird shifter, in that it was the basic 'four-speed' modified 'H'...
But 1st gear was 'granny-low' and topped out at about 2 mph, so you could only use it for pulling trees out of the ground or engine-braking down vertical inclines and such. You commonly started in 2nd gear, pretended it was 1st, and drove it like a three-speed. Reverse was some sort of magical "push-down on the shift-lever and feel around until you start going backwards" kind of thing. I miss that one too. I sold it to a guy in town, and years later saw it parked outside a bar on the West Bank in Minneapolis. It had my same picture of the surfer riding a deep curl in the back window, and my Marilyn Monroe postcard still stuck in the driver's visor. I felt good.
So in conclusion, and in the spirit of comradery, I suggest you make your left turns with an open palm, and leave your hand up top just a faction of a second longer than necessary. Leave your flip-backs up. Maybe it's the first step to a 'Global Village', and world peace. If we all start waving to one another, positive communication cannot be far behind.

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