K., a friend of mine, was a chemical engineer before taking an early retirement. A few weekends ago we sat around and talked about beer and he told us all about how it’s made, how it goes off, how it’s preserved and transported. (He used to work for Heineken.) It was all fascinating.
He’s very intelligent and has a very scientific frame of mind. He knows a lot about a lot of different things, is inquisitive and has a good memory. (He’s a good story-teller in general, and a good person to invite to a social event if you’re worried people won’t hit it off and have much to say. He’s also, it’s important to note, a funny guy too.)
But it’s interesting how people who excel in technical and scientific things can sometimes have blind spots in other areas. Their scientific thinking can actually get in the way.
K. was asking me about my driving lessons and I told him that I find the “difficult” things easy, like going into first gear on an incline, parking, reversing around a corner, but when I simply change gears I get nervous and grip the steering wheel too hard. I’m not so aware of being nervous; my body simply reacts by tensing up.
“How do you hold the steering wheel?” he said.
I told him I put my hands at ten and two. He told me that now he keeps his right hand at seven o’clock.
“A car in good condition,” he said “should continue going straight unless prevented from doing so by something like a bump in the road. At 7.00 your hand is closer to your body and you’re more in control.”
He told me he had done a lot of driving over the years. He often had to drive to Holland for work. He gave me some figure, how many hundreds of thousands of kilometers he’d driven in one car alone. I told him about my father’s Toyota Corona, which he bought in 1981 and which he kept till 1995, a very long time for a place like Canada, where salt is thrown on the roads in the winter. With that car he drove from Toronto to Florida and back a few times.
K. explained how that sort of driving, without much starting and stopping, did not wear down the car much.
Then I remembered a Newfie joke. I explained who the Newfies are (there’s a Greek equivalent, as I’m sure there is everywhere) and told him.
“This guy wanted to sell his car and when his friend took a look at it he said:
“‘Are you crazy? This thing’s got 350,000 km on it! No one’s ever going to buy it. Don’t worry, though, I know this guy, he can change the odometer so that it’s really low.’
“So the guy goes and gets it adjusted so that it says only 20,000 km. A couple of weeks later they run into each other in the street and the friend says, ‘Hey, did you ever sell that car?’
“And the Newfie says, ‘Are you nuts? Why would I sell a car with only 20,000 km on it?'”
“Well, of course,” K. said. “No one would buy it. It’s an impossibly low number. They’d know right away that something was wrong. They’d say, ‘Haven’t you driven this thing at all?'”
I thought about this for a moment.
“K.,” I said, “it’s a joke.”
“Oh,” he said.