My back went out for the first time in the late 1970s.
I was a twenty-something publishing a newspaper for the military community of Bamberg, Germany.
Once a week I’d check a sedan out from the motor pool and drive 140 miles to the Stars and Stripes headquarters in Darmstadt to get my paper printed. Occasionally, a vehicle from the pool would not be available and I’d have to scramble to find transportation.
Luckily, I reported directly to a one-star general, the highest-ranking officer on our post of about 4,000 soldiers. The general supported the newspaper as a key tool in keeping his command informed in a timely manner, and I had his ear, no small perk for an E4. As a result, strings were pulled to get me to the printer and the newspaper. One time I was even flown via the general’s helicopter. The flight cut the time traveling in third, and had the cool factor of arriving by chopper. On the way back, the crew and I landed outside of a small German town and walked to a restaurant for lunch.
Many more times, the general simply lent me his sedan and driver. Conrad was in his mid-sixties and was at one time a driver in the German army. His English was very good, and conversation always proved interesting, as he was a man that didn’t mind giving his opinion on matters small and large. I suspect he kept his mouth shut around the general, but with this lowly, young, junior enlisted soldier he told many an interesting story.
Whether it was brass or me in the car, Conrad did do one thing the same: drive like a bat out of hell once he hit the autobahn. By German design there is no speed limit on the superhighway. You can drive as fast as you deem safe; but don’t get in an accident because the penalties are severe no matter who is at fault. Wouldn’t it be great if more things operated like the autobahn: do what you think safe but be prepared to take responsibility if something goes wrong? Maybe I’m a potential Tea Partier.
In any event, military vehicles were not to exceed 70 mph. An exemption to this was offered to general-grade officers, and the red flag with a gold star attached to the bumper meant you could put the pedal to the metal. Then there were days when Conrad wasn’t available, and I’d be given the keys to the sedan with the star. At the risk of bragging, I can say I’ve driven a car at a 100-plus mph for nearly a solid hour and not even tapped the breaks.
I did almost lose driving privileges one time but it had nothing to do with going too fast. One early morning I found the sedan to be low on gas and headed over to the motor pool to fill up. This was a chore I’d never done before as motor pool transports always came topped off, and Conrad always did the task when he was around. In a moment of early morning confusion, I pumped the tank full of diesel and drove off. A quarter mile later the engine suddenly began to run rough and emit a thick black smoke out of the exhaust pipe. Sputtering, I returned to post, siphoned off the diesel and replaced it with gasoline. Fingers crossed, I headed out and made the trip without any problems.
I don’t know what repercussions I would have faced if I’d destroyed the general’s wheels, and am thankful I never found out.
The other problem with me driving was the butt impression Conrad formed into the seat. He was a big man, and I wasn’t, yet. As a result I never could get comfortable in the seat. At the end of one trip, I got out of the car, my back creaked and I doubled over in pain.
Something similar happened to me on Sunday, except for this time it was this old fool chasing a volleyball. I can still type, but that’s about all.