Life After High School Chapter 2, Part 2: Physics-Shmyzics and The Amazing Mini-Van

Here is part two of chapter 2 of my blog-to-book project: Life After High School: Secrets To A Successful Life By Those Who Have Had Twenty Years To Think About It (or) What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. Here I will finish up the intro with two sections called Physics-Schmyzics and The Amazing Mini-Van. Of course, there are three more interviews coming with this chapter as well. If you missed the last post, click here, otherwise, you can start at the beginning here.


The next morning of our trip to Anacortes for the twenty-year reunion, Scott and I got the update on the locker tradition. More on that in a bit. Did I become a lawyer? No.By the way, what’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a lawyer on a motorcycle? The vacuum cleaner has the dirt bag on the inside. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

By the way, what’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a lawyer on a motorcycle?

The vacuum cleaner has the dirt bag on the inside.

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

So yes, we thought we owned the school, and did stick our chests out at Principal Reidenbach more than a few times. He always let us continue in the hallway, while he stopped the other kids. It was totally unfair… And we loved every second of it.

One of my favorite late night memories was related to a funny tangential experience during those high school years. After attending a martial arts class above the Majestic Hotel from a very wiry Ron Latsha, we decided to take our Escrima Philippine’s martial arts sticks down to Tugboat beach in Skyline Marina. We ran down the road from my house on Doon Way and literally did front handsprings (with no formal training) for the first time in our lives without shirts on in the freezing winter cold, falling on the ground like drunks, numb and laughing our guts out. We were flipping out both physically and mentally and hitting each other with sticks while mimicking some Capoeira movie we had recently watched. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we definitely didn’t care. We were probably screaming most of the time. If anyone did see us, they would have called 911, locked their doors and hid. There was no possible way to distinguish us from people very high on acid. I think it is actually possible that we did get high during those years without the use of traditional drug delivery systems. By routinely doing really bizarre stuff, we might have unintentionally tapped into our own brain chemistry and somehow ended up stoned. Either that or my mom was using some really good mushrooms in that beef stroganoff. We just thought we were ultra-spiritual and dope.

In another similar commonplace memory (I need to be careful because I am afraid I have hundreds of these that might be used to incriminate me one day if I run for office), we had a physics project that of course we had procrastinated on until the last-minute. All I know is that it had something to do with acceleration and we somehow got the bright idea to use Scott’s maroon mini-van of power (it was like Optimus Prime to us) to film the experiment racing at very high speeds down a steep hill. I think there was some ping bong ball or a shoots and ladders thing and the speedometer or something (I feel like I am proving right now how effective our educational system is, and that was NOT the REACH program by the way). Eh, Physics-Shmyzics.

On yet another tangential side note, I once was very angry at Mr. Holtgeertz, our Physics teacher. In a freak occurrence where I actually started an assignment the day it was introduced, I worked on it every day until the project was completed, and then refined it several times before the big science showdown competition. I actually had gone above and beyond the expectation, to the point of being the only one who had a working wind-powered tug-of-war machine that could change gears without a hand being placed on it.

Now, the other students did create successful machines, but they all required a small intervention on the part of the user to change the gears from high-speed to high torque. Due to the strict written instructions of Mr. Holtgeertz, it was technically against the rules to interfere with the machine (based on his wording in the assignment), and therefore my machine was the only one that should have passed. However, before I could declare my victory, Mr. Holtgeertz changed the rules to accommodate more students who had achieved the typical “close, but no cigar” status.

See, their simpler machines could either pull fast, or pull with strength, but not both without some kind of intervention during the experiment. He changed the rules so they could make an adjustment during the testing, thereby giving them the ability to essentially have two different machines. My machine could actually do both tasks without me touching it! It had required a painstaking amount of work and creativity, and it was literally the hardest I had ever worked on such a project in my entire student life.

I even ran it by my uncle the engineer and had my father the craftsman help with making parts. Yes, I received help, but I am guessing I wasn’t the only one. The help I received I feel only augmented my efforts and added to the educational experience and quality of the project. For once in my life, I wasn’t copying someone else, I wasn’t taking shortcuts, and I wasn’t BS’ing my way through life. Ironically, trying to do it right was what got me punished. This was the first time among many times in my life that I learned that same lesson and I still struggle with it.

What pissed me off was that he was handing out the cigars by changing the rules! They were being accommodated for not working quite as hard and not being quite as creative, and I was being punished for excelling. For some reason, when this injustice happens to anyone (not just me), I lose it. It just happens to be one of my hot buttons. It has taken me twenty years to forgive him. And that my friends, is what we call a big waste of time.

Looking back, I realized that in the context of a high school with kids just trying to get into college, he did need to make some allowances, so the majority could pass the class. I think most people would just call me silly, and conventional wisdom would point out my opinion as radical and unnecessary. That’s why I no longer trust conventional wisdom. I guess I just wished he had admitted fault for making a mistake in the rules to begin with. Instead, all he did when I pleaded my case was scoff at me: “Yeah right, you didn’t work on that every day”—were his exact words.

I actually am grateful for that little episode. I vowed to never do that to someone else if ever I am in a position of leadership. I also took a ton of physics classes in college and almost got a major in it. All-in-all the fact that I even cared was the real tragedy and just goes to show you how we take ourselves way too seriously, especially at that age.

The Amazing Mini-Van

Anywho, back to Mini-Van Acceleration Experiment…

To make this particular experiment work we had to drive very fast. By the way, although I can’t remember the class assignment to save my life, I do remember one thing about that night. We scientifically proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hypothesis that stated the “Mini-Van has magical powers” was indeed one-hundred percent true. The reason I can say this is that the aforementioned vehicle, was on its last legs before Scott ever took it over to drive it. It was supposed to be deceased at least five years before, gasping for breath on every start, shaking on every turn, and stuff randomly falling off it as it went down the streets of Anacortes. It was a true underdog of a vehicle, not exactly a babe magnet in any way, shape, or form, but somehow we felt very privileged in it nonetheless.

I am ashamed to say my faith in The Mini-Van was not strong at the time. The only previous experiments to draw experience from were inconclusive at best. One fine day at break-neck speed down Marine Drive, off of Havekost Road, we ran an unrelated experiment to test the indestructibility of Scott’s glasses. Scott drove while I screamed as he hung his entire upper body out the window flailing about… Or maybe I was driving, but looking at him instead of the road, I don’t remember. Suddenly, the spectacles went flying off his head and crashed into several rock walls, bouncing and scraping through gravel and concrete in a terrible clamor that should have destroyed any mortal pair of glasses. It was hard to turn back and find them, since we had been going very fast down the hill, and I think at least five or six cars ran all four tires over them and then backed up to do it again before we were able to double back to check on our experiment.

Lo and behold, the glasses had not a scratch on them! It was then we deduced that either the glasses were powered by Scott’s Superman Costume in honor of his alter ego, or that they were protected by The Mythical Mini-Van-Halen.

Still, in terms of top speed of The Minivan, our experiments thus far had been at best inconclusive. The situation demanded that we do this follow-up experiment post-haste. We had no choice, it was our destiny.

On that fateful evening, in a stroke of brilliance and inspiration, we turned on my handy-dandy VHS video camcorder (sitting very heavily on my shoulder), and Scott proceeded to floor it as we raced down Doon Way. There was no earthly way that car should have been able to go fast enough for our experiment to work without falling apart, going over a cliff, and exploding. Yet somehow, just as it shook and shuttered and we thought we were going to die, it was as if the flux capacitor kicked in and lightning struck and a shooting star raced across the blue moon sky, and we were flying down that hill like we were in a souped-up DeLorean DMC-12 from 1985.

I remember screaming at the top of my lungs but not being able to hear myself because Scott had a louder and very high-pitched laugh-scream that would make the most seasoned and battle-weary professional horror-film screamer bow down. Somehow, we did not crash. Again, all of this was in the nice and quiet very subdued retirement community of Anacortes, Washington. You are welcome.

Remarkably, I think we got an A on that project, all thanks to a very magical and very real Mini-Van-Optimus-Prime and my handy-dandy late 80’s VHS video camcorder. We were privileged kids and loved life.

the amazing mini-van

In the next post, I will feature an interview with a former classmate, Jackie Gibbon.


Are you from Generation X? I want to hear what you think! Please comment below and participate in the conversation about What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. What do you wish someone told you when you were eighteen?

About the author

Featured in CNN Money Edition, Jesse Stoddard’s primary aim is to make his mark in the world by exploring new ideas, enhancing collaboration and cooperation with teams, and working in his unique ability, which is transferring infectious enthusiasm, taking action, and loving people in order to gather and connect with others to pursue a bigger, brighter future.

Jesse’s mission is to make good bolder with his writing and art, to serve God, and in such a way that he illuminates truth, shines a humorous light on our human imperfections, and reminds us all to be humble while pointing us to what’s right.