Erleichda: Lighten Up!

Erleichda: Tom Robbins suggests, tongue in cheek, that this was the last word of Albert Einstein.  Robbins defines it this way: “The word was a transitive verb, an exclamation, a command, of which an exact English translation is impossible. The closest equivalent probably would be the phrase “Lighten up!”

Ben Zander calls his variation of this command  “Rule Number 6: Don’t take yourself so darned seriously.”  I began to learn this lesson on a dark, lonely night in 1978.  Here’s how it went:

In the mythology of my early family, I was the klutz.  I was identified as the bookish one, and my Dad and brother did their best to keep me from making a mess of things if I tried to hammer a nail or use a screwdriver.  It is amazing how often we buy into familial self-definition.  Becoming a pilot in my late thirties helped to ameliorate my self-distancing from things mechanical, but the journey to that point was long, and fraught with some funny stops along the way.

Back in 1978, I had agreed to help a friend by ferrying his small Datsun Honey Bee from Phoenix, Arizona to Burlington, Vermont. It was a journey of 2600 miles, and I loved to drive.  The first day went without a hitch. The next day, however, as I left Albuquerque, New Mexico, the accelerator became sluggish.   Even floored, I could only coax the car to do 50 mph.  It was going to be a long trip.

The third night found me in rural Arkansas, about 150 miles West of Memphis.  It was a pitch black night on an empty desolate stretch of road.  Suddenly, the accelerator had had enough, and quit altogether.  With what little momentum I had left, I managed to coast up an exit ramp, and come to a stop under what seemed to be the only street lamp within 50 miles.

A quick inspection showed me that the accelerator linkage had separated.  I was proud that I could even see the problem, and then with seemingly supernatural inspiration, I rummaged around in my suitcase, found a coat hanger, and twisted it straight.  My confidence building by the second, I used the hanger to join the two loose parts of the linkage together, and sure enough, the car roared into life.  “Roar” was the appropriate word, because now the only control I had was full throttle, and to slow down or stop, I had to depress the clutch. This caused the car to scream in protest.  Now instead of poking along at 50, I went zooming across the bridge into Memphis at 90 miles an hour.  I turned into the first motel I could find, and stopped in front of the office with such a din that the clerk at the desk went as pale as a ghost.  I explained my predicament.  “Leave the car where it is,” she said, “and take it to the Datsun dealer around the corner in the morning.”

At 8 am the next day, I attracted strange looks as my laboring engine heralded my arrival at the dealership.  I drove right into a bay, and gratefully turned off the engine.  A tall older mechanic from the hills of Tennessee ambled over to the car and raised the hood.  I stood by feeling ten feet tall, as I anticipated fulfilling a lifelong dream of being seen as mechanically competent.  Finally, I was about to come into my own.

The old fellow peered intently into the engine for a moment, and straightened up.  “Hell,” he said.  “It ain’t hard to see what’s wrong.  Some asshole has gone and wired your engine!”

Erleichda, indeed.


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