Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Math Let Me Down

This past weekend, Chris and I tri-napped Christy, my new Ironman friend. Since Applesauce got her new boobs she has completely disappeared so I’ve been without anyone to share my Ironman sagas, stories, and pains.

And that’s where Christy comes in. I found her on swim team, we started talking triathlons one night, and from there it led to Ironman. I’m not doing Ironman, but still I’ve enjoyed talking about Ironman. And it's been fun talking to Christy about Ironman because she is signed up for Wisconsin in September.

It was one night in the hot tub when we were probably talking Ironman, and triathlon, when I suggested she think about joining us for a trip to Memphis in May, a good early race to get the tri-season started. And so she agreed.

The way down to Memphis was a straight shot heading south on 57. I had taken the wheel first which is very rare so when I get the itch to drive I tend to take full advantage of it. In other words, this car will not stop for 300 miles at 80 miles per hour. Four hours, some 300 miles later, I thought Christy was going to call her husband for help as she pled for me to stop the car so she could take a pee.

Afterwards, Christy took the wheel and we got to talking. We discovered that Christy is a math teacher. And let me tell you – there is nothing more fun or handy than bringing along a math teacher for a weekend. How long will the trip take, how many miles are we averaging, how long will it take me to average 24 miles per hour on the bike, how many noodles are in this bowl. She answers each question quickly, even showing her work out loud to prove her mathematical point.

For all the frustration I felt during high school math, being with Christy made me want to like math all over again. It made me want to start again, to renew my relationship with logarithms, factors, to find out why a plus b equals c-squared. I wanted to hold hands with algebra, trigonometry, even geometry to become one with all things numeric all over again.

And so for a brief moment this weekend, math became fun again. Imagine that. I even thought we could do math to pass the time while waiting for dinner to arrive Saturday night. Then Christy wrote an algebraic equation on the white paper tablecloth in crayon. At that point, I almost threw all estimated 67 noodles at her. It had been years since I had seen x and y situated in parenthesis and been told to solve. Memories of advanced algebra that I’d like to never to relive again.

Christy quickly solved the equation with some cryptic code of FOIL and her answer was right. In fact, her math answers were always right; what pace is that, when will we arrive, how many seconds until my swim start. While I was usually foiled, her answers were always right.

Except one time.

We were heading back home late Sunday night. I was in the backseat, in my own world, when I looked up to realize that the gas needle was pretty low. I mentioned something about gas – as in, looks like the needle is about to dip below the last resort line please pull over for gas like 10 miles ago PLEASE NOW.

“No, we’ve got another 30 miles to go – Chris looked it up in the book. When the light goes on, there’s another 3 gallons and we’re getting 10 miles per gallon,” Christy said with mathematical certainty. I had no idea how they had really figured it out. But that's what happens when you put an engineer and a math teacher in the front seat together. Leave it to math and formulas to save the day. But still, I was a little leary. Even though math never lets you down, it still seemed like a bad idea to push the gas gauge to its lower limit. Especially in the middle of nowhere southern Illinois.

The next thing I know we are getting off at an exit. As Christy turns the van into the station, she says that the engine has stopped. We have run out of gas. In a van that holds 19 gallons of gas, our tank has run dry. Somewhere in calculating miles per gallon, gallons, and miles to go, math had let us down.

We are coasting towards a pump when the van keeps slowing, and slowing. I suggest everyone starting blowing to move the van forward. It must have worked because we rolled up to a pump just in time.

And then we realize it was a diesel pump.

The gasoline pumps are on the other side, and this will take a little more than a few blows. Yeah, where's math now, huh? Show me the formula to get us out of this one.

“Let Liz steer while we push”, Chris said. Darn engineer. Always has a plan.

There was some brief talk about whether or not I would be strong enough to turn the wheel of the van. But better me turning a wheel than trying to push an entire van. Chris and Christy got out to push and the van was soon rolling on its way towards the other pumps – slowly, but surely.

As we rolled, I thought about how bad this could have been. Here we were near Neoga, near ne-nothing in Illinois, smelly from the pond, sweaty from the race, black Sharpie scribbled numbers all over our bodies. What if we weren't near this gas station? What if we hadn't stopped?

We rolled closer to the pump, when I couldn’t resist myself. It was time to unleash the math fury. What if math had left us in the middle of the highway with no gas. That's it, math, you're mine. It was time to get revenge on all of the bad marks, x’s, incorrects, see me’s, show work, and other reprimands by way of red pen in years of math class.

I opened the door, looked back and shouted,


I shut the door.

Now of course, I was just teasing. And this had nothing to do with Christy. She was just the math teacher that happened to hear my angry cry against math and all of its abuse over the years. This shout was my anthem for all those years I spent trapped behind a desk in math class calculating angles, solving equations, showing my work and feeling sorry for letting myself down because I just couldn’t get it right. And here I was, 31 years old, and math was still not on my side.

From the back of the van I heard Christy simultaneously laughing and shouting, "but we checked the book!" Never separate a teacher from a book. Never expect a teacher to mistrust a book. But pull out your red pen because the book was wrong. When the light went on, it didn't mean 30 miles to go. It meant 30 miles ago you had 30 miles to go. Or something like that.

Christy laughed, and Chris laughed too. The van kept rolling towards the pump and 19 gallons, $62 later, we were on our way. And I wasn't about to ask how much that was per gallon because honestly by that time late Sunday night I had enough with numbers for one day.


Anonymous said...

Well, I didn't know I impacted you that much with all my math. I guess I will learn to not take math with me on my future trips :) I had a great time and learned so much from you guys. Thanks again for inviting me, even if I did cause math anxiety.


Beth said...

My husband is an engineer that went back to school to be a math teacher. I've got a double whammy on my hands! :)

Great racing this past weekend - congrats!