The Following Story is True

by William Hoffman
Delphic Whispers
Minnesota Daily
Jan. 12, 1977

The following story is true. It actually happened. To be sure, it happened a long time ago and well outside the boundaries of the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area. But it happened just the same. And I have two witnesses to prove it, although one of them probably won’t talk.

The witness who would talk is named Andrea. I will refer to her as Andrea in order to protect her true identity. The other witness, Larry Buendorf, whom I will refer to as Mr. Buendorf in deference to his superior station, might have succeeded in throwing the miserable episode out of his mind by now. Or perhaps it comes back to haunt him now and again as he trots alongside the presidential limousine. Mr. Buendorf is a Secret Service agent. He has save the life of President Ford, once from an assassin’s bullet, and countless times on the ski slopes of Vail, Colorado. And, as everyone knows, Secret Service agents don’t talk.

Mr. Buendorf is a man of medium height, trim, with a pointed nose and wispy blond hair. He hails from Wells, Minnesota. He wore a crewcut when I knew him. That was many years ago when he was a high school teacher and driver’s training instructor in Blue Earth, just down the road a stretch from Wells. He taught Andrea and me how to drive a car.

Andrea was a cinch. She seemed as much at home behind the wheel of the 1965 Buick Skylark as a bird on the wing. She was without doubt an excellent student, and Mr. Buendorf always eased back and yawned whenever she took the helm. From my vantage point in the back seat, I came to admire Andrea’s poise, her audacity in delicately fitting one maneuver after another into a masterful overall performance, superbly choreographed and mindful of a Russian ballet. She glided through traffic with the fluid ease of a swan, always the proper speed, always signaling correctly, always cautious about yielding the right-of-way. She made it look so easy.

Mr. Buendorf is a fairly short-tempered man. Had Andrea not turned the driving over to me this fact would have remained unknown. I stepped into the driver’s seat armed with the usual assortment of male pretensions, vowing not to let a girl show me up, particularly one of diminutive stature. Prior to the training sessions, my older brother had taken me and the family Oldsmobile out onto some country roads. So it wasn’t as though I was totally inexperienced.

My departure from in front of the high school was an eventful one and served to set the tone for further sessions. I put the car in gear, pulled away from the curb and approached the first turn. Mr. Buendorf neglected to mention that the car was equipped with power brakes. I employed them rather firmly to slow down for the turn. The wheels screeched. So did Mr. Buendorf as he rebounded from the windshield.

If Mr. Buendorf were inclined to talk about it he would certainly describe me as most annoying. I presented a wonderful contrast to Andrea, for I did practically nothing correctly and he never had occasion to serve me a compliment. During one exercise I neglected to put the car in forward gear after having backed up to a building. He was required to use his brake and issue a sharp reprimand. I attempted to park diagonally and, after 30 minutes or so, I succeeded but only after extracting a litany from him.

One incident with me at the wheel is firmly implanted in my memory. It occurred on the open road. Mr. Buendorf took notice that I was cowering from semi-tractor trailers, semis for short. He watched me closely as I did it time and again and remarked that I was his first student to duck as trucks approached and would I please stop because he and Andrea were beginning to fear for their lives. Then he speculated, “Bill, you’ll never live to be 21. You’re scared to death of driving on the highway.”

He was right, of course, about my fear of driving on the highway, although I’m well over 21 now and fully inclined to remain so in spite of his prediction. Much to his surprise, I passed my driver’s test with a respectable score of 88. Mr. Buendorf eventually quit teaching to become a national hero. I think of him sometimes when I’m cruising on the open road — cowering from semis.