When A Slowpoke Turns Into A Speed Demon, Look Out!


He was one of the nicest guys I ever met. He was also one of the sleepiest.

Every time we sat down to talk in my classroom I was afraid he’d tilt forward, fall off his chair, and integrate his face with my nice waxed floor.

And slow talking? The way he talked just had to be seen.

Some people will stop to think in the middle of a sentence, or say “er,” or “uh,” or “um,” which gets on your nerves.

But not Charlie Reed.

He got on people’s nerves all right, but not by pausing here and there. He spoke at a nice steady rate.

Four words a minute.

Well, not four maybe, but a whole lot less than the hundred some-odd words they tell me is the normal rate for most of us.

He would say, “Tom ... I ... tell ... you ... this ... is ... the ... warm ... est ... af ... ter ... noon ... I ... have ... seen ... here ... in ... Eng ... land ... since ... I ... got ...”

And I would sit there nodding my head like a bobblehead doll sitting on a paint mixing machine.

I first met Charlie Reed when he showed up one morning in my classroom at RAF Upper-Heyford in England. He was there to learn a little about teaching.

Not so that he, himself, could teach, but so that he could pass on the techniques he learned in my course to the experienced technicians in his squadron, who could then use them to train the young airmen working for them.

It was a good system, and it worked well for the Air Force. It’s one thing to know how to — say — repair a jet engine, but it’s quite another to pass on all those years of experience to the new men arriving in your shop. So, the Air Force first sends young men and women through tech schools which teach general principles, and then it sends them out in the field to learn the specifics while they are both learning and getting something accomplished.

For example, a weapons mechanic learns about weapons in general in tech school, but isn’t qualified to work alone on the specific weapons of the planes on the base to which he’s assigned until he’s had a lot of hands-on training.

Charlie Reed was the training NCO for his squadron. His job was to oversee the OJT program, getting the men from the entry level to the skilled level in the shortest time possible. Like all squadron training NCOs, he was required to take a course in teaching techniques so that he could help his technicians pass on their skills and knowledge.

I taught three courses in teaching techniques. The one Charlie was about to take was the most advanced of the three. To graduate he — and the other NCOs and officers who took the course — had to demonstrate that they had absorbed the required teaching techniques by giving a presentation which met specific objectives. They were allowed to choose the objectives themselves, but were required to give me a copy of them before they got up to do their presentation, and if they didn’t meet their objectives by teaching the other men in their class something new, they didn’t pass.

I’ll tell you what, I learned something about people while I was teaching that course. Most people would rather spoon down a bowlful of bugs than get up in front of a group and talk.

I’ve seen otherwise brave men and women turn six shades of green at the prospect. And you should have seen them when they found out they had to get up and teach a lesson for the first time in their lives as the final exam in the course.

You could hear the groans from a block away.

In fact, for the whole eight years I had that job, and on every base I taught, I ran into training NCOs who fought tooth and nail for as long as they could to avoid coming over to the field training detachment and taking that course.

I was beginning to worry about my deodorant.

To let the 15 NCOs and officers in each class feel as comfortable as possible, I let them sign up on a roster, deciding for themselves whether they wanted to go first, last, or in between. Their presentations were supposed to roughly take 30 minutes, and the course I’m speaking of lasted 10, four-hour days, starting on a Monday and ending on the next Friday, so I always finished my teaching on the second Wednesday and left the last two days for the students to get up and do their thing.

And that’s where I ran into trouble.

Charlie signed up for the first slot on Thursday.

Can you see where I’m headed?

Multiply 30 minutes by 120 words a minute and you come up with 3600. Then divide 3600 by Charlie Reed’s four words a minute and you come up with 900 minutes, or 15 hours.

Ever seen a bunch of GIs slowly turning purple?

Charlie got up and started talking. “To ... day ... I ... am ... go ... ing ... to ... talk ... to ... you ... a ... bout ...”

An hour later, 14 purple-faced guys were climbing the walls. They wanted two things, and wanted them bad: Charlie’s presentation over with. And theirs!

At 1 hour and 30 minutes, I stopped Charlie and made arrangements to hear his presentation on Saturday.

I may have saved some lives.

Not long afterward, Charlie found out I played chess and began plaguing me to death by coming over with his chessboard.

You think listening to someone talk slowly will tighten up your gut muscles? You haven’t lived until you’ve played a game of chess where spiders spin webs on the pieces between moves!

But then an amazing thing happened. Unbeknownst to me, Charlie was diagnosed with a thyroid deficiency and they began feeding him thyroxine. About two weeks later, he showed up with his chessboard as usual. I groaned, but agreed to play a game.

My! My! Did he whip up on me. One-Speed Tom Garrett versus Three-Speed Charlie Reed. Four games in 30 minutes.

His three speeds were lightning, breakneck and meteoric.


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