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September 29, 2008



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Almost a decade ago, an unassuming movie, "The Straight Story," warmed the hearts of audiences across the US. It's about the real-life adventures of an elderly Iowan who set off on his lawn tractor – because he couldn't drive a car legally – to visit his ill brother 300 miles away. Living as he does in Germany, Arnold Gerber may never have seen it. He wouldn't even have been a teenager at the time, anyway. But although his own version of "Straight Story" may not find its way into theaters, it mirrors that of the Iowan quite closely. Gerber, a 20-something farmer, was invited by a friend earlier this month to come for a visit. Alas, he's from Altenkirchen, near the former German capital, Bonn, the friend's home is 175 miles away, and Gerber has neither a car nor a driver's license. Solution: Go in his combine. To avoid the rush-hour traffic, he also waited until nightfall to leave home. But he failed to calculate that the highway might still be heavily traveled. Thirty miles into the trip, there was a five-mile-long backup behind him because, at top speed, the big machine only does 15 m.p.h. And at that point, the police arrived, ordering him off the road and leaving him with a hefty fine for driving too slowly. Said a poorer but wiser Gerber: I've been driving [combines] for years, and now and again I have to take them on the roads. I thought I'd miss most of the traffic by traveling at night. I was wrong."

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