Tag Archives: teenagers

Wheels

28 Mar

Well, last weekend, I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and that is buy my oldest son, Joel, a car. Which is only the ending part of the story. As I mentioned in my story from last spring, when we bought our twin sons a car to share, we’ve always been in the camp that kids don’t need their own cars. Neither my wife nor I had our own cars until deep in college, and so we never bought the kids cars when they turned 16. Is it more convenient for them to have their own at that age? I’m sure it is – but it just wasn’t how either of us were raised, and therefore, it wasn’t how we were going to proceed. But at some point, necessity wins. For the car we bought for Alex and Brian, it was Brian heading off to community college every day this year that forced the hand. And for Joel, well, it was landing the coolest summer internship we and he could possibly imagine.

In case you’re living somewhere under a rock, Tesla Motors is the “it” car company right now.  It has been compared to Apple computer in the mid-80s – it is inventing the future as we speak, and that future is electric cars with rapid charging ability, high performance (rather than the whiny little golf-cart-esque things that other car companies are putting out), extreme luxury, unimaginable features, best-in-class-safety and incredible beauty all in one.   They are inventing a nationwide rapid charging network just for Tesla owners, they are building a battery plant that is 10X the size of anything around today to serve the industry, and again, they are inventing this category.

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And they hired my son, Joel, as an intern this summer in their paint engineering department at their production plant in Fremont, CA, in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area.  Wow. So suddenly, the necessity requirement for the car purchase is being met.

This story wouldn’t make sense without getting to know my son a bit. This little boy has loved cars and everything to do with cars since he was old enough to make the Pbbbbbbbbbbbb sound with his mouth – and would push around non-car objects like they were cars – that at 7 months old. His favorite toys were all cars. At the ripe age of 3, he had the starting lineup of the NASCAR Winston Cup series committed to memory, and I’m not talking about just drivers names, but their sponsors, their numbers, their engine builder, their owner, the whole shebang.  I could have won bar bets with him, and when I took him to his first NASCAR race (a Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile) just after his third birthday, he demonstrated that prowess and got people to buy me beers (“Buddy, you’re raisin’ that boy right, lemme buy ya a beer.”).

He would watch NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, World Rally Car (WRC), Super Bikes, etc. etc. non-stop on Speed Channel (RIP!), ESPN, national TV, etc.  He cried his eyes out when Dale Earnhardt was killed.  I bought him a pedal-powered Indy Car and a little play helmet and he’d strap that helmet on and race around the driveway, and then declare himself the winner, stand up in the car and conduct a winner’s interview with himself, perfectly mimicking the winner’s speech of “Well, the DuPont Pepsi Hendricks Chevrolet was just awesome today, and the work of the crew is what got me here.”

He would hold races of his 1/64th scale Indy and NASCAR toy cars on our dining room table, carefully logging the starting positions, the ending positions, the series points and more in notebooks. As he got older and got into video games, he would consistently completely ace the latest computer or console racing games. Right now he’s in the top percentiles of all registered players on some of the best/hardest racing games like Forza and others.

Most kids, when they get their licenses, do stupid things, get tickets, wreck cars, etc. Not Joel. Not at all Joel. He guards his driving privilege closer than anyone I know. Other than one unfortunate encounter with the corner of our garage and our minivan’s bumper a week after getting his license and one scrape of a mailbox a couple of months after that, he’s not had any accidents driving. He went five years with his license before he got his first ticket and that was driving back and forth from his internship with Nissan in Detroit last year.

He went to school to get a job with a car company. He started out as a mechanical engineering major and during his junior year, he realized that wasn’t for him and changed majors to his current one, Technology Systems Management, which, is really the applied side of engineering. Everything he’s done at school has pointed to that – the biggest of which is Formula SAE.  FSAE is a racing program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FSAE teams design and build from scratch a “formula-style” race car (picture below) every year.  They then compete in FSAE competitions where they have a business proposal competition (how much does it cost to build it and what are the projected production costs in a volume run), a design competition and competitions in a variety of tests of the car itself – static tests where the car is still, and dynamic tests like acceleration, braking, skidpad, and then autocross and endurance racing. He started as a freshman apprentice, being a general go-fer, and has worked his way into the team leadership this year.

Here is Joel at the wheel of the 2013 Illini Motorsports FSAE car in a testing session last summer:

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So, I guess I’ve set the stage for “Joel is a car guy”. As part of his run up to a career in the automaker business, the next stage is interning – and last summer, he hit a great one.  He interned at Nissan in their technology center in Farmington Hills, MI. Nissan paid well, provided him a company car to drive (and damn nice ones too) and he spent the summer kart racing with an old friend of mine from high school who works there too (and helped foam the runway).  Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t able to pick him up for this summer – with his change from Mechanical Engineering to Tech Systems Management that took him out of contention. He had fairly well planned on going back to his old summer job of being a camp counselor at a local day camp (which is a great job, so don’t take that the wrong way), when out of the blue, the dream internship happened. He got a call from Tesla Motors where someone that knew him from FSAE had recommended him. After a very short interview period, he got the job and he’s headed to California for the summer.

As a car guy myself (the Brits call it being a “petrol head”), it has pained me that I haven’t been able to buy my petrol head son a car, but it just hasn’t been a necessary expense. And when you’re dealing with five-figure expenses, it needs to be necessary.  But with the internship in California and all, it became time. So he and I started doing research – I should say he started doing research, with me sort of following. My wife was still pretty soft on the idea – she recognized the need but the expense scared her – and it does me.  But, we’ll manage. On Saturday, he came home for the weekend, and we set out to look at two cars, with no intent on buying either. But the second one we looked at, a pristine 2007 VW GTI just spoke to me.  Joel was meant to drive that car. The car looks and drives like new and had a perfect record on CARFAX with all service details documented.  Doesn’t get better than that. After much “gut wrenching” thought, and a quick phone call to Robin, much to Joel’s surprise, I said to the dealer “Ok, if we take it today, what can you do on the price?” I thought Joel’s head was going to pop. The look on his face was completely priceless. We did the deal and I thought the kid was going to do cart wheels on his way to the car.

One HAPPY kid:

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As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I also have a VW GTI – a 2011.  It is the perfect blend of a performance car and practicality. Tons of room inside to haul people and stuff. And when it’s just you, a curvy road and the gas and brake pedals, it flat hauls ass.  So Joel and I have “dad and son VW GTIs.”  And while he’s over the moon happy that he finally has a ride of his own, I’d stack my happy against his and probably win that I was able to do this for him.

The boys with their toys:

 

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To him, I’ve said – “Have fun with it but drive it safely everywhere that’s not a race track.”  But I also said, “and when you do hit the track, look out for the guy in the midnight black GTI, because it’s going to be dear old dad who is not going to give an inch to you.”

As you were,

Stew

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That first car

12 Apr

We reached a fun milestone at the Campbell house last night. I came home with a car for my sons. We staved off this decision for as long as we could for a combination of both money and principle but with Alex and Brian graduating this spring, and Brian staying local for college and living at home next year, it was time. Which of course, brought me around to thinking about first cars, my first car, other people’s first cars, etc. etc.

I think getting your first car must be a uniquely American rite of passage (and I’d love it if my pals in the UK could weigh in on the concept). And I think it’s probably a bigger deal for males than females, although I do know a lot of girls that love their cars and were so excited with their first cars. The timing of a first car is also an interesting thing – I do know many people that got their first cars on or around their 16th birthday – and it was truly a car for them. The really lucky ones (and some might say spoiled) got NEW cars for that occasion. Then, there were those of us that got cars at a later age. I got my first car the summer before my junior year in college. My sister got her first the fall of her junior year in college. My folks were of the opinion that high school kids didn’t need cars of their own, and the family ride was perfectly fine. Considering that my dad liked to have a fairly new car as the family car, and we liked a bit of luxury, though in a Midwestern, conservative vein (think Oldsmobile, versus Cadillac), I always had a nice car to take on dates. Whereas I think if the folks had gotten me a car of my own, it would have have been a smaller, not as nice car.

I’ve always been “a car guy” though – I love the damn things, much to the disdain of my finances. I’m sure my net worth would be a six-figure number higher if I’d driven tired rides to their graves versus buying or leasing new cars every 3 or 4 years through most of my adult life. But, I wouldn’t have had as much fun and at the end of the day, life is worth living. And since cars are a part of my life, it’s been a worthwhile and necessary expense. My first car therefore, was a great “car guy” car – high performance, super fun to drive, etc. A 1979 VW Scirocco.  (while the picture at left isn’t mine, mine looked exactly like this)  1974-volkswagen-scirocco--2_460x0wIt was just at 4 years old when we bought it, had about 60,000 miles on it, and ran like a rocket. In a day where 5.7 liter V8 engines in Corvettes and Camaros and Mustangs were smog-controlled back to about 165 HP, my little Scirocco cranked 115 hp from it’s 1.8 liter 4 cylinder in it.  And because the car weighed all of 1950 lbs, it’s power to weight ratio was better than that in a Firebird Trans Am. And that made it just as fast.  The best/funniest thing about it was my Dad – any time I pulled my car into the driveway behind his, it would be gone the next morning – he loved that little thing and it’s 5-speed manual transmission and thundering stereo. He would pull off the sunroof panel (remember those?), pop in a cassette of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, slap it into gear and blaze off, redlining the engine on every shift.

I remember the day we went to buy it like yesterday. My Dad had given me a car shopping budget and basically no parameters beyond mileage – not more than 70,000 miles, and not more than $4000. Beyond that, have fun. I knew about Sciroccos and VW Rabbit GTIs (not coincidentally my current car is a 2011 VW GTI), and so I looked at those as well as other sporty import cars and few others. I knew I wanted small and light, with great handling. I didn’t want a Camaro or Firebird, and Mustangs were just awful at that point. I found this at a dealer about 30 miles away. I came back, told my Dad about it, and the following Saturday, we went to look at it. He had done some research on it and had called the previous owner. It was a solid car. Unbeknownst to me, he had already called the dealer and negotiated a final price, so when we showed up, we went for a fast test drive, which my Dad drove of course, and when we came back, the salesman (and through a fit of “why is information like this still in my brain”, I still remember his name – Dennis Matney) was standing there with a file folder in hand. We hopped out and my Dad turned to me and said “So?” and I said to him “Umm, So?” and he said “Is this the car you want?” I smiled and said “Yup, that’s the car”. He turned to the salesman and said “Ok, let’s do this.” He pulled out his check book, wrote a check for $3600, and the salesman handed us the paperwork. We were done in less than 5 minutes. I was in heaven when he dropped that key into my hand!

As a dad, I’ve been looking forward to yesterday for forever. After looking for a bit and trying out a bunch of cars ranging from a very tired old Blazer all the way to a perfect condition 2000 Mercedes Benz CLK320 convertible (that would have been Robin’s and they would have gotten one of our current cars to drive), we settled on a Honda Civic – it was owned by a work colleague of a good friend. 2008 model year, only 40,000 miles. Looks and runs like a brand new car. And only $10,000. While at the top of the budget we set, considering its age and mileage, it is worth the investment.

We also were of the opinion that 16 year olds do not need cars – they can bum rides, take our cars, etc. And we’ve always had a fun ride in the house. To wit: Poor Joel, our oldest son, when he first got his license had to choose between a 2004 screaming yellow, 240 HP, rear drive, 6 speed manual, Mazda RX-8 sports car, or an electric red, convertible, every-option 2002 BMW 330 Ci. Poor kid. That said, Alex and Brian, as much as Joel IS a car guy and a driving addict, are not even licensed yet. At nearly 18 years old. It just hasn’t been something that’s been a priority for them, and well, if it’s not their priority, why should I push them? While I’ve saved a ton of money on car insurance, it’s now time to get licenses. So on Sunday when we called them after buying it and said “Guess what? We bought you a car!” we were met with, “Oh, Ok. Thanks. Umm. Yeah.” Not exactly the fist-pumping excitement I had hoped for. But, I got the reaction I wanted last evening when I brought the car home. Suddenly it became tangible – they have a car. And so, the excitement came through. While not fist pumps, I sure got high fives and hugs. I’m sure they’d have been more excited if they were licensed and could go motor off in it but, they are not. So the game plan is to have them drive nothing but their new Civic for the next few weeks, and then they will get their licenses in time for graduation. And then the true reality and freedom of the road will be upon them. God help me and them and my insurance rates!

As you were,

Stew

Here’s the ride:

Triple D Road Trip and My Three Sons

19 Apr

Ostensibly, this post is NOT about the Triple D Road Trip – it’s about my sons.  The impetus, is of course, the Triple D road trip.  I have to count myself among a very tiny minority of exceptionally lucky people who have teenaged children that a) would want to go on a road trip at all (“17 hours in a compact car? Like, whatevurrrr …”); b) would want to go on said road trip with Dad, of all people; and c) would make the highlight of that trip two big museums, and the featured city of said road trip, Cleveland, OH.

Yet, I hit the lottery on all three.

As I’ve stated before, Spring Break is not anything special for us, between Robin working for an accounting firm, and now with Joel, the oldest, at school, not having even coordinated spring breaks.  So in years past, just to get the kids out of the house and away, we’ve packed up for Iowa and headed to my mom’s home, where the guys would hang out, be bored, play video games, occasionally go to the Y to burn off steam, and I’d eat and drink too much with my mom and our friends out there.  Therefore, this year, when the guys asked me, “so, when are we going to Iowa this year during spring break?” my answer was “well, actually, I was thinking we’d do something different.  Let’s Road Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (aka Rock Hall).   And that was met with “Hey, that sounds fun!”

On road trips, our guys are long accustomed to them – as I’ve said before, we’ve been a road tripping family since they were born, with 4+ annual trips to my mom’s in Iowa (5 hours) and multiple trips to Boston/Cape Cod, New York, Colorado, etc. – they feel like anything short of 3 hours there’s not even a reason to stop the car, and 5 hours is just a lob. So, a trip of this length wasn’t new territory for Alex and Brian.   And, I did make this Road Trip friendly for them as well – A&B, by the nature of being twins, have always been on the short end of the travel accommodations stick.  On trips where we’ve stayed in hotels, they’ve always had to share a bed – which as teen boys now, isn’t so fun for them.  They’ve always been the passengers, not the directors of the trip.  On this trip, I made it different.  For our hotel, we stayed in an extra-large suite at the Embassy Suites in Cleveland (overall hotel rating?  Meh.) – when we checked in, we got to the hotel, I said “you guys have the bedroom” – they pop open the door to the two queen beds and “Hey!  We’ve got our own beds!”   And they had an active hand in every decision on the way – from when we would stop for the bathroom, to buying road food (Jerky.  Road food of champions.), to destinations, the Triple D restaurants, etc.  And they were champs.  There were zero conflicts between us, between them, etc.  And other than “ugggh … I’m so full!” after yet another Triple D restaurant stop, no complaining either.

This trip really reminded me of this – I feel truly blessed with my sons – and this includes Joel, my oldest, of course.  Somehow, in the lottery of parenting, where nothing quite goes as planned, we are blessed with three sons who count long family dinners, sitting at the dining room table, time spent hanging out with mom and dad, time spent hanging out with mom and dad’s friends, and time spent with family in general, as among their favorite things.  I’d love to say it was all in our parenting style, but there’s got to be something more to it.  Clearly, all we did was raise them as our parents raised Robin and me, so maybe it’s that.  Maybe they are genetic anomalies that are born without the “whatevurrrr” gene.  Maybe it’s because that yes, while as their parents, we treat them as our children, we also recognize that they have a pretty much equal voice in our household and their votes do count.

I’d be remiss without spending a bit of time on them individually here.

Let’s start with Joel.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about A&B for the past few posts, Joel gets some “inches” here.  We’ve known since pretty shortly after he was born, that Joel was indeed a unique animal. He is scary intelligent, with an analytical brain and a memorization capability like none I’ve ever encountered.  The kid was making lists and organizing things since he was two.  As a little boy he was a HUGE NASCAR fan –  Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, the Labonte brothers, the Waltrip brothers, etc. – all his idols.  And so, he had a huge collection of the little 1/64th (“Matchbox” sized for those of us of a certain age) scale NASCAR toy cars and he’d have races on our dining room table with them.  He’d set them all up on the middle of the table like they were in the garages in the infield, literally grouping teams of them together (he knew all this info at like 3 years old, by the way), and then he’d have them qualify, methodically writing down the qualifying order, then he’d line them all up, and he’d have a race.  Somehow moving 30 or more cars around and around the table, and the best part was giving audible play by play as if he were the booth announcers.  I really am sorry I don’t have this on video.  As he got older, and got into sports, and video games and sports video games, he’s pursued the same thing in those areas – pressing the capabilities of those systems to create games, seasons, schedules, tournaments, etc.  He’s an engineering major at Illinois now – the car thing has carried over, he’s actively involved in building race cars at University of IL.   Joel was always our challenger – when you’re that smart, and that independent, it’s hard to grow up and still be a kid.  And well, it was hard for us as well – his senior year in HS was rough around the house – and well, we all didn’t get along.  He was pulling hard at the ropes and we were hanging on for dear life.  It was because we hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he really was already an adult. The best thing that happened in our relationship was him was him going off to school.  Now, he gets us, and we get him.  There’s still some battles of course, and normally it’s because, well, we’re still not quite ready to cut all the ropes yet.  That said, of my three kids, I worry about Joel the least.  He will make a great living, he will be a great husband to the lucky girl that gets him, and will be a great dad to his kids.

Alex has always been our complex one – he is also brilliantly smart, but instead of being analytic, he’s expressive.  Both he and his twin brother have embraced Rock music as much as their old man, and took several years of guitar lessons.  I’d love to see them pick it back up and continue with it – they were both becoming pretty accomplished players and they can still pick up the axes and jam with the old man.  Alex also has become a huge lover of film – and again, same with Brian.  I’m not sure if there’s a “who was first” thing there – but the way they analyze movies, film, etc. and by extension now, web video is amazing.  Lastly, Alex is positively hilarious – he never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and his humor is wacky, dry and amazing.  On our road trip, he was definitely the supplier of the wacky wit.  Alex also has a quiet intensity about him, he is amazingly handy, and has always been the “no problem” guy – you ask him to do something, it just happens.  Between his love of film and the internet, I’m thinking he will find his way into doing something in the internet content world – and in video.

 

We’ve always called Brian our “hippy dippy man”.  One of our favorite phrases has been to say to him,  “Dude, what color is the sun in your world.”  He looks at things from a different perspective.  He is the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata” – no worries in Swahili, always being relaxed and carefree.  Now, that has its ups and downs – school doesn’t come that easy for him, although he’s just as intelligent as his brothers – but hey, he’ll get to it.  But the thing with Brian is,  he is one of the most happy guys I’ve ever met.  Things just don’t seem to bother him – he finds the cool in everything and cool in the little things, he is relaxed and easy going, he has great friendships, he’s artistic and more.  He LOVES children and little kids – he’s really found a groove as a swim counselor at the camp where the boys work in the summers.  When we took a family vacation to Hawaii back several years ago, there was a guy working at our hotel that was the “beach concierge” – literally a hotel concierge, situated on the beach.  He could make you dinner reservations and also sign you up for the surfing classes, the snorkeling, etc.  He was the most easy-going chill guy ever, with huge local knowledge and was an instant friend to anyone he met.  We continually say that that would be the ideal situation for Brian – he makes friends instantaneously, he is extremely comfortable talking to anyone and he loves helping people.  And he’s mellow.  So, he could be that guy.

Anyway, in closing on this, we are just incredibly blessed with these three guys.   And the Triple D Rock Hall trip, and the trips that we take as a family, and just us guys (Indy 500 in just over a month – all four of us.  Look out.) and, most often, family dinners, continually prove that to me.

This ends the Triple D road trip saga.  Now I have to find something else to write about.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D/Rock Hall Road Trip – We’re back!

1 Apr

Well, we’re back from our epic Rock Hall/Triple D road trip – rolled in the driveway yesterday afternoon about 4:00 PM.  After writing the blog post from Wednesday, and that took me more than an hour in the evening, I decided to put off blogging about the trip until I got home – sorry about that!  And this morning as I sit here thinking about writing what I want to about this, I realize I have three core topics to cover – the Triple D restaurants, the Rock Hall (as those in Cleveland call the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame), and well, the reflections of what it’s like to travel with two awesome teenaged sons who truly both wanted to be on this trip, and truly enjoyed it and how special that is.

I do have to say that I’ve always loved road trips – we never flew on family vacations growing up.  For a family that had aviation in its DNA with my grandfather having been a pilot, because of where we lived, and the sheer cost of commercial air travel, I didn’t take my first commercial flight until I was around 11 or 12 and traveled with my mom to New Jersey to see my grandparents.  It was always the road.  And my folks did road trips right.  We weren’t one of those families that did the “let’s drive all night” thing.  The journey was always part of the destination.

We rarely drove more than about six or seven hours per day, either.  Our summer trips to New Jersey to see my grandparents included an overnight stopover in the Chicago area at our relatives, the Coxes – to hang and play with our first cousins, Tom and Doug, and then usually another overnight in Western or Central Pennsylvania.  Our Colorado trips always had a stop somewhere in Nebraska – Grand Island, York, North Platte, or Kansas – Salina or Lawrence.  About the only place we did the “straight through” drive was the years we went to Northern Minnesota and the fishing cabin.

Robin and I have done the same thing now as well – we’ve taken great driving trips with the family – twice to Cape Cod, twice to Greenwood Lake NY, once to Colorado, as well as countless driving trips to Iowa and Wisconsin.  We rarely cover more than 8 hours (although Colorado we did 12 hours in our first day, albiet with a full hour lunch stop at my mom’s in Newton, IA), we always made sure with the kids that we got to the hotel in time for an enjoyable dinner and a swim, etc.

On this trip, we drove 1040 miles and what was so fun about it was the trip WAS the destination.  Our first stop, about 2 1/2 hours out, was a Triple D restaurant.  That left about 4 hours of driving to Cleveland.  Cleveland to Dayton was another 3 hour run, then coming home yesterday, although the day’s total (like Wednesday) was about six hours, taking more than an hour break in West Lafayette at Triple XXX Drive In, as well as a 45 minute stop in Indianapolis to pee at the IMS Museum, and visit Mary Anne, our parking hostess for the 500 every year, really broke up the drive.

I come home having a great appreciation for a number of things:  1) My sons – more on that later, but they truly are great traveling companions.  They are funny, silly (different than funny), never putting on the sullen teenager act, they appreciate food the way I do, and we were all in sync the entire trip.  2)  Our country – this sounds strange, but the ease of which we can travel and cover great distances cannot be ignored.  While the highways can be smoother (and don’t get me started on the Republican’s goal to defund federal highway funding), and the traffic can be less, I nonetheless love traveling around our country and it truly is amazing that you can drive 1000 miles and really only tour around a small section of our country; 3) Music – if, besides eating, there was a single thing that defined this road trip, it had to be music.  We had a constant flow of great tunes playing, whether in the car or at the Rock Hall.  Between iPods/iTunes and Sirius Satellite Radio (Classic Vinyl was our favorite channel), this trip’s sound track was pure classic rock … with an hour-long dose of Jackopierce – the acoustic duo I recently discovered thanks to my pal Professor Troutstream.  4) Driving – while this is sort of a “well duh” item, let’s face it.  I love to drive.  I drove 18 of our 19 hours and never got sick of it.  Doesn’t hurt to have an awesome car to drive in my little VW GTI – that thing just eats miles and spits them out, all at 33 mpg going nearly 80 mph.  Awesome.

So, onwards.  I have a bunch of business travel this week, which means, inevitably, some serious downtime in which I’ll have time to write about the restaurants, about the Rock Hall, and the Air Force Museum, and about what it meant to me to travel with a pair of 16 year old boys who are both little kids and great grown men pals at the same time.

As always, the best part of a trip is often coming home.  Robin and Sprite were both very happy to have us home. We were done traveling yesterday.  But I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.

As you were,

Stew

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