I got a crash course this weekend in driving a stick shift! Whoo hoooooo!
Yesterday afternoon, I found myself sitting in the driver’s seat of a small pickup truck, staring at the intimidating FOUR pedals near my feet. A friend’s generous, patient, and knowledgeable brother G sat beside me.
Earlier that day, I’d done something I wish I hadn’t. I’d read a how-to article and watched a YouTube video on how to drive a stick shift. It sounded way too complicated, which made me very nervous. But G made me feel better as he explained the theory of a manual transmission versus an automatic. It mostly made sense. The thing that stood out as the most practical bit o’knowledge was that pressing in the clutch allowed you to change gears.
Here we go
“Now,” he said as we sat in his truck, “we’re just going to go back and forth in the driveway first. Then we’ll head out into the neighborhood.”
Oh, he has no idea what he’s gotten himself into, I thought to myself. Doesn’t he know my synapses are not firing properly nowadays? Hasn’t he ever heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
“Put your right foot on the brake and your left on the clutch. Press both of them all the way in.”
Yeah, OK. I can do that.
“Good, now let me watch as you go through the gears.”
I do it. It’s pretty easy to remember the locations, I thought.
“Great. Now put it in reverse, gradually ease up on the clutch, take your foot off the brake, and give it just a little gas. Then stop.”
Oh good lord. He wants me to move it now. Take a deep breath. It’ll be fine. Every single person you asked this weekend has told you it’s easy, so there’s no reason you can’t do it, too. You’re smart. You drove farm equipment when you were younger, right? Not exactly on a regular basis, but you did it.
Of course, it stalled on me the first time. And quite a bit thereafter. But we went through the driveway drills to his apparent satisfaction, because after a few minutes, he announced that I should back out of the driveway and go left.
Auuuuugh! Red light! Alarm! Danger! Code super-red!
“Um, do you promise that you have a very quiet, non-busy neighborhood?”
“Yep, you’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
Deep breath. You’ll be fine. Let’s go.
And y’know what? I was fine. During the drive, G explained that it was pretty impossible for me to damage his truck — or any vehicle — while going through the typical learning motions. The types of damages I’d heard about in the past were usually the result of prolonged bad habits, not a stupidass girl-mistake during a single drive. I felt a lot better after that.
I did some things quite well, I think, because many times he said something like “beautiful….that was perfect.” At one point he even said I was doing better than a lot of people on their first drives. And he liked that I stayed calm when I did make a mistake.
“Most beginners get in trouble on the road not because they can’t drive. They wig out and get too upset,” he said.
I handled my first hill without stalling and did an overall great job, G said, minimizing rollback on hills. At times I felt like I was really ‘getting it.’ I seemed to do much better when I wasn’t thinking about it too hard.
Then came The Evil Stop Sign of Great Frustration and Torture.
In a pedicament
I’d stalled at many stop signs, but was usually able to get going again after a minor delay. I think I was letting the clutch out too quickly and giving it too much gas, at which time I did something — not sure what — which, in my head, might prevent a lurch. Well, at this one bedeviled stop sign, I could NOT get going again. Let’s see if I can remember how many times I stalled by re-enacting my comments and expletives. To paint an accurate picture in your head, you’ll need to imagine G snickering a little in the background. Then chortling. Then laughing.
“Well. There I go again.” Restart. Stall.
“Crap.” Restart. Stall.
“Dammit.” Restart. Stall.
“Dammit, what am I doing wrong?” Restart. Stall.
“Dammit to hell!” Restart. Stall.
“Shit! I don’t understand. What am I doing?” Restart. Stall.
“Fuck.” Restart. Stall.
“Dammit to fucking hell.” Restart. Stall.
“Motherfucker.” Restart. Stall.
“Jesus!” Restart. Almost stall….. Damn. Stall.
“Goddammit, I don’t get it!” Restart. Stall.
“Goddammit to motherfucking hell.” Restart. Stall.
“Jesus motherfucking Christ.” Restart. Almost stall…..
“Oh, no, the hell you don’t!” Try to catch it…..sending a prayer to the manual transmission gods….
Yay, I finally made it happen!!! We were moving again.
Ending up all good
At the next stop sign, I spurned the brakes and only did a rolling stop because there was a family hanging out in a nearby yard. I refused to embarrass myself in front of actual people! I continued to practice my newfound rolling-stop talent until G made me stop again. Dammit. But I did that one OK, and no other frustration-filled, profanity-inducing stop signs presented themselves.
Another delay during the lesson involved a kid and his dog. No WAY was I going to get mobile again until both of them were far, far away from the truck. That wasn’t a driving problem, though. Just an I-don’t-want-to-kill-anyone thing.
Want to know why I chose this weekend to learn to drive a stick? You see, my car died last week. I’ve been driving a rental since Wednesday, and am trying to make an informed, smart car-buying decision as quickly as possible. Saturday, I was enormously frustrated with the process when I ran across an online listing for the PERFECT little used Mini convertible, and it was sittin’ pretty on the Laurens Road motor mile. I rushed to the lot without reading the fine print.
Turns out the car was perfect except that it had a manual transmission and I couldn’t damn drive it.
I made a few venting phone calls, and to my surprise, several people said buy it anyway. A friend’s sister learned how to drive her new car on the way home from the dealership. Another friend said he did the same thing when he bought his first car. Even my 83-year-old mom said driving a manual car was easy…..”nothing to it!”
Hmmmm, so my quandary: should I spend thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment I don’t really know how to operate?
I’ve come to a decision, I think, but there are still some things up in the air. I’m tired of writing right now, so stay tuned.
Hey. I just created a cliffhanger. :)