Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 09/05/2013

How many gears does this thing have???????

60499371The highways and byways are just a little less safe these days.  No, we haven’t launched another teenage driver.  Been there, done that, eight different times.  I’ve had a kid who’s driven on the sidewalk for half a block her first solo day out with the car.  She took too sharp a right turn out of the driveway and didn’t bump back onto the road for awhile.  All this viewed from my front door.  Then there was the kid who backed into Wood’s front end on her way to Miege and sent the sibling in the passenger seat inside to break the bad news. Another kid backed out of the garage, driver’s door partially open to try and hear what his sister was yelling from the back door and backed out of the garage taking the open car door off.  Okay, one more —- the kid  who went to get gas for the first time and forgot to stop squeezing the “trigger” of the gas pump when she was removing it and soaked my shoes.  Oh, I’ve been initiated.  Yes sir.  And in case anyone’s wondering, they all took driver’s ed. And yes, Allstate is on speed dial.

But I’ve got a stick shift.

I traded in my Toyota for a Volvo.  And the Volvo is a stick shift.  I haven’t driven a stick in thirty years.  I do remember that there is an oh-so-careful balance between keeping the forward momentum going at a red light – a little engine and a little clutch. If you don’t get that balance just right, you will kill the engine.  Do that enough and you will wind up with an anxiety disorder.  And that’s on a flat pavement.  And that’s with fifteen impatient drivers muttering and making hand gestures behind me. Blowing their horn.  (And I find myself muttering my dad’s one-liner, “The horn works, now try the lights.”)   And on a hill?    Hugely annoyed at the car behind me who is almost in my back seat. Going just a tiny bit backwards will result in impact-of-the-Allstate-kind.

I have driven the car a few times back and forth to the grocery store.  You know, stayin’ in the neighborhood.  Last Friday I took my sole maiden voyage onto the highway to the school where I teach.  Actually it’s two highways.  The problem is that once I got to fourth gear, I kind of wanted to stay there.  That can be tricky as you exit I-35 to 635.  Pretty tight curve and I am flying, trying not to downshift.  (Maybe you could say that I am missing the whole point of a stick?)  Once onto 635, I can feel my confidence begin to soar.  I can do this, right?  It’s like riding a bike.  Once you learn, you have that muscle memory.

I look down at the gear shift and realize that there’s a fifth gear.  Hmmm.  Maybe?  I go for it.  Flawless.  Almost at my exit, I put my blinker on.  Now I have to downshift because I can see  the light is red up ahead.  Fifth gear is definitely not an option at this point.  But when I look down at the gear shift, I realize that fourth gear is right next to reverse.  You know where I’m going with this, right?  No room for error, because I am not too sure what’s going to happen if I miss fourth and accidentally put the car in reverse going 45 mph on the exit ramp?  But it can’t be anything good, unless you own an auto repair shop. I never took physics in high school but this seems to fly in the face of at least one of the laws, if not two.

Driving a stick definitely brings out the driver in me.  I love to drive.  I admit to playing fast and loose with the speed limit on the highway.  Aren’t speed limits suggestions?  The GPS is what I consider a personal challenge.  Arrival time at 3:18? You’ve got to be kidding.  I am not competitive by nature, but the GPS and I have a longstanding rivalry.  3:18?  No way. I speed up just to see how many minutes I can shave off the ETA.  Stop for gas?  UGH.  Are you kidding me?  Do you know what that does to my time?  I mean, you have to bring the car to a dead stop to handle that.

Maybe I am living a fantasy NASCAR driver’s life.  Pull into the “pit” and ten different men, all with a specific job to do, get me back on the road in no time.

I don’t know….I guess I like the hands-on aspect of a stick shift.  It’s not really a drape-your-hand-over-the-top-of-the-steering-wheel kind of an activity.  Maybe that’s why I never ever use cruise control (and just maybe that would have saved me a ticket or two!).  It’s too passive for me.

NASCAR…..hmmmm.  Anyone interested in a crew position?

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