Our vacationing neighbors asked us to take their car for a spin from time to time during their three-week absence. They’ve kept our pets alive more times than I can count, and, despite the fact that our cat continues to live, it seemed an easy way to repay their kind, if misguided, efforts.
Now, they don’t drive some flashy sports car or pimped-out SUV. It’s a basic Japanese sedan that has more miles on it than our 10-year-old Jeep. But what it does have that our vehicles don’t is a manual transmission.
After doing them the “favor” of driving their car to the Metro parking lot and back, I can say with assurance that if I have a choice, the next car we own is going to have a stick shift. Five on the floor. Because driving a manual transmission is FUN!
I haven’t driven a stick since we “sold” my old, ailing Honda Civic CX to a friend about 6 years ago. He needed a car; we needed a case of beer, so we traded. Despite my hiatus, the art of shifting gears came right back to me. I glided through each one as smoothly as if I’d been driving this car forever. I deftly downshifted. Nary a lurch nor jolt. No grinding gears. No stalling out. I was perfection.
As I drove, a handful of related thoughts began to congeal in a way that only a writer would understand. In no particular order:
- My first car was a 1980 Buick Skylark with 4 on the floor, and the stick shift bent back at a strange angle because of the front bench seat. My parents had ordered this car special and had to wait for it to be built and shipped. A couple of former sports car drivers (think Jaguar, MG, ’57 Chevy), I’m sure they were craving the control a manual transmission offers after all those years of driving station wagons and huge family sedans.
- I knew I had mastered the art of driving a stick shift when I had to stop on an incline, facing up, at a two-way stop sign. I looked both ways, then proceeded across the road with the efficiency required of that limited visibility intersection, without kicking up so much as a single pebble.
- In high school, I dated a guy whose dad had given him a brand-new Camaro Z-28 for his 16th birthday. With T-tops. I was the only girl he ever let drive it. Or at least that’s what he told me.
- I was always fascinated by my dad’s 10-wheeler farm truck. It had 15 gears! So, every five gears, he had to shift twice (one stick from low to medium, the other from 5th to first to start all over).
- My sons still pretend to drive fast sports cars even as we lumber along in our giant Suburban. In their minds, they hear the whine of high RPMs as they race through the gears.
- Do kids nowadays even know how to drive a stick? Meaning in real life, not in a video game? How many people do you know today who drive a manual transmission? I think more people should, because if they did, we would all be forced to engage in - to concentrate on – the act of driving, thereby precluding cell phone conversations and texting behind the wheel.