Getting Back in Gear

You may not believe this, but I’m part of an elite group. Only about seven percent of Americans know how to drive a stick shift, and I happen to be one of them. If you aren’t and you want to be, you’ll have a tough time finding a vehicle to learn on, since only around five percent of vehicles sold in the United States have manual transmissions. I read it on the internet so it must be true.

I happen to have one of those rare vehicles, and I would teach you to drive it except I’m afraid you might not like me very much after our lessons were over—and you might not know how to drive a stick shift yet either.

I learned when I was in my mid-twenties, and I drove my little Nissan until it could drive no more. The cars I had after that had automatic transmissions, and I worried my ability would go the way my navigating skills went after I got GPS. Oh wait. My navigating skills after I got GPS were exactly like those I had before I got GPS, but you get my point.

I was excited but apprehensive when, a few years ago, we got our current car, a Subaru Crosstrek with manual transmission. I’ve ground the gears a few times and once when the car didn’t start, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize it was because I didn’t have the clutch in. But honestly the dumbest thing I’ve done since we got our white Subaru was try to get into the wrong white Subaru. And I can’t blame that on being out of practice with a stick shift.

It turns out driving a vehicle with manual transmission is like riding a bike—a bike that jerks and stalls if you don’t do it right. I’d go so far as to say, driving a stick shift is a lot like life too. It also stalls if you don’t do it right.

And, as in life, the more engaged you are, the more fun you have. As one internet source put it, driving a stick gives you a sense of the “man-and machine symbiosis.” That sounds like something a sportscaster or an advertising copywriter would say, but it is fun.  

 Also, as in life, when we stay busy, we can’t get into mischief. If we all had vehicles with manual transmissions, we wouldn’t have time to text or eat tacos while we drive.

And finally, as in life, things can go downhill pretty fast. I saved this for last because my readers don’t usually get this far and the fewer people that know about it the better. A few weeks ago, I got myself into a predicament that had me wishing I had my old automatic back. My husband and I had taken separate vehicles to church because he had a meeting afterwards. I parked facing downhill in front of the church. When I came out, I discovered that someone had had the poor judgment to park in front of me.

Everyone learning to drive a stick fears hills, specifically having to stop at a stoplight on an incline with another car right behind them. I don’t mean to brag, but I haven’t worried about that for a long time. I’ve never worried about parking facing downhill either. But I will now.

As I tried to inch out of my parking space, I rolled closer to the car in front of me. I stopped, considered, and tried again. I made no progress getting out of the parking spot, but I did roll closer to the car in front of me. I stopped again, pondered my situation and tried one more time. By now, I was dangerously close to the other car. That’s when I decided maybe I don’t have what it takes to drive a manual transmission.

I got out, went inside, traded keys with my husband and drove his automatic home. Just like in life, sometimes you take the easy way out.