I was legally allowed to drive when I turned sixteen years old. I got my license a little over six months later. But I knew how to drive before then. I knew that there was a gas pedal and a brake pedal and I knew how to accelerate and steer and all the things that were necessary to not die while behind the wheel of a large vehicle such as our 2011 Chrysler Town and Country.
The Town and Country. Or Gertrude as we call her. Gertie. She has a great personality. I talk to her sometimes.
“Come on Gertie. You can do it,” I’ll lean forward over the wheel and urge her to get her 4000 pounds of sheet metal and totally unnecessary frills out of a snowy drive.
But I can’t complain. She’s got (a little) power, she has a lot of luggage room (my brother and I, the experienced packers that we are, once fit 10 six foot folding tables and 24 folding chairs in her spacious cargo area), and she’s comfortable. Very comfortable. She’s got heated seats, power windows, automatic high beams, traction control, and a great stereo system.
Did I mention that I hate this car with a passion? I hate it with every fiber of my being. I hate how it looks, I hate how it performs, I hate how it feels, I hate everything about it. Well, not the stereo and the hard drive, but pretty much everything else.
This car has a sluggish V-6 carelessly tossed under the ugly maw of a hood. Its useless automatic transmission upshifts early and downshifts late. If you press the pedal too hard, it sounds like a Formula One car rev matching, and if you don’t press it hard enough, you get rear ended by the semi tailing you.
As a man, a teenage boy, and as a person in general, I have decided that I thoroughly hate this car.
My grandfather owns a 2005 Chevy Aveo. It is a mediocre car at best (he’s converted it to his work car) but it has something that I’ve been looking for. It has a manual transmission. Standard. Stick shift.
I’ve been wanting to learn how to drive stick for as long as I’ve known it was a thing. I want my first car to be a manual. Why? Because I’m a car snob.
Last summer, I finally got my chance. My grandfather asked me if I wanted to learn.
“Sure,” I responded, which roughly translates to “Heckyeslet’sgetinthecarrightnow!”
He drove the car to the park where we would start, quickly giving me pointers. I knew a lot about manual transmission, as I had been studying it for a while.
But finally, shaking with anticipation, I got to get behind the wheel. I pressed in the clutch, turned the key, and let the clutch out. As the car was in neutral, it just idled.
Per his instruction, I put in the clutch again, slid the shifter into first and slowly let the clutch out. As the clutch began to engage, I smoothly feathered the gas, and the car accelerated forward without the slightest jerk.
Well, okay. I stalled out. But that would’ve been pretty cool if I had done that.
I stalled a few more times, but managed somehow to get the car rolling.
We cruised around the park for a few minutes then headed out to the cemetery, where I actually got past second gear. And finally, a bit too soon in my opinion, we headed out for the open road.
I stalled again before managing to jerk the Aveo into the traffic.
First gear, accelerate, clutch shift. (This is kind of hard.)
Second gear, accelerate, clutch, shift. (How fast am I even going?)
Third gear, (This takes a lot of concentration.)
Clutch. Shift. Fourth gear. (I’m actually doing this!)
Clutch. Shift. Fifth gear!
I was driving! On a public road! I was a menace to society!
He told me to hang a right so I pulled a few jerky downshifts and turned down a side road. A few miles later I came upon an inclined stop that involved a lot of stalling. The car behind us just passed us. Which helped a little. In the end my grandfather just pulled the car onto level ground and I managed to get it going again.
We managed to return with no further incident, but a couple more stalls, and a couple more tense moments.
It was a few days later that we went out again. I started the car and this time smoothly got it going and I only stalled once, when I was going into reverse.
I got the hang of it. No, I’m not a professional, or even that great. But I know the basics, and time and experience are the only solutions to the other problems I have.
So, when people ask me, I can truthfully say, yeah, I know how to drive stick.
And for your benefit I’ll try to keep the smug grin off my face.