This image is just one example of a stick shift. Also known as part of a manual or standard transmission. Also known as the bane of my existence.
Dear Stick Shift: I hate you. If I never saw you again it would be too soon. Love, Lane
If you’ve lived within a 200 mile radius of me over the last two years (particularly if your name is Sherry or Hilary) or if you have been subject to my e-mail rantings on this subject, then you have no confusion about how I feel towards these types of transmissions. In case you are one of the 3 or 4 people in the world who doesn’t fit into one of those categories, here’s the long and short of it:
When I was learning to drive for the first time, my parents owned a green-ish, standard transmission Dodge Neon. And being the independent, able individuals that they are, they thought it was best I learn to drive on the Neon, and I concurred. Their logic was that once I knew how to drive stick, I could drive anything. My logic was that I would rather drive a Neon than a Chevy Lumina MiniVan. I can see now in retrospect, their logic was more sound.
My dad became my driving coach and the parking lot across the street became the test track. My sister, for some reason I still cannot imagine, was put in the backseat to heckle. You can guess where things went from there. Let’s just make a long story short and say a) my dad is not the most patient teacher (other sources will confirm this) and did most of his teachings by yelling “CLUTCH” “NO” “STOP” “GAS” at intervals, b) I am not a calm nor collected driver, and I panic easily and c) my sister was 11 at the time, and thought my failure was hilarious. Why was she in the backseat again?
After two or three rounds of this kind of torture, I did the same thing I always do when feeling stressed and anxious about something: I gave up on it entirely. I vowed then and there that I would never, ever drive a stick shift. And I was working my way up to keeping that vow, until we moved to Europe.
Over here, an automatic transmission is like the Loch Ness Monster. You know it probably exists, you just haven’t seen one for yourself. Perhaps old women lacking the strength to shift gears or people with one arm or one leg would be excused for wanting to drive an automatic, but when I suggest that I might need one, people just roll their eyes/sigh heavily/look confused/mutter something inaudible in a foreign language. Whatever.
I can already hear what many of you are saying. I’ve heard it all before. “Driving a stick is FUN once you learn!” “It’s really easy once you get the hang of it!” “You’re going to love it!” To these people I say, in this order, it’s not fun, it’s not easy, I don’t love it.
Last year, a combination of laziness, petrification and the swarms of intimidating cyclists kept me off the road at all. I did attempt to learn a couple times, and my friend Hanny was lovely enough to tutor me in her spare time, but nothing came of it besides a couple panic attacks. I relied on my feet, my bike, my ever cheerful friend and chauffeur Sherry and my enabling husband Dave to get me where I needed to go.
This year we were given the exact same car and I had the exact same problem: I couldn’t/wouldn’t drive. And instead of the incredibly flat terrain I could have learned on last year, I was now dealing with the hilly terrain of the German foothills and forests. Shite. But this year I was lacking both Sherry and a bike, so I had to learn to drive if I ever wanted to see one of Dave’s games. Plus, I joked that I should learn in case I ever needed to drive Dave to the hospital. Turns out that wasn’t so funny.
As it would turn out, my dad’s method of stern direction with sporadic shouting was not my preferred learning method. Dave tried this method a couple times too, but the screaming/crying/vowing-to-never-drive-again that followed discouraged him to continue it’s use. Eventually, we sat down and he explained to me why I needed to put the clutch in and what was actually happening as I shifted. As simple as that sounds, I had no idea as to the inner workings of the gearshift-thing until then and understanding at the most basic level made driving a lot easier. And off I went. I went to the movie store, to McDonald’s, to the rink. I went slowly, I waited at stop signs for inordinately long periods of time, I lurched and I stalled. But I went nonetheless.
Truth be told, I never drive when I have the option not to. But today was a huge accomplishment for me. Hilary and I were invited back to the school where I spoke before to discuss the German vs. American/Canadian school systems. The session was during a time when Dave had practice, and I had to buck up. Considering my test-run to the school, about 40 kilometers away, ended up with Dave driving (long story, some tears involved), I was nervous. I literally lost sleep over it. I found myself doing relaxation exercises that I used to prescribe for anxious clients. The day and hour of our departure came. I bucked, checked gauges, adjusted mirror. I went. I picked up Hilary. We merged onto the Autobahn, Hilary checked the blind spot and spoke in a calm voice while I squealed and resisted the urge to close my eyes. We navigated construction and popped curb to avoid killing an old man on a bike with a suicide wish. We made it to the school and back in one piece.
I did it. I drove. Alone. To another town with highways and exits and twisty turns and parking lots. Here are some pictures of our visit to the school, including the display board the students made from my first visit. The fruits of my driving labor.
*photo courtesy of: brutal