Driving stick

Aug 5, 2008 by     6 Comments    Posted under: childhood memories, family, humour, life

For the past few days I have been driving my daughter’s boyfriend’s Honda Civic 5 speed. Why? Well, because Jen can’t drive stick. Her boyfriend is getting another car in a few days – one with an automatic transmission –  so we’ve swapped cars until then.

Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission is one of those things, (along with power tool usage, basic plumbing and electrical), that I think every gal should know how to do. I learned to drive stick back in the 70s on a boyfriend’s old Renault. He broke my heart but he also taught me how to do donuts in parking lots. See? There’s salt and sugar in everything.
My first brand new car ever was a little 4 speed Chevy Chevette. When my step-father bought me  that car I hadn’t driven stick in quite some time and was very nervous about driving it home. I can’t believe I’m confessing this here but I actually made the dealership deliver the car to me because I was too nervous to drive it off the lot.
When it arrived at my parent’s house my kid brother Ricky kept pestering me to go for a ride. My mom said she’d like to see me drive it too and asked if I could take her up the street to the grocery store at the mall. Gee, when your mom asks you to take her to get groceries, how can you say no?
The three of us piled in and although I stalled the car a couple of times going up the hill, we arrived safely. I stayed in the car with Ricky as he bounced around rolling down windows, turning knobs and pushing buttons while Mom went shopping.
About a half an hour later with the groceries stashed in the hatchback, I tried to leave the parking lot. I stalled that car 23 times in a row. How do I know it was 23 times? Ricky. 
Yes, my baby brother, with all the perverse glee of a nine-year-old boy, counted every single time – “That’s 15, oh, 16, ha, ha, 17…” Finally a man walked up to the car and asked if everything was alright. I wanted to tell him that everything was fine but before I could say anything my mom piped up, “She just got this car today and doesn’t know how to drive it.” I could have died.
“I too do know how to drive it, I’m just not used to it yet,” I defensively said. The man poked his head in the car and looked at my feet. “Well young lady, the first thing you need to do is take those cowboy boots off,” he advised.
I balked, “What and drive in my sock feet?” “Yes,” he said, “you need to feel the clutch.”
I took my boots off and chucked them in the back seat at my kid brother. It took about five minutes of coaching but the stranger talked me through feeling the clutch and changing the gears. It was all coming back to me. Finally with a toot of the horn we were off and I never stalled that car ever again.
Now that’s not to say I’ve never stalled any other manual shift vehicle. About nine years ago my brother-in-law taught me how to drive a semi. I stalled that rig many times while I was learning but he was so patient. I eventually got my semi license and was so proud.
Yep, knowing how to drive stick is a skill that comes in handy. The thing to remember is that the clutch on every vehicle feels different and that until you can feel the difference, you’re best not to wear cowboy boots.

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6 Comments + Add Comment

  • I had to learn how to drive stick under fire and it was one of the greatest things I ever did, except learning to type in 8th grade. My oldest who is visiting right now is driving stick – his dad just said “There’s the car, here are the keys, go for it.” That was his only option! He just moved to Texas – I’ll tell him about the cowboy boot thing.

  • I’m grateful I know how to drive a stick shift, too. I still like to keep in practice whenever I can, just in case.

    Semi licence! I’m so jealous! I thought I was cool with my forklift certification!

  • Dad made me learn in his ’63 Ford wagon, 289 with a 3-speed he had converted from the column to a Hurst floor shift as he thought 2nd was “way too high” for being his daily driver (at the time he covered about 500 miles a week in town traffic). Mom and little sister were in the back seat each weekend as he took me out to various parking lots…not a lot of fun!

    I heard “Click and Clack” on “Car Talk” (NPR) the other week telling a mother to take her kids out to a flat parking lot and make them practice taking off in 1st without touching the gas until they could do it and not stall the engine. She had been trying to teach them and feared whiplash…


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  • Definitely have to feel the clutch. I found that out when I would stall Gloria coming to and from the gym in sneakers.

    I’d love to drive a semi next.

  • lol.. i can imagine you wanting to just smack that smugness right outta your lil bro.. lol