The night before Tim, Jenna, and I left for France, my Saturn was totaled in a car accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we found a great deal on a new car just a few days after we got back from the trip. Unfortunately, it was a stick shift, which I never learned to drive. So for the past couple of weeks, Tim’s been guiding me around Colorado Springs trying to teach me the finer points of not stalling out in the middle of a busy intersection. Clutches and gears have not come easily to me, and I’m still quite shaken up by the accident. I’m back to my fifteen-year-old self, timidly and awkwardly learning to drive all over again.
Here is how a typical lesson goes.
We get in the car, and I try to back out with the parking brake still on. Tim reminds me to let out the parking brake. I go into reverse, but not really into reverse, because sometimes if you don’t let the clutch in and out a couple of times, the car doesn’t really go into reverse. Instead, you go nowhere and the engine makes weird little Rice Krispy noises (I’m serious). So once I press the magic pedal and check the wind direction and click my heels together three times to make Snap, Crackle, and Pop go away, I can finally start backing. Which is never pretty. Apparently reverse isn’t really much of a gear. It’s a pathetic little wannabe gear that dreams of being a 3rd or maybe even a 4th when it grows up, but it can’t take you much of anywhere without great big jerks like you’re riding the prize bull at the rodeo. I deeply loathe reverse. The trick to it, sadly, is something that I have yet to master: feathering the clutch. This is where you pretend that the clutch has a basket of delicate, thin-shelled eggs underneath it, so you ever-so-lightly press it alternately with the gas pedal, which also has a basket of delicate eggs underneath (dang, don’t omelets sound good right now?). If I somehow manage to make it out of my driveway, then I’m faced with the daunting task of making the car go…forward.
First gear…ah first gear. My very first stick shift lesson, I went twice around our very small block and stalled the car 26 times. Most of those times were courtesy of first gear. Why people would make a car that was capable of turning OFF once you’d turned it ON is so far beyond me…but I digress. Back to the typical lesson. Well, lately I’ve been making it successfully into first gear approximately three out of every four times I try. Which isn’t that bad for a slow learner, but is not really a track record you want to have at, say, the Woodmen and Academy intersection, where there are a lot of drivers already mad as hornets at the construction and not with much patience to spare for a new stick shift driver. I creep along for a few feet until the engine is whining like a small tornado, and then I attempt a shift to second. I haven’t stalled out on this transition since my first lesson, but I’ve had some bucking bronco experiences that should have landed me in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame by now. Second to third is usually not that bad, but by then I’m at the end of our little street, faced with a stop sign and my “3 out of 4” times starting record. We drive around the neighborhood until I hit a mental block and cannot drive any further. I pull the car over and we switch places. If it’s a good day, the mental block is not accompanied by tears, pounding the steering wheel, and declaring, “I’m going to die in this car.” If it’s a bad day…well, you know.
Thankfully, it’s been taking longer and longer to hit that mental block. I can now make it to Safeway, Blockbuster, Walgreens, and as of yesterday, Lowe’s. My dream is to drive myself to Wal-Mart by the end of next week. Wish me luck.