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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fear the Stick Shift!

Last week one of my co-workers drove a different car to the office and left his parking permit in his other vehicle. He was scheduled to go into a meeting that we knew would run over the time frame where parking is allowed without a permit in our little burg, so he asked if I would be able to move the car for him. "Sure" I said, knowing that it would be no big deal.

Guess again.

When the time came, I took his key and walked to his car. I got in, buckled my seat belt (safety first!) and looked down at the gear shifter. Sweet Freaking Felix, it was a stick shift! Without a word of exaggeration, it's been 28 years since I've had to manually shift the gears on a car. It's always been my contention that if they MAKE a car that automatically shifts itself into gear, who am I to buck the system and do it myself? I'd hate for the guy who installs the automatic transmission to be put out of a job, so I buy the car that has automatic transmission so he gets to keep his job. I'm all about the economy, folks.

Perhaps I should explain my irrational fear of the stick shift.

Back in the late 80's, I had a '74 Chevy Vega, a little grey thing with red hubcaps. Yes, red. It was a sweet little ride. It didn't matter that you had to open the hood, unscrew the carburetor and stick a pencil inside to hold open the choke to start it. Every. Time. Some call it a pain in the ass. I call it character. My little red-hubcapped character. She was an automatic and I didn't care that I had to jump through so many hoops just to get her started. She was mine. Until she died. (RIP little grey).

My next car was given to me by my Mom's old boyfriend who felt sorry for me (not sorry enough to buy me a sweet NEW ride, but sorry enough. Whatever). It was a '77 Buick Nighthawk special edition Skyhawk. And it was a stick shift. I had to learn how to drive a stick shift. Now it is my opinion that EVERYONE should at least have a basic knowledge of how to drive a stick shift, on the off chance that they are with someone who drives a stick and that person becomes unable to drive. It's a good theory.

But let's be honest. If you're lazy like me, you enjoy the automatic transmission. You prefer it. I know I do. But the car was free and I needed a car to get to and from work, so I gratefully accepted the gift. I don't remember much about the car (it started without me having to do the pencil in the carburetor thing so that was a plus) other than to get the car to go into reverse, you had to left up on this lever on the gear shifter while pushing the shifter all the way to the right and down. It took practice. Lots of practice. Parallel parking sucked. Hard.

Just when I thought I had mastered the art of going backwards, something went 'pop' in the transmission. And then I couldn't go backwards anymore. Now, that may not necessarily sound like a bad thing, but trust me.  It's bad. You can only pull into parking spaces that are on the street, and then pray to whatever God you're worshipping that no one parks in front of you.

"Hello boss? Hi, yeah, I may be a little late to work today. Why? Oh, because there's someone parked in front of me and I can't move my car. Backwards? Oh, you mean reverse? Nah, that's not possible. Sorry. I don't go that way."

"Hello? Unemployment?"

So yeah, when your car doesn't go backwards, it causes financial hardships. I drove the car to the repair shop, but gave the repair guy plenty of advanced notice that once pulled IN, unless he fixed the transmission, there was no going back. Literally.

Somehow, dude managed to fix what he called 'a problem with the linkage'. Linkage apparently means the go-backwards-thingy in the transmission. But he did warn me that it could happen again. That guy was totally psychic! Because it totally DID happen again. Three more times.

The last time was the BEST though. Whatever crazy magic voodoo that was happening with the linkage caused that car to then ONLY GO IN REVERSE. That's right. The car would not go forward, no matter what gear it was in. Now that right there, that's a bigger problem than not going in reverse at all.

Long story short, the local car dealership was having a 'Push Pull or Drag It In' sale so I had the car towed in, and they actually gave me $500 towards a trade in for a new car. I bought myself a sweet new '88 Mercury Tracer. Automatic.

So you can see why I have an irrational fear of stick shifts. I like being able to go both forward AND backward when I'm driving. Call me crazy.

Remind me to tell you about the time my '88 Mercury Tracer caught fire in my driveway. That's a blog for another day....


  1. I had to learn to drive a stick when my Buick died. My father-in-law gave me an F150 named Mater and taught me to drive it in his driveway. Mater and I did not get along at first but I learned to love that truck and was heartbroken when it died and I had to get another car. I made sure the next one was an automatic though!!

    1. Mater!! The perfect name for a truck! RIP Mater.

  2. I am laughing out loud for real here, Teri. First, my husband would be shaking his head. It's not a "stick;" it's a manual transmission! But jeez, doesn't everyone call it a stick? Most of my vehicles have been manual transmissions! And I like it that way because you can haul the freight in those babies and feel like you're actually contributing to the driving portion, you know? I prefer my manuals to be sporty little cars, though. I learned to drive a "stick" on a 1969 VW Bus. Want to talk challenging? Try that on for size. I think my Dad was right in that if I could learn to drive that, I could drive anything. My sweetest ride was a Datsun 240Z. Man, was that a sexy car! That also caught fire and became toast. My first car (not the VW, which I got to drive, but never owned), was a Buick Skyhawk...which was 100% orange. It hauled the freight, too. My BFF had its counterpart...a Monza Spider...but hers looked really cool and I think was an automatic. Hers had a big freaking spider painted not the hood and was a respectable white. In my older (cough) years, I've had automatics, mostly because that's what's available now (they were the gas guzzlers of my generation so a lot of folks didn't drive them...and that was when gas was cheap!). We've made all three of our boys be proficient in both manuals and automatics because you just never know when you might find yourself having to drive one. Ours have always gone forwards AND backwards. And I know many, many people who've had to do little tricks to get their cars to work. One of my old boyfriends had to push the car, jump in the driver's side real quick and then start the ignition to get it to go. Ah...youth!

    1. I don't think I've ever met anyone else who drove a Skyhawk! The Spider was bitchin'! I actually had the hawk decal that was supposed to go on the hood of the car but it was massive and I was poor and couldn't afford to pay someone to professionally put it on. Had I tried, it would've just looked ridiculous.

  3. A few weeks ago I had to drive my boss'car to another store to pick something up from another store an hour away.

    First I couldn't even turn the damn thing on...stupid push button start. Then he didn't have enough gas, so it took me 15 freaking minutes to figure out how to open the gas cap.

    I know it's not exactly the same thing, but damn I love my simple not too fancy car. I also have never driven stick. I am way too uncoordinated for that.

    1. Ashli, it's NEVER comfortable driving someone else's car, ESPECIALLY with the new-fangled push-button gadgets! And don't even get me started on dealing with the gas caps!

  4. I used to have a few cars with a stick shift in my teens and twenties and had a blast with them. Old Mustangs. So much fun.

    1. You strike me as a 'Muscle Car' guy, Phil. Don't know why.

  5. Should civilization ever collapse or should I ever be whisked away to a continent where the only way to get around is 1970's era Range Rovers I'll be in dire trouble because I do not know how to drive a stick shift.
    And I've tried. Believe me I've tried. Each time it has not ended well. I think I radiate some kind of aura. A friend was going to teach me to drive her stick shift and as soon as I got behind the wheel the thing wouldn't even start.
    At least I'm not the only one who's dealt with a Mercury with an explosive engine.

    1. You'll have to tell me about your Mercury fire story, Christopher!

  6. LOVE this!
    Like a lot of teens, I learned to drive in whatever had wheels and an engine.
    My Step-father had an OLD Korea-era Willy's Jeep wagon (much like the ones seen running-around in M*A*S*H as ambulances). Luckily, someone had switched-out the old flathead engine with a 283 Chevy.

    Thing is: it was a manual.

    Sure helped me as a better driver though.
    During our Driver's Ed course (back when many high schools still offered it AND taught parallel-parking the CORRECT way), I was the first in my group to get my license - without so much as a single scratch on the Drivers Ed car (OR parked ones!).

    Of all the vehicles i've owned since, only one was an automatic:
    My '69 Mustang Mach I that I got just before summer of my Junior year of high school.

    Years ago I tried to teach the Wife to drive my old 1983 BMW 5-speed.
    For my trouble, she got it high-centered on a concrete barrier and torqued the front-end alignment (like they say: "No good deed goes UNpunished."). Luckily (for everyone all around), she was able to find a good, reliable automatic to drive.

    1. OH NO!! If it makes you feel any better, Mike, I accidentally drove my old Chevy Vega (1977 AUTOMATIC) over a concrete parking barrier. How I didn't rupture the fuel tank or completely destroy the undercarriage is beyond me.

  7. Learning to drive stick shift is a must if you like speed cause most sports cars of today rely on stick shift. Automatic makes driving so much easier and I love to get into my SUV when I want pure driving comfort. it has always been so much fun to use on vacation. Good luck with learning to drive stick.

    Kourtney Heard @ Hansen Adkins

  8. The only advice that I can give about getting a new car is to look at it like getting a mortgage. It might appear painful at first, but if you clean up your credit first and do your homework, you can get faster service and be out the door paying exactly what you expected with zero surprises at the closing.

    Newton @ Fiesta Nissan Santa Fe


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