Give It Gas! Give it Gas!

My very first car had manual transmission and I didn’t know how to drive it. With only seven miles on the odometer, my friend Kim (Botsford then, Dupont now) drove my pretty, blue Toyota Tercel off the lot. She drove the car home and patiently taught me how to drive “stick-shift.” I had to be at work at 8:00am so I had all night to learn.

Why did I buy I car I didn’t know how to drive? I’ll have to take you back to 1976. If you weren’t alive back then, consider this a history lesson. My family was living in South Africa. It was my Dad’s birthday and we were planning to celebrate with pizza and a movie. The movie was Hennessy with Rod Stieger & Lee Remick. My brother, Doug, was too young to get in to the movie, so we made him wear my sisters clogs so he appeared taller, and therefore, older. The plan was to be as unnoticeable as possible.

At the time, my Dad was driving a Citroen – a sweet car that balanced itself if one of the tires went flat. It also did this strange air-like settling thing whenever it came to a complete stop. The emergency brake was tucked in to the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel. And…it had a manual transmission.

So we eat our celebratory pizza, find our way to the theater, and make it to our seats without anyone giving us grief about Doug’s age. About 30 minutes in to the movie, my Dad passes out and we can’t revive him. We panic, someone yells for a doctor, the lights come on, the movie stops, and a doctor jumps over the chairs to do CPR. Needless to say, we were noticed. My Dad was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and the four of us stood in the parking lot and watched it drive away. Three of us knew how to drive – none of us knew how to drive stick. That sweet, little Citroen sat in the parking lot. In the taxi ride to the hospital I promised myself I’d learn how.

This afternoon my nephew, Mac, and I circled an empty parking lot until he “got it.” Before him was his sister Amanda, their cousin Nathan, their friends Whitney and Afton, a few people I can’t seem to remember, and my first student…my brother Doug. The trick in teaching someone to drive stick-shift is to remain calm…no matter how many times they pop the clutch and give you whiplash. It’s not helpful to yell, “Give it gas! Give it gas!” Remember to turn corners – it seems to be the first place where the brain freezes and they realize there are 3 pedals and pressing them incorrectly makes the car due frightening things. You may have to demonstrate the “concept” several times and teach them to listen to the sound of the car. It’s good to say, “Everybody does this. You’re not the first person to stall a car.” You may have to say that several times in many different ways. And when they’re ready…encourage them to leave the parking lot. Yes…they have to stop when the light is red or the sign says STOP. And “riding the clutch” is a technique that must be unlearned as soon as possible.

Thank you, Kim. You were a fantastic teacher and a wonderful friend.


2 Responses to “Give It Gas! Give it Gas!”

  1. Mackenzie on April 30th, 2008

    I also have the fondest memories for my first car, also a stick. We gave it up (to my brother) when we had number two. A two-door convertible is not so convenient for carseats…. One of my multiple teachers described it like dancing, one foot up and the other down, a smooth transition that you can’t feel. Mmmm I miss driving a stick. Do they make stick-shift minivans? On another note, you can have your pan back, I snagged a green le chasseur. It’s smaller, but maybe that way I’ll be able to cook appropriate portions for my family!

  2. lucyzoe on May 1st, 2008

    I’m guessing soccer moms are all about automatic transmission. Back in the day, VW vans were stick, but moms didn’t drive them. I’m pretty sure only hippies did.

    Ooooh. Congrats on the new pan. I’ll pick mine up next week.

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