Automatics and Stick Shifts

This was supposed to be posted on Saturday, the 23rd of August, but I had some wifi issues, and thought I lost it.  So it’s going up out-of-order, and on the same day that I published a new post (which is something I normally wouldn’t do).  However, it’s here, I thought it was gone, and I figured I might as well share it.  So this belongs before “Ties”, but it is what it is.

I learned to drive on automatic transmissions.  These were the only cars my parents had (in my lifetime), and the driver’s ed cars were all automatic, too.  My father could drive a manual, but I remember my step-father trying to teach my mother how to drive a manual transmission in the ’80s.  My neck still hurts from that.  Oy vey.

Anyway, at some point, I decided it was time to learn to drive a stick-shift.  I was in grad school when my boyfriend decided to teach me.  He decided to teach me first in his roommate’s Alpha Romeo.  I don’t think he ever told his roommate about that.  I’m afraid that particular car was wasted on me – that lesson was spent in a parking lot getting all the way up to second gear.  However, I did finally learn (and my boyfriend did eventually replace the clutch on his old Ford Fiesta – although to be fair, it was a Ford Fiesta).

Well, once I had learned, I was hooked.  Manual transmissions are cheaper, easier to fix, and there’s SO much more control with the car.  I don’t even mind city driving with them.  So until I started buying minivans (which happens when you have scores of children), I bought stick-shifts.

Don had a stick shift when we got married, and whenever we had two cars, at least his car was a stick-shift.  Of course, if you have two cars, and one’s an automatic, and one’s a stick-shift, and if you switch between them sometimes, it can be a little weird.

I remember when I first moved to the D.C. area in 1987.  I rented a small U-Haul, a somewhat rickety thing, as I recall, with an AM-only radio.  It was also a four-speed.  My car, at the time, was a five-speed.  The interesting thing about a four-speed transmission is that reverse is located in the position that is occupied by fifth gear on a five-speed.  It’s a good thing cars won’t let you shift into reverse on the fly, because I kept trying to shift into fifth on the highway.  It wasn’t happening.

Anyway, here I am in this weird place now.  Don has died, and I have his car, which is paid off, which is a manual transmission.  I’m still making payments on my car, which has one of those new continuous variable transmissions (that I don’t understand), but from the driver’s perspective, functions like an automatic (that is, there’s no shifting involved).  Since we decided that all the kids should learn to drive a manual transmission, I decided to give Don’s car to 20-year-old (who doesn’t have a car).  OK, it’s still legally my car, but I really can only drive one at a time.

Here’s another thing about cars:  if you don’t drive them for a while, the batteries die, and other bad things can happen, too, depending upon how long you leave the car sitting.  Don got sick in May and stopped driving, and I was otherwise occupied going back-and-forth to the hospital, and taking care of Don at home, and I didn’t drive his car for over a month.  The battery died.

We jumped it once, and that worked.  For a while.  Dear Daughter tried to start it the other day, and it just wouldn’t.  Again.  It was time to take it in and get the battery checked, and possibly replaced.  No worries.  The dealership sent over someone to jump the car (with the serious jump-starter), and then we drove over to the dealership to drop the car off.  My daughter wanted to drive my car, so I drove the stick-shift.

It’s only about a ten-minute trip to the car dealership, but that’s all it took.  Ten minutes, and it was as if I’d been driving stick-shifts forever.  No stalling.  Smooth gear shifts (I’ve improved since the Alpha-Romeo).  Easy.  My daughter was right behind, so then we just needed to get in that car and go on our way.

I got in the car and off we went.  And then I kept trying to step on the clutch.  When I stopped, I wanted to shift into neutral, and when I started again, I wanted to shift into first.  I’d only been driving the other car for ten minutes!

Life is like that.  I mean, it’s a funny thing with cars, and it’s easy to recognize when you’re trying to step on a clutch that just isn’t there, but life is like that in general.  We get used to things.  They become comfortable – even if they’re things that we might complain about, we get used to them.  Then we keep looking for them.

It also doesn’t take very much to remind us of what we knew.  We make a change, we live with that change, sometimes for years, but then something reminds us of how things were, and it’s as if we were right back there.

The other night I got together with a friend from college, and it was so easy to slip right back in time, even though we were sitting there with our children.

As I’m trying to go through Don’s things and decide what to keep and what to give away, there are memories, also, that pull me to places.  But, I’m coming to realize, just like driving a stick-shift, I don’t have to be immersed in Don’s things to maintain the memories.  A few important things are all I need.  I probably don’t even need that, but it’s nice to have them.

It’s good to know I can still drive whatever car I get into.  As long as I can remember what car I’m actually in.  And it’s good to know that my memories won’t fade.  It’s just like driving a stick-shift.

That’s all I’ve got.  That’s my mite.


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