I learned to drive on a stick shift. I hated them at first…anyone who has tried learning can no doubt appreciate the lurching, stalling, and peeling out that I experienced behind the wheel of Dad’s red Subaru station wagon.
But once I learned, I loved driving a manual transmission. Four of my eight cars have been stick shift. The other four would have been too, if I’d had my way. Two of the automatics were purchased because there were no manuals available without special ordering them, one automatic was a pre-owned so I had less choice in terms of specific equipment, and my latest car is an automatic because it can’t be had with a manual transmission in the United States. (Buy the same car in Europe, and a stick shift is standard.)
Stick shifts have given way to “tiptronic” transmissions–you’ve seen and probably driven those–the tranny has a mode where the driver can click the shifter to move up or down through the gears with no clutch. These are a joke. I can’t imagine anyone ever really using them. My BMW had it, and I think I tried it out once. Darling’s convertible has it, too, and I doubt it’s ever been used.
Manual transmissions have largely been relegated to stripped down, basic cars now. Some of the luxury makers still offer a manual transmission, but when I was car shopping recently, I searched the entire east coast for a Mercedes C-class with a stick shift and found NOTHING. Those wanting a stick shift will have an easier time finding a BMW with one–those cars are known to appeal to driving enthusiasts, and seems there are enough out there who want to be fully engaged with their car to justify keeping a few on the lots. But even the Corvette, the perennial American sports car, is outfitted with an automatic transmission the majority of the time.
Many of my friends and family members don’t see it my way–that a stick shift is just more fun to drive. My roommate in college was such a person–she never learned to drive one. I gave her a few lessons and she did fairly well, but it basically came down to she just didn’t care to do it. This led to hilarity one weekend morning back in my college days. The roomie and I had company over, and had decided to make a quiche for breakfast that morning. We needed a few ingredients, so I ran out to the store to get them. For whatever reason, I took her car–leaving behind the stick-shifted Dodge I had the misfortune of owning at the time.
When I got to the store, I slammed part of the key ring in the door. My roommate had one of those type with multiple rings on it, an assortment of frequent shopper cards, plus keys to various cars and homes. One section of keys was caught by the door and broke, sending keys all over the interior of the car. I’d already locked the doors, and hoped I had not just locked the one to the car inside. A quick glance at the keys remaining in my hand showed a car key, so I breathed a sigh of relief. I went in and got the things I needed and came back outside. It was then that I discovered that the car key I was holding was to MY car, and the one to my roommates was lying on the dashboard, locked inside. I went back in the store and to use the phone…the extra keys to my car were at the house, so she could drive up to the store with her spare set.
But she was worried about driving my stick shift. She was particularly afraid that she would stall trying to exit our complex and get into an accident. A legitimate concern, as the entrance to our apartments sat in a curve, and you really had to hit the gas to join traffic.
She and the friend who was with us for the weekend decided to WALK to the grocery store with the spare keys. It runs in my mind that all of this occurred near Thanksgiving break, and so the idea of being able to call anyone else in town for a ride must have been out of the question. Our apartment was about four miles from the grocery store–almost all of it UPHILL.
After pacing the grocery store and reading magazines for about a half hour, I happened to run into a professor of mine. I explained to him what was going on, and he and his friend offered me a ride. I thought my friends might have opted to walk the interstate, since it was somewhat flatter and had a wide shoulder to walk on. So the professor went that way..but when we didn’t see them, I realized they must be walking the steeper, two lane road. As we rounded one corner, I spotted them. They’d made it barely a mile, and not even halfway up the first of two steep grades.
“Hide down there,” the professor suggested (he was a big prankster), “I’ll mess with them a little.”
I ducked into the floor of the back seat. He rolled down the window. Bear in mind, my friends had no idea who this man was. “Hey there, need a ride?” he asked. I expected my cautious friends to refuse a ride from two strange men, but without missing a beat one of them shouted, “Oh GOD YES! Thank you!”
I cracked up laughing, they got in, and all was well. My friends were so exhausted from their climb that they would have gotten in if the car had said “Rape Wagon” down the side and the driver had been carrying a butcher knife. We all had a good laugh, and it turned out fine.
But the moral of the story is that a lot of trouble could have been saved if one of them had just known how to drive a stick. And sadly, fewer and fewer people will have the experience.