Many years ago, I took my oldest child out for a driving lesson. Charlotte was on the cusp of that most magical of all half-birthdays, 15-and-a-half, which the State of Ohio has, through the mathematics of pure insanity, determined to be the appropriate age for children to climb behind the wheel. Under the intense pressure of ceaseless pleading, I had agreed to let her drive my rickety, yet beloved, Chevy pickup out of our town’s compost center if she’d first help me rake, weed, load and finally dump the mess to be recycled. It was an easy deal for her. What wasn’t so easy was teaching the most bull-headed kid I’ve ever known how to drive a stick shift her first time out.
After her first attempt at "slowly applying pressure to the gas pedal while gradually reducing pressure on the clutch" failed because she didn’t have the truck in gear, she slammed the gearshift forward, smashed the gas to the ground and dumped the clutch like she was kicking away a snarling dog. We took off like a Top Fuel dragster on a quarter-mile run. The problem was, we didn’t have a quarter-mile. Instead, we had a couple-hundred feet of dirt lane that ended in a snarl of tree stumps and rotting logs.
"Brake and clutch! Brake and clutch! Brake and clutch!" I screamed.
And for once — perhaps for the first time ever — Charlotte obeyed and crushed both pedals to the floor with such ferocity that it blew out the brake cylinders of both rear wheels. By heavenly grace and engine compression, we puttered to a stalled stop inches short of a stump the size of a dumpster.
I sold that truck and bought an equally rickety one with an automatic transmission for Charlotte to drive on her way to becoming "Worst Driver" as voted by her high school senior class. The story doesn’t end there, however, as just a few years later in a gleaming testament to the "Be All You Can Be" recruiting slogan, the U.S. Army made a truck driver out of her!
My son, Ben, followed Charlotte into the driver’s seat two years later, inheriting what was left of the little pickup and thereby effectively dodging the trials and tribulations of stick-shift driving.
When our youngest, Sylvia, climbed up into the driver’s seat it soon became clear that "driving stick" would never be an option. She was so timid behind the wheel our first time out that we were literally passed from behind by an Amish buggy. The thought of adding an extra level of complexity to the driving process was quickly extinguished. I decided I would simply forgo my own love of shifting and lifting to standardize the family fleet with vehicles that even a well-trained border collie could drive. My stick-shifting days were over … until I spotted a rusty, little Ford Ranger with an orange sign in the window.
(Be sure to come back next week for more fun behind the wheel. In the meantime, check out JohnLorsonSendHelp on Facebook for a time-lapse film clip of Kristin’s drawing.)