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My dad was of the opinion that if you
learned to drive on a stick shift, you'd
end up being able to drive anything.
Car, truck, van, whatever it was, you'd
be able to handle it. As a result, all
four of us kids learned to drive on
stick shift autos. In fact, there was
no such thing as an automatic transmission
in my family. And, to this day there
still isn't: my 83 year old mother still
drives all three manual shift cars she
has (one of them a 1971 Datsun 240Z).
Over the years the sticks that have
shifted in and out of our family have
been a varied bunch, but I drove them
all, even though some of them I drove
badly. That '64 Jeep Wagoneer sticks
with me, that thing was torture. Anyway,
I was glad I learned early on how to
drive a manual shift car because it
gives one a sense of being capable of
driving anything (as Dad said).
Sure, driving an automatic is kinda
fun, after years of shifting for yourself.
In a freaky sort of way it's interesting,
just sitting there steering while the
car does it's thing. I always find my
right hand reaching around in the middle,
between the seats, searching for the
gear shift that isn't there. That old
"thanks, I'll do it myself"
tendency dies hard. Never mind the left
foot that is always reaching up and
stomping the floor, looking for the
clutch. The two appendages that have
nothing to do in an automatic can be
a bit of a nag, always trying to shift
an invisible gear. Honestly I think
there is something a bit unnatural about
a car that changes its own gears. I
mean, what's the point of driving then?
Driving becomes merely the act of pushing
on the gas and pointing the car in the
direction you want to go. There is no
interaction with the vehicle, no conversation,
no sense of accomplishing anything.
You can't slow down with the gears in
anticipation of a turn. You can't downshift
to nicely accelerate up a hill. Nope,
you just turn the key and point the
car in the direction you want to go.
Now, I do realize that some people don't
want to converse with their cars and
would rather just get where they are
going in a timely and dependable manner.
But for the rest of us, automatics are
a bit of a loss. You lose the relationship
that made you feel like a driver in
the first place. I guess some people
would rather talk on the phone, or watch
TV, when they are behind the wheel.
They need an automatic because they
are probably too busy with other things
to actually DRIVE.
a stick shift is a blend of timing
and instinct. In learning this fine
art, you manage to find just the right
blend of timing and finesse, where
the compression of the clutch and
the move of the shift lever coincide
and the gears change, with the car
taking off with new gusto and awaiting
your next move. What a feeling of
power and control! YOU decide what
the car does! WOW. What a concept.
With an automatic, YOU don't control
much, the car decides when and where
to shift and you have very little
say in the matter. Sometimes it's
pretty unnerving too, like going up
a steep grade or coming down one.
The car doesn't know if it's better
to plow along in second gear and grind
slowly on up, or better to shift up
and down, up and down, till the crest
of the hill is reached. Sure, if the
car is laboring too much on its own
you can tell it what to do, by shifting
the indicator from D to 1 or 2. But
what fun is that? You're just along
for the ride. With a stick shift,
you have to be your car's brain, and
tell the transmission which gear works
best. This takes some practice, and
is different with every car, but once
you get the hang of it it's easy.
Get used to the car you're driving
and pretty soon you'll decide which
gear you need without hardly even
thinking about it. Some of us just
like that control. For the rest, there's
the automatic transmission.