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STICK IT
Story and Photography by Lois Grace



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.

Driving 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.


VolksWoman

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