My relationship with cars remains, to this day, one of love and hate. On one hand, the ability to technically travel anywhere I want to when I want to shall never lose its luster. Theoretically, my wallet and the oceans remain the only limits to where I can travel. In real life, of course, my limitations include the host of mechanical issues with my Mini Cooper, the need for oil and the ever-evolving gas crises. For today, however, let us first look back on where this love-hate relationship began. Back to my junior year of high school in… Dear God, FIVE YEARS AGO?
Read on for how I learned to drive stick and how it lead to my first run-in with the law.
My story begins like that of many other teens across the country. My dad took me out to an empty parking lot on a breezy weekend afternoon that fall. He pulled into a spot right in the middle of the lot, giving me plenty of space on every side. Save for a few out-of-service vans and the occasional light post standing here and there, several hundred feet of asphalt spread out before me. Without much fanfare, we swapped seats and I nervously placed my hands on the steering wheel.
If my Mini Cooper offered automatic transmission, I could simply turn the car on, shift it from park into drive and be on my merry way. In a manual transmission, however, even the mere act of moving the car forward felt challenging. While I won’t entirely break down how manual transmissions work in this article (I’ve got a life to live; you’ve got a life to live, you dig?), I will provide a few key details. Most noticeably, manual vehicles possess an extra foot pedal known as the clutch. Additionally, the gear shift lever in a manual displays five or six gears and reverse, whereas most automatics will show drive, reverse, parking and neutral.
Essentially, driving stick involves playing a balancing game with your feet on the pedals. To begin driving and changing gears with the stick shift, you need to balance between pressing on the gas and depressing the clutch. If you let go of the clutch too quickly without giving it enough gas, your car stalls out. On the other hand, if you let go of the clutch while giving it too much gas, your car jumps forward, briefly rocking your world. Much to the dismay of my dad, it took me quite a while to get a hang of this game. If my car possessed some unfortunate soul, they’d cast a curse on me for a thousand years for all the many times I stalled out or nearly destroyed the clutch.
The Driving School
As with many other teens, I could not decide which of my parents made for a more nerve-wracking passenger. My dad offered better teaching overall, as he could usually explain the ways in which I erred and how to fix them. Unfortunately, he does not enjoy repeating himself and when on the road he can get a bit…loud. While my mother made for a “less vocal” teacher, she also maintained a jumpier disposition, jolting with fright at even my smallest errors. Unsurprisingly, these practice runs did not thrill me. More often than not, I finished these sessions with my nerves completely shot.
Fortunately, at some point near the end of my training my parents decided to invest in a student driving school—giving me four sessions with a driving instructor in one of their company cars. This car came with a nice instructor and a passenger side brake. To my surprise, driving with an experienced instructor went far smoother than my parents. I left every session with more and more confidence. Before I knew it, the time came to take my driver’s test. One of the benefits that this driving school provided included their ability to facilitate driving tests in their cars. Obviously, we decided I would take my test with them.
My driver’s test went well, initially. My instructor and I began easily enough: I located all the important buttons on the center console, ran my windshield wipers correctly and parallel parked in about three moves. With all my recently developed confidence, the driving portion seemed like a cinch! We set off into a residential neighborhood where I kept my speed low and my eyes open. Everything appeared totally normal, until we passed a police car.
The Fuzz, The Coppers, The Five-oh
The cruiser passed us by at a normal speed. Aside from a quick pang of nervousness, I didn’t worry too much about it. In my rearview mirror I saw him brake, but I kept my eyes on the road. I glanced again at my mirror out of mild curiosity and caught a glimpse of the cruiser turning around. With another look at the road ahead, my mirror then revealed him approaching. Using my galaxy-brained powers of situational awareness, I deduced that I may need to pull over soon. After the voice in my head finished screeching every expletive known to man internally, I turned to my instructor and calmly informed him of our tail. He leaned over his seat to check, then told me to begin moving towards the curb.
The officer flashed his red and blue lights just once and I calmly accepted my fate as we pulled over to the side of the road. “Don’t worry, just let me do all the talking,” my instructor told me. I nodded and kept my hands glued to the steering wheel, my knuckles completely white from my death grip. “This is it,” I thought. My first driving test ever and the police pulled up on me. What ever would I tell my folks?
However, as the driving instructor and the officer got to talking, it appeared as though the problem did not lay in my driving. In fact, the policeman complimented my driving from what little he saw! At this, I flashed the most not guilty smile I could possibly muster. Now, why did the officer pull us over then? The inspection sticker! The inspection sticker of the company car remained out of date. The instructor thoroughly apologized to the policeman, who thankfully left us with a warning. The rest of the test went by without any further incidents and I passed!
Moral of the Story
My love/hate relationship with driving continues to this very day. In so many ways, the freedom it represents and provides finds few rivals. On the other hand, dealing with traffic really sucks and my car always needs some kind of repair. Regardless, I suppose I can find some odd comfort or pride in knowing that I got pulled over during my driver’s test and still passed it. Apologies in advance if you happen to date me after reading this, as I will absolutely bring this story up by the third date.