Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Driving Miss Idiot

So, I'm learning to drive a standard.

This is something I've wanted to do for a long time--it's probably been in my head since I was seventeen and dating Keith, who had a truck with a manual transmission--but I've never managed to make it happen. My father said he would teach me, but we never had a vehicle. When my brother got his first truck, I begged him to teach me but he just looked at me like I was crazy. "No way," he said. "You'll probably friggin' break it." And then he went on to pet his steering wheel, which, like everything else in his truck, he'd decked out with bling and lights.

Keith did attempt to teach me, but it didn't go well. This was his method: He decided that he would drive, and when he decided he needed to shift, he'd turn and bark, "Second!" or "Third!" or whatever.

That didn't exactly work, for a number of reasons. First, it scared the crap out of me. It made the whole thing sound desperate and immediate. It made it seem like if I didn't shift that fucking second, the truck might blow up and that Keith and I might be shot into the sky as a shower of cinders.

Second, I didn't know where first, second, third, or whatever was.

"It's right there on the knob!" Keith would say, exasperated, and I would shrug my shoulders. I could see what the knob said, and I could see where things were supposed to be, but it was an entirely different thing when I tried to hunt around and get things where they were supposed to go.

Naturally, Keith gave up trying almost immediately.

But now it's ten years later, it's suddenly summer vacation, I've got lots of time on my hands, and I have a teacher who is enthusiastic about teaching me because, as he notes, it's totally hot when girls know how to do it.

Well then, if it's going to make me hotter, let's make this happen.

The other night, we went out for the first lesson.

"Just so you know," I said, "there might be a chance you are going to hate me when we're finished here."

"Doubtful," he said.

"Okay," I said (doubtfully).

We parked in the mostly-empty K-Mart parking lot, and I said, "Give me the basics."

He did. He gave me the basics. The basics took all of thirty seconds.

"That's it?" I asked. "That can't be it. I feel like I need to know a lot more."

"I think you need to try it," he said. "Let's switch."

So I walked around to the driver's side and looked down at my feet. I was wearing tall boots. I'd forgotten my sneakers.

"I can't wear these," I said.

"Want mine?" He pointed down at his sneakers.

"I'll just drive in my socks," I said. I unzipped my boots and stepped out of them, threw them in the back seat. "Okay," I said. "I'm ready."

I was very, very far from ready.

"Think of it this way," he said, as I settled behind the steering wheel. "Imagine a rope around a tree. If you give slack on one side, you get some on the other side. That's what it's like with the clutch and the gas."



"Okay," I said. I nodded. I looked at him expectantly.

"Okay, so go," he said.




"In a straight line."

"Oh my God." I put my head on the wheel. "This is going to go badly. I just know it."

But I started. I tried. And--honestly--in those first few minutes in the K-Mart parking lot, I did reasonably okay, but, inevitably, the level of spazziness was high.

Fifteen minutes in, I paused for a check. "Okay," I said, "on a scale of 1-10, 1 being Very Un-Horrified and 10 being Drastically Horrified, how horrified are you at my general ineptitude?"

He cocked his head to the side, considering.

"Truth," I said. "Be honest."

"Six," he said.

"Fair enough," I said. "It could be worse."

And it could've been. And it was. Because just as soon as I started getting a hold of it, we decided to go to an even more empty parking lot, one where I could get up to higher speeds, and my brain went empty and nothing made sense anymore. And that's precisely when the shrieking began.

"What am I in right now?" I shrieked. "Second? Third?"

"Third," he said. "Put it into second."

I tried.

"That's fourth," he said.

And suddenly I was eighteen again, and I was sitting next to Keith, and I was trying to figure out where the gears were, even though I could clearly see where they were.

"Oh Jesus!" I shrieked.

"Jess," he said. "Jess, it's fine."

I stalled the car out. I put my head in my hands and fake-wept. "I hate this," I said. "I hate when I'm not good at things."

"It took me a while to learn," he said. "You aren't going to be good at it immediately."

"This is not a great moment for me." And that was true, although it wasn't any fault of his. He'd done well--probably better than expected, considering I'm a wretched student, considering I hate it when I feel like I look like an asshole, an idiot, a dunce. This is precisely the reason I refuse to go to a public yoga class. I don't want to be the girl in the room who's the worst at anything, the one who's behind, the one who needs more instruction than anyone else. I realize this is not an attractive quality. I realize, in fact, that it's very bad, and I try to work with it as best I can, but still, at all times my brain is whispering to me, You've got to be the best at this. You've got to be very good. Don't let people see you suck!

I wake up every morning wondering how I'm going to impress people today.

I'm a show-off.

I'm annoying.

So, forty minutes in, after things had disintegrated so badly that I could no longer shift--I couldn't even get the shifter to move right--I gave up.

"Please trade with me," I said. "I think my brain has given up on this for tonight. But... you know, good first lesson!"

"Well, it started good," he said as he eased himself out of the car and walked around the front, "but then things went downhill."

"Yeah," I said. "Figures."

And then I crawled over to the passenger seat so I didn't have to walk outside in my socks. I crammed my feet back into my boots and slumped in my seat. I closed my eyes. I tried not to be jealous as he started the car and drove us away from the mall parking lot with as much ease as anything.


KNC said...

If it makes you feel better, when I first got my VW I unknowingly put it into 3rd every time I meant to put it into 1st. Which means I stalled it at every stop sign. My friends refused to ride with me until I got it figured out. Oh, and sometimes I drove with the parking break on.

Anne said...

It took a couple months of driving every day before things got smooth. I too forgot to take off the parking brake and would stall it when trying to start it. This happened regularly for the first month. I once shifted from 1st to 4th on a highway onramp in southern California. Not ideal, the car barely accelerated meaning a ran the red light, but not the end of the world. These things happen, just don't let it fluster you!

Jess said...

Here's what I have to say about the whole debacle: UGH.

I better get better!

Jason said...

I taught myself how to drive a standard after I bought the car. I spent weeks driving by myself, slowly, on the streets of Key West, stalling three and four times at every intersection.

It was ridiculous. But then, all of a sudden, one day it clicked. Just takes practice. You'll be fine.