Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shifting Gears

It started with a confession: "Jeremy, I'm a little tired, would you mind taking the wheel?"

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't object at all. I love to drive. The only thing keeping me from immediately accepting the invitation to hop in the drivers seat was the fact that there was a stick shift next to it. But I didn't have to say a thing.

"Dad! You know my husband has never driven manual before, don't you?"

"Well, he can learn now" my father-in-law said as we sped down the highway along the Adriatic. "He lives in Europe. He's got to learn sometime" he reasoned.

Unable to argue with him, after stopping at a rest stop, I reluctantly changed seats, put on my seat belt and turned on the car - without pushing in the clutch. The car's lurch indicated how offended it was that an American driver was trying to control it. "Maybe this is good" I thought as my head whipped back to it's original position. "He has to see there's no chance I can do this".

But the man who's been through an airplane crash and a war was determined to survive this too. He patiently instructed me how to correctly turn on the car and get from neutral to first gear successfully. After about five tries, I got it. Then a few more. Finally, it was time.

Fifteen  minutes and a ton of cars passed before I had the guts to merge onto the highway. We stumbled into third, then fourth, then finally the last one. Fifth gear quickly became my best friend. As long as I could stay at 80 km/hr or higher, I was good.

But there was a toll booth coming.

After successfully slowing down and paying the fee, I pushed in the clutch nonchalantly - as if the man who took my money cared to watch my footwork. "I got this" I told myself. My foot eased onto the gas. Nothing happened. I slowly let up the clutch. Still nothing. I did both a little faster and we screeched to a standstill. So did the German VW behind us. The toll-booth guy looked confused.

Starting to sweat a bit, I tried again, but even less smoothly. Screeeeeeeetch!

The car, toll-booth guy, wife, and VW were all impatient. None more than I though. And impatience doesn't help one find the perfect balance between clutch and gas. We must have sputtered forward five or six more times. But finally we were on our way again. Back to fifth gear. Back to heaven.

What's the moral of the story?

Learn to drive stick before you move to Europe. Or, hope your passengers have as much faith as my father-in-law does. 

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