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Brett at The Art of Manliness gives pointers on how to drive a stick shift.  Before getting to the actual nuts and bolts of coordinating the hands and feet, he gives some arguments for why one ought to at least know how to do it, some of them practical, some of them more aesthetic.  To me, his final reason eclipses all the others:

Driving stick is simply more fun! If you’ve only driven with an automatic transmission your entire life, you don’t know the fun you’ve been missing. Driving an automatic feels passive and artificial – like you’re merely pointing or steering the car instead of controlling it. With a manual, you actually feel like you’re part of the car, and you’re attuned to its vibrations and noises. Plus, manual transmissions are proactive instead of reactive – you get into the gear you need instead of waiting for the automatic tranny to hunt for the right one.


I don’t think I was any older than about twelve when I first learned how to drive a stick.  As I’ve mentioned here a time or two, we had a deer lease on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country.  In order to get around on the roads and trails, the Old Gentleman bought an old VW Bug.  He had the entire shell (including the windows) taken off and also removed the dash and back seat.  He then had installed a wooden platform behind the front seats and a wooden box around the engine (with a pair of handles on the top so we could sit up there if we wanted).  Cap it all off with a simple roll cage (with the spare tire on top), gun rack and over-sized tires and voilá, the “ranch buggy” was born.

The O.G. reasoned that if we were way back in the hills and something happened to him, somebody else had better be able to get us back to civilisation.  So as soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, I started lessons.  (Just as an aside, this is why he taught me basic nautical skills and power-boat driving at an even younger age.)

My first try, I panicked while trying to downshift, forgot all about applying the brakes and rolled straight into a tree.   After that, it was smooth sailing, at least until my brother learned how to drive the buggy, too, at which point the inevitable bickering over “who’s turn it is” kicked in.  Sistah eventually got into the act as well, but since she didn’t go hunting all that often, the competition didn’t get that much worse.

I’ve driven five cars since first being let loose on the public thoroughfares, three of which were stick-shifts.  The first was a ’66 Mustang (a hand-me-down from the O.G.) that I drove all through high school.  It only had three forward speeds, the stick was a first-class beyotch and you practically had to kick the clutch pedal through the floorboards, but I used to love the jack-rabbit starts I could get in her.

I didn’t have a car in college, but when I went to law school the ‘rents gave me a Ford Tempo.  It was an automatic and was a real yawner.  (Actually, a stick shift probably wouldn’t have reduced the yawn-factor by much.)

Once I drove the Tempo into the ground I was already out and earning a living for myself.  So I leased my first Wrangler – a ’93, I think.  I was a tad apprehensive about driving a stick again, given that it had been ten years or so, but the old skills came right back as soon as I got on the road.

The lease on that Wrangler ran out just as the second gel was coming along.  Feeling that we were going to need two baby-friendly cars, I did the Responsible Thing and leased a Camry.  It was an automatic (I don’t think they even make one with stick) and while safe and dependable, drove me to tears of boredom, too.

Once that lease ran out and the gels were a bit older, I thought to myself, “Self, it’s time to go back to Jeep.”  Which I did, as regular friends of the decanter will know from my occasional postings about her.  (Of course she’s a stick-shift.  I know you can get a Wrangler with automatic drive, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right.)

I may at some point give up Jeeps, but I certainly won’t give up a stick-shift again.

On a related note, the eldest gel will be eligible to get a learner’s permit in about a year.  You may be wondering whether I will pass on my stick preference to her.  I tell you truly that I don’t know.  I’m so horrified of the idea of her driving at all that I haven’t given it any thought yet.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention this earlier, but one of the points in the article that struck me was where the author comes down on the proper technique for slowing down/stopping.  He states that it’s better to put the car in neutral and ride the brake to a stop than it is to downshift to reduce speed.  I’d always been told the opposite.   (Actually, I take a sort of hybrid approach – downshift first, coast just above stall-speed.)  Anybody have an opinion one way or the other?

Evidently, today is the anniversary of the original publication of Moby Dick in 1851.  This article, discussing ways to get through its 200K+ word count and thirty eight chapters, thoughtfully distills the story down to twelve words: Sailor. Boat. Captain. Leg. Mad. Sail. Find. Whale. Chase. Smash. Sink. Float.

Yes, I suppose that about sums it up.

Every now and again I get the nagging feeling that I really ought to reread the book myself, now that I’m a reasonably sophisticated middle-aged man and not a loutish high-schooler like I was the last time I had a go at it.  The only thing I remember about my prior experience is that I tended to skim or skip the chapters that went into detailed technical discussion of  life at sea, whales and whaling and focused instead on the “action” parts and What It All Means.  I wonder if I would reverse this practice if I tried again?

I think so.  I think so.

It would seem that The Episcopal Church has now formally declared war against the Diocese of South Carolina and its Bishop, Mark Lawrence.

The legal/doctrinal/property disputes might seem pretty tangled to anybody who doesn’t pay that much attention to TEC in-fighting, but Christopher Johnson cuts straight to the chase:

The problem with Mark Lawrence is that his god is Yahweh and not the Zeitgeist.

Got it in the proverbial one.

Of course, I’ve been comfortably shot of this whole biznay for some time now, laus Deo, but I remember back in the day when Lawrence was first considered for the bishopric hearing a great deal of grumbling among the Enlightened about the likelihood that he wouldn’t get with the program.  Seems it’s finally come to a head.

Should be an interesting battle.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo came across a Telegraph article this morning describing some research which claims a correlation between sleeping positions and personalities.  There seem to be four basic positions: Fetal, Log, Yearner and Free-faller, and the one you typically assume apparently is the result of what kind of person you are.

While I’m usually skeptical about these “personality” studies, I can’t help noticing that they often seem to describe my own state of mind pretty well.  Por ejemplo, while I usually start off the night flat on my back, before I actually plunge into deeper sleep I always roll over on to my left side and assume the fetal position.  Here’s what the article has to say about that:

People who sleep like this are returning to their comfort zone to de-stress themselves from the day’s activities. The higher the knees and lower the head the more internal comfort you give yourself.  Foetal sleepers are conscientious, ordered and like things in their place but they can over think things and worry unnecessarily.

People who sleep like this for the majority of the night can expect a refreshed awakening having dealt with the previous day’s issues compartmentalising and organising while they sleep, allowing them to feel refreshed when they wake and ready to move onward and upward.

Foetal sleepers should be careful not to become too stuck in their comfort zone and be prepared to take on new challenges each day.

Yes, I’d say that’s about right.  I only draw my knees up maybe a third of the way, but then the Mothe has always said I was too hard on myself.

I don’t know that I wake up feeling refreshed, though.   Most mornings I stagger out of bed in something of a haze, only fully waking up some time after I’ve hit the road and usually wondering in a vague way how I got there.  But because I’m such a crayture of habit, I can get all the morning necessities done without having to think about them.

The study doesn’t say anything about pillows.  I also insist on sleeping with my head sammiched between two of them, a firmer one underneath and a fluffier one on top.  What do you suppose that means?


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October 2012