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.

‘Zactly.

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?

Advertisements