punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Driving a stick shift

My long time friends know my huge history on issues with driving. I am 40, and only have a learner's permit. How did this happen? Long story. Been a huge ancient thorn in my side. I might write it all down someday, and I may already have done so in this blog, but I can't search my blogs right now due to my problem with Verizon.


My biggest problems were some forces working against me, people who flaked, and then fear which was NEW development thanks to a driving instructor who screamed at me randomly. He turned simple nerves and jitters into a full-blown paranoia. This pissed me off because if I hadn't had enough problems learning how to drive, now I had another. I felt I had to work backwards, because until I got over this fear that was finding a happy nest among my older neuroses, I wouldn't get past the other problems. I kept waiting for opportunities to "sneak" past the obstacles in my path.

That's when a I remembered something. Part of how I overcame past fears I learned from a friend who stuttered. This friend shared a remedial reading class with me when I was diagnosed as dyslexic. One of the tricks they teach some people who stutter is to teach them a second language. For many stutterers, stuttering occurs when your brain gets into a strange feedback loop on a verbal tone (usually a hard consonant) until the feedback interference itself breaks the cycle. The trick they teach is for the person to say the word in English, but think it in another language. In this kid's case, they taught him French. So if he got stuck on the word, "paint," they told him to THINK "peinture." He would say, "red," but think "rouge" when he said it. This had a remarkable affect on his stuttering, and reduced it from a crippling deformity to a minor annoyance within a few months. Years later, a friend of mine in theater told me that this was how he got over stage fright: you think about your character as if you WERE this person, and the audience vanished because you were focusing on the acting. So suddenly, you take on a different persona where the audience would simply not exist for that character. I thought this was brilliant.

I also marveled at the fact I don't get stage fright. Given my confidence problems and insecurities, I have always been curious why being on stage and making a fool of myself never bugged me. I would NEVER be able to do improvisational stuff if I had stage fright. I imagine for those of you who do have issues with public speaking, being told, "You now have to go onstage, invent a skit on the spot while coordinating with other people on stage with you who can't read your mind, and make it funny enough for an audience to laugh," would terrify you. People have asked me, "what if you make a mistake?" The only think I can think of is, "the audience won't care. In fact, they probably won't even know."

So I tried to make this work for me, even though it didn't seem related to my fear of driving. I usually stopped at, "well, I don't want to think of something else, I should be focusing on not crashing the car into a mail post." But then an opportunity came up I had to grab:

Driving a stick as part of my lesson.

It seems like a terrible idea, and maybe it would be for anyone else. "If you suck at driving, why make it harder? An automatic you push and go. With a manual you have the clutch, and the gear shift, grinding your transmission, burning the clutch, and stalling out." But some part of me said, "you will focus so hard on how it all works, you'll forget to be sacred." That turned out to not be exactly true, but in essence, it worked out better than I would have expected because of something else that made perfect sense ONLY when I started screwing up:

I felt more in control.

To my geek side, this was a nice fit. I felt... more like, "yeah... *I* am in control of this damn thing, and while I don't have the subtleties down, in the end, I will completely have a feel of the vehicle with practice." Clutch, gear shift, brake, accelerator, and turning was in my hands. Also, cheesy_reads said something that completely felt like a bolt of enlightenment: "you can feel with the clutch engages the engine." Yes, I could. That felt ... right. Sadly, I kept ignoring it half the time and either stalled the car or ground the transmission, but I'll get the hang of it. The entire concept behind a manual transmission seems very much like a bond with the car I don't get from an automatic. Complicated at first, yes, but somehow I sort of fell in love with this concept. Now I am beginning to understand the sex appeal of sports cars.

My instructor was none other than cheesy_reads, who is getting her practice when she has to teach all her kids, one of whom turns 16 in a little over a year. She was a GREAT instructor in the sense of her explanations, patience, and realistic reactions. There were some scary moments to be sure; at one point, it looked like I might steer the car over a curb and down a sharp hill into a forest. We had to park the car and walk it out after that one. But I got confidence that my first reaction was to turn the car correctly, and how easily my gut instinct saved the day. She also kind of tapped into my geek side, being a bigwig in the tech sector herself, so I think we both had this academic flow we connected to.

True, I probably took a few hundred miles off the transmission. There were some "GGRRKKK" noises that made me shudder in sympathy for this poor (new model) VW Beetle, and it brought back dormant memories of trying to drive the FanTek Green (old model) VW Bug back in 1988. Bruce tried to teach me how to drive when I started living with them, and he put me in that car first, because he taught Cheryl to drive on that car. He joked there were dents on the passenger's side door where his fingers gripped the sides as she spun around parking lots going, "Wheeeee," but I am not sure how true that was, because I never saw these dents. The the engine died on that poor old car after my first lesson, and so I got my first automatic driving lessons on the old maroon Malibu station wagon. They still have the old Beetle. The hull now sits in their yard, providing a nice planter for ivy. In Cheryl and my defense, it was the engine that died, not the transmission, but it was the first car I supposedly killed in a string of cars, but that's another story. If the story about Cheryl going, "Wheeeee" was true, I suddenly understand her motive. Once I got going, I kind of felt the same way.

Sadly, my bad ankle is not used to being bent at that angle, and I think my nervousness was making it too tense, so I had to give up after about an hour because I was afraid I'd lock it up and lose control (I don't know if it would really do that, but I didn't want to take chances). Part of this was seat adjustment, but cheesy_reads gave me some homework that included strengthening my ankle with the "draw the letters of the alphabet" method.

Thanks again, cheesy_reads. See you next Sunday. :)
Tags: beetle, car, driving
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