I haven’t been in a manual transmission car in years. What could possibly make me go back to driving like it’s 1998? Only travel.
When I put together a list of my ten favorite things about the USA, my adopted home since 2002, one of them was cars with automatic transmission. I wrote that “I could not imagine being stuck in Chicago traffic and having to deal with the stick.” The words made me wonder if I’d still know how to do that. And they took me right back to my early driving days.
Having grown up in Poland, where standard transmission seemed the only available option at the time, I first learned to drive on a stick shift. I spent many hours in vacant parking lots and on obstacle courses, practicing clutch control, changing gears, and using the handbrake on a hill start. The latter was never much fun, but I somehow managed to do it and pass my license exam.
Despite having driver’s credentials, I didn’t get behind the wheel much. I didn’t need to. My school in Krakow was ten minutes away by bus, the city center about the same. If I had to go farther, public transportation was there too. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago a few years later that I got serious about driving. This time automatic cars, which are so common in the States.
It didn’t take me long to embrace this type of driving – and never want to switch back. It’s easy, comfortable, works well in traffic jams, and lets me focus on changing radio stations instead of gears. What’s not to love? Fans of driving stick say it allows you to control the car better. Perhaps, but to each their own.
I probably would not give manual transmission another thought if it weren’t for travel. In many places, e.g. Europe and Latin America, renting a stick shift car is often cheaper than automatic. Planning a trip to Argentina’s back country is what made me take another look at driving stick.
BACK TO MANUAL?
Easier said than done. Where do I get a car from? How long would it take to brush up on my skills? Not having operated the clutch in about 15 years, my biggest concern was that I’d cause the car to die in the middle of a street. I can handle screams from angry drivers, but safety is a more serious issue. Is it really worth it then?…
After some consideration, my curiosity took over. The decision was also made easier by my friend Zuzanna of Zuzapix Photography, who owns a manual transmission car. When she said that I could use it – and that her husband would give me a brief refresher course – there was no turning back.
SI SE PUEDE
As anxious as I was about the experience, I also couldn’t wait for it. Stretching my comfort zone is a challenge I often gladly accept.
It turns out there wasn’t much to worry about. My instructor was patient, I quickly began to remember what I had learned so long ago, and after a while I even enjoyed myself! The ride was by no means smooth at all times and controlling the clutch took some getting used to. On the bright side, no neighborhood squirrels or mail boxes were hurt in the experiment.
I was glad to be back in my own car. Driving home, however, I had time to reflect on the manual session and even started planning another one. I don’t anticipate a permanent switch, but feeling comfortable driving stick can come in handy in future travels. And what better reason do I need to keep practicing?
Thanks Zuza, Yimmy, and Argentina!
Have you driven stick? Both? Which do you prefer?