By now, you might have heard the story of a group of valets standing around a car, as if something was wrong with it. The owner turned around and asked, “What’s the problem?” One valet replied, almost embarrassingly, “None of us know how to drive stick shift.”
And with that, welcome to 2020. Where the fine art of driving a stick shift has come and gone. As with most of us who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, we all learned how, sometimes the easy way, or, as in my case, the most stressed out way of all time.
He will be referred to as “this dude” throughout the rest of the story but let me go on record to say I love my bother very much. He was the only father figure growing up and I learned a lot from him.
In the summer of 1983, my brother had a big black Ford truck, which was an awesome ride and it also had a stick shift. I had mentioned to him quite often that I would love to learn how to drive a stick shift if he had the time. He said sure, one afternoon, we will go out and I will show you how.
Perfect. A few weeks go by and he comes by the house and says, “Hey, I need to run downtown, do you want to go? And, on the way back, we can go to a big parking lot and I can teach you how to drive a stick.”
Fantastic! Let’s do this. We get on 40 and head to town from Hermitage. It was also about 100 degrees that day and in a black truck, felt like 150. Little did I know it was going to feel about 10 times that.
My brother takes the exit at Spence Lane. We have all exited that off-ramp many, many times. No big deal I thought. Gets up to the red light and stops.
“Get out and get over here!”
“Get out and get over here now!”
This dude gets out of the truck and I slide over. Hold up, what?
“You wanted to learn how, so here you go.”
This dude. In a big truck. At the top of Spence Lane. Near rush hour. And with a stick shift. Remember when I said it was hot. That was not just the temperature, that was also the drivers behind me as I attempted to learn how.
“Let’s go, figure it out.” Figure it out? How about a figure a way to cut you out of the will?
Now the honking grew louder and louder, still not as loud as this dude next to me and his maniacal laugh. “Come on, ease the clutch, press the gas and that is it.” This dude was having the time of his life. He was as happy as someone watching Steve Lawrence in the Catskills on a crisp autumn night.
One car turned into at least 100 behind me. I have no idea exactly how many because I was going to be the first 15 year old to have a stroke and heart attack while learning to drive a stick shift.
Stalled. Dang. Stalled again. And again. And again. And, here come the honks. Louder and louder. Again, not as loud as this dude next to me laughing.
“We can sit here all day because I have nothing else left to do.” This dude was relentless. And just when I was going to challenge him to fight, I got it.
“That’s it, that’s it. Now go!” In an instant, this dude went from being the biggest you-know-what to my biggest cheerleader. “The hard part is over, the rest is easy. Now drive.”
I proceeded through the red light, yes, it was red, who cares, and on to Spence Lane and the rest is history. I had figured out how to drive a stick shift in the most insane way possible. Also, how to idle a big truck perfectly.
Trial by fire. Sure, if you want to call it that. I drive by that on-ramp just about every single day and I can still hear that dude’s laugh and then applause, almost simultaneously.
I learned a lot in those 5 minutes at that red light that I carry with me today. Life hits you hard. Really hard but never give up. Just never give up. People will honk. People will yell. But, never quit. Sometimes it just takes one person to push you to that off-ramp and let you do the rest. No matter how many times you fail.