“This would be a lot easier if your car had an RPM gauge.” Austin said.
He proceeded with my lesson on how to drive a manual anyway. He said I’d have to just feel for the engine’s power.
“Be one with the engine. Got it.” I said.
When Austin’s dad, who said I could call him “Dave” after I turned 21, offered to help me find a car earlier this year, I told him I preferred a manual shift. I didn’t know how to drive one, but I wanted to challenge myself.
Dave was kind enough to help me shop, as I don’t know much about used cars. I bought a 1996 Suzuki Swift. Dave made restorations, and I got sunburned from steam cleaning it for hours one weekend.
I’ve had it for about ten days, so I’ll have to do some more math, but so far I’m estimating that it gets 40 mpg in the city, and 50 mpg on the highway. That’s comparable to the 2014 Toyota Prius c, for those of you who think you need a new hybrid for small hatchback efficiency.
This is my first car, and I haven’t had regular access to a car in nearly a year. That might sound simple enough in urban areas, but public transportation can’t help you visit friends or go shopping in most of Colorado Springs. I walked to work three times a week through the winter, and when I wanted to meet with friends, we went to a coffee shop that I could walk to, or I asked to be picked up.
It was a good experience. I felt like life was simpler, and I was forced to be resourceful. However, my best friend is glad she doesn’t have to come get me anymore. It’s super nice for the library to be a ten-minute trip instead of an hour-long walk. I’m glad I don’t have to wait until I can borrow a car to get groceries.
There’s something funny about manual shift transmissions, though. Driving them takes focus and effort. See, in the past, I was used to a Ford Explorer being “the little car” in my family. I learned to drive with automatic SUVs and a fifteen-passenger van. My blue Swift is so small, it feels like I’m driving a bumper car or golf cart on the Interstate.
Someone invited me to a spontaneous event last week, and for the first time in months, I didn’t have to decline for want of a ride. When I pulled out of the parking lot that night, I killed the engine three times.
I closed my eyes and told myself, “Don’t get frustrated. I chose this because I knew it would be harder. Try again.” I started the car, and the guitar solo from my favorite childhood CD resumed.
I realized I was expecting this task to get easier with practice. I thought it might become just as easy as driving an automatic.
I teach myself new skills too often to listen to my own laziness. I can’t expect it to be mindless, or I’ll forget to balance the clutch and the gas just right again. Mindlessness happens of its own accord, after loads of focus. Focus takes decisive resignation that I must pay attention; that this will never be mindless again.
The thought process runs through my head at every stop: Clutch. Shift. Lift-off-brake-and-switch-to-gas. Lift-off-clutch-and-don’t-die.
Don’t die. How did we get to that? Oh, right: I see metaphors in everything.
Living means challenging myself. Survival gets harder. It will never be as mindless as it once was.