It’s happening again. I can’t get around it, there’s no way out. But this is what I’ve practiced for. I’ve done this so many times before, I can do it again.
I take a deep breath as I inch as slowly towards the top of a hill that seems bigger than Mount Everest, straining to keep my car moving. The hill taunts me, telling me that I’m not going to make it, that I’m going to screw up. That, if I stop, I’m going to kill the engine again.
Green light. Thank God, I’ve conquered the hill. This time, I’ve defeated the stick shift.
Stopping at the top of a hill was never a problem whenever I drove my mom’s automatic Honda CRV. Simply press down on the brake pedal, stop and then start moving again when the light turns green.
Learning to driving my 2003 stick shift Honda Civic meant everything was different. If no one has told you yet, learning to drive stick is grueling, time consuming and stressful. But my mom and I decided when we got my car that it would have its upsides. We agreed that it would be a useful skill to have, I would get much better gas mileage than most people and my car’s likeliness of being stolen would decrease as well.
The art of driving stick shift proved to be intimidating, but once I mastered the skill, it has evolved into a hobby that I have come to love.
People are always surprised when they find out that I, a 16-year-old girl, can drive stick, and it always turns into a new talking point when I find someone who shares my pain. We exchange war stories of killing it at lights and how hard it was to learn at first, but now it’s just second nature and you don’t need to think about the steps, you can just have fun with it.
I started working on mastering stick shift this past summer when I got my car. As I was learning, the laps I drove around the East senior lot frustrated me as I killed the engine over and over again. I thought about all that could go awry now that the car did absolutely everything I told it to do. I was in complete control, and that terrified me. If anything went wrong, I would be the only one to blame.
My nightmare becomes a reality during the inbetween time before the car is fully in gear. This is when the car can roll backwards and the engine will die if you don’t release the clutch and press on the gas in the right order. Discovering this unfortunate reality was one of the most frustrating parts of driving stick for me. Rolling backwards on a hill was an impending doom.
Once I got out on the road, I was constantly worried that other drivers would see me as a dumb girl who didn’t know how to drive her car when she killed the engine as the light turned green. Or that they would get mad when I revved the engine and rolled backwards on hills. I’m just giving a warning to those of you who get right on bumpers at stop lights, if I roll back into you, you’re too close. Stop it.
My first time driving stick on busier streets I got cocky. As a light turned green the car suddenly jerked to a stop. I turned the key and tried to get it started again as the guy behind me honked. I couldn’t get the car to start. I was quickly becoming more and more nervous when he honked again. I still couldn’t get the damn car to start. By the time I finally got going, he had already sped around me, and flipped me the bird.
I was left with preposterous worries that haunted me for days. What if he recognized me and told everyone how bad of a driver I was? What if he subtweeted me? What if I made him late to wherever he was going?
My mom explained over and over again that things like this happened to everyone. The more times I killed it on the road, the calmer I became when it happened, but it took me long enough to get there.
Even when I had gotten the hang of it, I left for school at 7:05 a.m. for almost two weeks, just so I could avoid traffic and have my ideal parking spot; one that angles downhill so I get to roll backing out after school.
Once I got over the constant worries that came with getting behind the wheel of my car I started focusing more on the excitement I got from just driving down Lee Blvd. on a Friday night, thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
Getting back behind the wheel of my mom’s car again, I found myself getting bored without a clutch for my left foot to hover over, or the gear shifter to hold in my right hand. I missed the adrenaline of racing other cars through lights and I even missed the prevalent sound of an engine reminding me of how fast I was going.
Back in my own car stopped at a red light, I throw it into first gear, and become excited for the fun that awaits when the light turns green so I can have the control back in my hands. After all the times I had killed the engine and my knuckles had turned white in fear of screwing up, it’s times like this, when angry drivers don’t flip me off, that make driving stick shift so worth it.
Click here for a step-by-step guide to driving stick: