Sunday, May 22, 2011

To Drive or Not to Drive

I took a deep breath and swallowed, the spit sliding down my throat like acid. The steering wheel was sticky in my hands, from the best heat and humidity Alabama had to offer, but soon it would be slick with sweat.

Daddy said something, probably something that was supposed to be comforting, but his voice melted into the blood pounding into my ears and I couldn't make out the words.

I closed my eyes, letting the darkness comfort me enough that I could at least hear my dad say, “It's okay. Take as long as you need.”

Uh huh. If it was okay to take a long time, why was he drawing attention to how long I was taking?

The key clicked when I turned it, but the car didn't make a noise. I opened my eyes to stare at the dash and its stupid gauges all stared silently back. Weren't they supposed to light up or something?

“First, you need to press the clutch,” Daddy reminded me. We'd been through all that, I'd even sat there mindlessly shifting through the gears earlier to get used to the feel of it, but between the heat and the sun and the pressure of being an eighteen-year-old who didn't have a license but who did have a car, my brain was pretty toasted.

It took me three tries to start the car and I don't even know how many to get halfway up the driveway. In my defense, I don't think putting someone who'd never driven a stick on a sloped driveway and telling her to back out of it was the best idea my father ever had. I'm pretty sure he figured that out well before I got out of the car, slammed the door, and went back into the lake house we were renting while my parents closed on the new house. I yelled something at my mother, flung myself on the bed in the room I shared with my kid sister, and started reading a fantasy novel set in world where no one had ever heard of anything as evil as a car.

I never did learn to drive that particular car.

A few years later, the aging automatic my parents gave me when it became obvious I'd never make friends with the first car they tried to designate as mine died a long and agonizing death that involved returning to Atlanta from a road trip to Florida with the tailpipe resting in the back seat. It was sold it to CarMax for its bluebook value, ie $200, after several junk yards had informed us we'd have to pay them to take it from us.

I didn't drive much in Atlanta. If you've ever driven in Atlanta, you can probably guess why. But my beloved and I lived too far from his school for him to walk there for his last semester, so he took advantage of an about-to-graduate-college loan offer and bought a late model Mazda B2300 (basically a Ford Ranger). Manual transmission.

He'd never driven a manual before the test drive. (He also spent all of his high school years overseas and didn't drive anything at all before coming back to the States as a college freshman, when he figured out how to drive my aging automatic. I'd say I taught him, but really, he taught himself while I sat beside him.)

My beloved did a better job of teaching me to drive a stick, most likely because instead of acting like I was completely destroying the vehicle every time it stalled, he just reminded me that the transmission wasn't great when we got it and we needed a new clutch anyway.

Once I figured it out, I refused to drive an automatic again.

I've been thinking about this because Tessa Dare tweeted the other day asking her fellow stick-drivers to raise their hands and say what driving a stick says about us. My answer? Mostly, it says I like to accelerate. ::g::

I don't speed more than the average person, always slow down for work zones, and stop before the line at red lights. But when I tell my car to go, I want it to go NOW, not whenever the computer catches on that I'm trying to pick up speed.

I'm pretty sure that says something important about me, which is why I now have to ask my characters what kind of car they like to drive.

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