How I learned to drive…again
“Do one thing every day that scares you,” said one of my all-time idols, the indomitable Eleanor Roosevelt.
As I sat in the potential new car, feeling the fight-or-flight reflex kicking in, I suddenly thought of ER’s famous remark.
Though I learned to drive on a manual transmission and drove them exclusively for…well, let’s just say a very long time…my current car was an automatic. And I had had it for ten-and-a-half years. What was I thinking, going back to a shift at my age?
The salesman was not helping. He was a well intentioned but anxiety-inducing front-seat driver. “Just drive it down to that cul-de-sac and we’ll see how you do,” he said.
“We’ll see how you do???” I’ve driven a manual transmission on the hills of San Francisco and the freeways of Los Angeles. Wait just a minute here, buddy. In fairness to him, when I first sat down in the driver’s seat I was a tiny bit mystified about that third pedal. I’d nearly forgotten the whole two-footed driving thing. Was I, in fact, being stupid?
The original reason for considering the 6-speed car was, of course, cost. It was cheaper. By quite a bit.
But now my thinking had morphed into a whole new sphere. I knew how to drive a shift and had always been proud of it. A manual transmission concentrates you on the car and your driving. It’s a daily lesson in driving mindfulness. And yes, it’s a step backwards from what I regard as the serious creepiness of the driverless car.
I don’t want a driverless car. I believe in the idea that, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “Driving in the car/The car and I are one/If the car goes fast/I go fast.” I repeat that verse to myself in times of driving stress.
However, I could see that I might be repeating that mantra quite a bit as I tried to re-master an old skill. It would be so much easier just to stay on automatic, wouldn’t it? Stay on automatic everything. Let the car do the thinking for me. Let the phone do the thinking for me. Even my refrigerator has some characteristics that are a bit too Hal-like for comfort…Wouldn’t you like just a few more ice cubes, Dave?
No. It’s always been part of my life not to back away from a challenge. Keep the mind moving. Reactivate the muscle memory that allows you to shift, literally and figuratively. Court and embrace change.
So I bought the 6-speed car and have been valiantly driving it around town, having some big anxious moments but feeling proud when I conquered them. The first time from a standing start on the hill at McCallie and Central raised the old blood pressure (and was a bit shaky), but I didn’t roll back and I didn’t stall. Thank you, person behind me who stayed tactfully away from my back bumper.
And thank you, Eleanor.