When I learned how to drive in the 1970’s, my parents owned two vehicles, a gold-coloured first generation Honda Civic, and a rust-coloured (who buys a car the colour of rust? ) Ford Fairmont which we nicknamed the squad car since it was the model of choice of police forces across the continent at that time.  Since the Ford was the “good” car, I wasn’t allowed to learn in it, so that left the Civic, which of course was a manual transmission.    I was duly signed up for lessons, because my father ever the frugal one, knew that this would ensure he would get a discount on my car insurance – the fact that it might make me a better driver was just an added bonus.   But before the lessons started, he decided to show me the basics – we went off to a parking lot and I learned to get into gear, hippity-hopping the small car each time until I finally got the hang of it.  I think I got to second gear in that adventure.  When we returned, my father, looking somewhat drawn, said I had taken three years off the life of the car.  Well, at least I had thought it was fun.  But Dad was privately high-fiving himself about his genius decision to enroll me to learn on someone else’s car.

So I learned how to drive a manual transmission car from a quirky middle-aged man in a tweed jacket who was interested in astrology.  It was a group lesson, with three students taking turns at the wheel, while our instructor feverishly pumped the duplicate pedals on his instructor’s side of the car whenever we did something wrong, which was frequently in the beginning.  As I recall he had both a brake and a clutch pedal on the passenger side.  Which came in handy to prevent stalling on many an occasion.  As we got to know him, he collected our birth dates, along with the approximate location of our births, which he said was important for understanding our “charts”.    By the last lesson, he was giving each us a personalized astrological forecast, in which he told me I was really an Aquarius although I had been born under the Pisces sign; he also had me being some kind of wacky inventor.  We three students tolerated this quirkiness because he was otherwise a benevolent fellow who managed to drum stick shifting technique and the rules of the road into us with the minimum of fuss.

In the days that followed, my parents continued to own a standard transmission vehicle which was the one the kids were allowed to borrow.  I learned that driving a standard was a bit unusual and came with a cachet … boys tended to think it was cool, and invariably wanted to try.  I learned to say no after remembering my father’s “three years off the car’s life” comment from my first time.  One fall, after I went away to university, I borrowed the car to move myself to Kingston, and happily learned the cost of filling the tank was cheaper than for my automatic transmission car-borrowing friends.  I had clearly inherited my father’s frugality.  On the return trip, I recall unknowingly drafting behind a transport truck for most of the way; I was amazed when I arrived to find I’d only used half a tank of gas.

When I got my first full-time job in Ottawa, I decided I needed a car.  While one of my closest friends was being given a brand new vehicle by her father, it fell to me to buy my own.  Luckily the same girl’s older sister was selling a not-too-old Toyota Tercel, in a sporty red.  It was the perfect car for me, and best of all, it was a manual transmission.  So I became the owner of my first standard car, and haven’t looked back since.  While the economy of the manual transmission was appealing, more and more, it was the fun of the drive that had me hooked.   Three or four years later, I moved up the Toyota ladder to a navy blue Celica, again you guessed it, with a manual transmission.  This was bordering on a sports car and was great fun to drive.

The delights of standard transmission are many – accelerating around a curve, down-shifting in order to get more power or assist in braking, throwing it into fifth and blowing past a heavier opponent, or just the flexibility to tune your ride to exactly the gear ratio you think is appropriate for that particular driving moment.  There is nothing like cruising down an open roadway on a clear sunny day and beating time to Adele’s Rolling in the Deep on the stick shift head.

After the Celica, the 1990’s brought a stream of BMW 3-series, all used.   These were a foray into Teutonic transmission decadence and the threat of speeding tickets loomed constantly.  The rear-wheel drive meant an adjustment, particularly driving in the snow.  One Sunday morning after the first snow-storm, I took my car for a short drive to the video-rental place and handily ended up in a snow bank on the way back, two blocks from our house.  I had to call the hubby to help dig me out, but luckily there was no damage to the car.   After that, I drove with a couple of heavy bags of salt in the trunk, one over each rear wheel; that seemed to do the trick.

After switching to an Acura in the mid-2000’s, and readjusting to front-wheel drive, I decided economy was back on the front burner, and as of the past four years, now drive a Honda Civic again.  Mind you, this Civic is almost twice as big as the 1970’s Civic, and it does have heated leather seats.  But, it still has a stick shift and the fun of the drive continues.

 

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