Failing At Stick Shift Again

Embarrassmonth: Failing At Driving Stick Shift…Again

In a break from the usual Freedom Nugget blog content, I am offering an embarrassing story from my past every weekday this month, like Friday’s, ‘When I Brawled Over The Cubs and Cards.’ I just ask that you laugh with me, not at me.

“See? I knew you could do it!” Jenny said through the car door before closing it. “Hey, see ya tomorrow.”

That warm smile. Those curly locks. I’m crushing enough to nearly be sick. I push the stick shift in reverse again and let out a sigh as I successfully steer into the street. Then the car rocks a little, but less than earlier. Looks like I’m learning how to drive stick.

This had been traumatic, but this pimply-faced, scared-of-my-own-shadow high school senior was learning how to drive his ’94 Camaro. Sure, I wasn’t successful at being the smooth guy, but maybe I was the clumsy guy that girls sometimes think are cute. The way Jenny just smiled at me, there was at least an outside chance.

Nevertheless, time to focus on the drive. I just turned onto Lincoln Avenue, the busiest road in my small town. The speed limit’s 35 but cars whiz by at 40, forcing me to push up to second, third, fourth gear, even fifth if it gets crazy. Stick – clutch – accelerator – stick – clutch – accelerator. Crazy coordination needed.

But it was working and thankfully I missed every red light. I kept it on fourth gear and zipped past Seventh Street, Sixth, Fifth, Fourth, Third. I approached University Avenue, the street where I needed to turn, and saw it was just turning red. I came up on it and slotted into the turn lane.

I checked my rear view mirror to see a four-door sedan approach. Right behind it was a station wagon. It was 1997, so people still drove those. My body temperature up-ticked and got higher when I saw two more cars line up behind those. That meant it was crunch time. My biggest challenge yet – possibly the busiest intersection in town. I pressed down hard on the clutch and checked the stick to make sure it was in first gear.

The turn arrow lit green and my shiny green Camaro hiccuped hard. It was dead. “Oh no!” I said, scrambling to turn the key. I pressed the gas, but too late, already let go of the clutch. Dead again. “Dammit, dammit, dammit!” I said, surprising myself. A horn went off in the background. Then another. And a couple more. I spied the rear view mirror and immediately regretted it when I saw a woman in the four-door sedan. Her jaw was dropped.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I said, as if she could hear. I turned the ignition once more and saw the turn arrow turning yellow. Just in the nick of time, for me, I released the clutch and pressed the gas in perfect sequence. The light was definitely red but I was moving on University Avenue.

I checked the rear view once more. No cars followed.

Down University and onto Chamberlin Drive, the small, dusty road I grew up on, my car puttered up to the driveway. My body was still in shock. I stopped the car, slowly let go of the clutch and pulled the e-brake, just like Dad taught me. I turned the car off and stayed seated, listening to the birds chirp.