Friday, April 20, 2007

It's Not Automatic

I approached the deserted intersection at an almost legal and certainly respectable 27 miles per hour. As I began to slow down for the stop sign I decided to shift down to a lower gear. I firmly pressed my left foot on the clutch pedal and grabbed the gearshift.

The car immediately came to a shocking and abrupt stop. The children in the back seat strained against their seatbelts. The CD case on the passenger seat flew to the floor.

“What the heck?” yelled the almost a teenager daughter. “Whatcha do that for?”

“Um….”I sheepishly muttered. “I was trying to shift. I thought I was putting the clutch in and instead I slammed on the brake.”

The mini gearhead in the back seat started laughing hysterically. “Mom! “he choked out. “You’re driving an automatic! Don’t you know you don’t have a clutch in an automatic?”

It’s the embarrassing, dirty family secret that my car loving, gearhead husband had hoped would never get out. His wife is unable to competently operate a vehicle with an automatic transmission. I almost always drive a manual transmission, stick shift car. The times when I get stuck driving our automatic transmission car though, I do tend to get a little confused.

I’ve driven a stick shift almost exclusively since I started driving a baby blue Pinto over 22 years ago. I can explain to you why a tachometer is so important in a car. I can tell you what rpm’s to shift at for each gear in every car I’ve ever owned. I can tell you that I prefer to shift late because I love the feeling of a little more power. The automatic transmission however, has always given me a bit more trouble. When I was in college, I borrowed my dad’s automatic car. Once inside I realized I had no idea where to put the shift lever. Do I put it on D or 1 or 2 or 3? Was 1 the lowest gear or the gear of 1st choice? Was 3 the final destination after 1 and 2 or was it used instead of 1 or 2? And where does this mysterious D gear fit into the whole equation? If D was the gear I was to put it in, then why do they even need all of the numbered gears? I regretfully, to my dad’s utter dismay, decided to compromise and split the difference by driving for an hour on the freeway in 2nd gear.

In the last 22 years I am happy to say that I have stopped overanalyzing the automatic transmission. As my husband has instructed, I am now able to successfully, “Put it in D for Drive honey, and just leave it there.”

My problem now is going back and forth between the stick and the automatic or even from one automatic to another. Our ’69 Camaro is an automatic. It has an emergency brake foot pedal on the left side. Our new white appliance car has a hand emergency brake in the middle console. Every single time I pull into the driveway with the white appliance, I attempt to put the emergency brake on with my left foot instead of with my right hand. I slam my foot down to set the brake, wrenching my ankle as I hit nothing but floor. As I came to a stop at a stop sign the other day, I shifted the automatic into park, thinking I was shifting the stick shift into first gear. And of course, as my children will attest, in my attempt to put in the clutch on an automatic car, my left foot hits the brake quite routinely and causes much eyeball rolling in the back seat.

My frustrated and somewhat mortified husband has lectured me time and again about my unsafe driving behavior and how I need to be more mindful about which car I am driving. In fact, his last lecture came as the family was leaving for a day trip. We all piled into my stick shift car that my husband doesn’t drive very often. On this day, he decided to drive. As we pulled out of the driveway the children began tattling on my latest “mistake the brake for a clutch” fiasco. My husband began his usual lecture about how unsafe it was to accidentally slam on the brakes and unexpectedly stop in the middle of the road. And as he began to press down on the gas and let out the clutch, the unthinkable happened. He killed it. There we were, stopped dead in the middle of the road, unexpectedly, with cars approaching quickly behind us. It was at that moment that the lecturing stopped. He turned the key, started the car, very slowly and carefully let out the clutch and we all drove away in amused silence.

I am convinced that being able to go seamlessly from one car to another is a much underrated skill in today’s society. As for me, I have accepted the fact that I will never have a career as a parking valet.

Check This Out!
With gardening season upon us, I recommend the book, Earth On Her Hands by Starr Ockenga. It's a beautiful and inspirational book profiling 18 women,their gardens and their gardening and life philosophy. Most of these women have worked in their gardens for many decades. The pictures are wonderful. This book will give you tons of ideas-both for your garden and your life.

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