September 16, 2014 - 6:40 AM
There is a great scene in one of the Sex and the City episodes in which Carrie Bradshaw thinks driving standard for the first time in twenty years is like remembering how to ride a bike. She makes this mistake on a hill.
I’ve been driving an old 5-speed through the city for the past week, courtesy of an out-of-town sibling, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to plan my routes accordingly. Unfortunately, hills literally come with the territory in the lower mainland and it’s almost impossible to get from North Vancouver to South Vancouver without hitting two or three red lights on a twenty degree grade.
Somewhere between releasing the clutch and engaging the accelerator there is a brief moment when neither the driver nor the vehicle is in control, and this moment is when we discover what type of person we are in a crisis.
(For the record, this may not be true. I don't know how cars actually work. But it feels like it's true.)
I learned how to drive standard with my very first boyfriend. I cried and he yelled as we lurched up the boat ramp — which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the ideal learning spot – and I spent the day stalling at every red light along the way. Over the next month, my father refined my technique – he taught me how to use the emergency break to avoid rolling backwards and how to shift without pressing the clutch at all — and then I made it my own.
I rode the clutch up every hill and burned out three. I popped into neutral from fourth at the site of a red light three blocks away. I watched the RPM’s climb closer and closer to the red as I went from first to fifth in as little time as possible. I shifted with my left hand while sipping a Starbucks with my right. Once, I poured said Starbucks all over my lap when the left-handed shift got in the way of a spontaneously approaching left turn.
Similarly, I make personalized touches to the way I handle stressful situations that are along the same lines — burning both ends, multi-tasking to a dangerous degree, coasting when necessary, and getting seriously fired up.
There is always that one split second, however — when the clutch is released and the gas isn’t quite there yet — during which we have to quote Carrie Underwood (not Bradshaw) and say “Jesus, take the wheel.” If you couldn’t afford a Maserati before, there’s obviously no want to pay for part of one when you roll backwards into it.
One of the reasons I drive standard is because I’m not the most willing to surrender all control and let the world around me do its own thing. I try — no one likes a control freak — but something as simple as being able to slow a vehicle down by manually shifting from third to second makes me satisfied with my small-ness.
Which is precisely why, when I sat in my boyfriend’s nice, standard SUV to drive it for the first time and realized I would have to reverse up a little hill, I had a small panic attack.
That moment was going to come — the moment where I would take a deep breath and give The Universe one full second to make my choices for me. Would I roll forward into the parked car? Would I lurch backwards an inch and stall? Or would I find the sweet spot and cascade gently back out into the street?
I took a deep breath and accepted that this is part of driving standard in the city. That these little blips of the unknown are part of living in a world we have very little control over. I hummed Carrie Underwood songs in my head and thought to myself what will be, will be. I surrendered to the unknown or whatever.
“Oh,” he said from the passenger seat, “it’s a new car, so you shouldn’t have to worry about rolling.”
— Andria is a twenty-something blogger living in Kamloops with her 100 pairs of heels and 200 paperback Penguin Classics.
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