A guy sits in a bar. Two attractive young ladies sit across from him. Table for three. The ladies had my attention momentarily when I walked in, but I quickly lost interest. A few moments later and it was his dialogue that drew me in.
“…it was pretty awesome. You shift like this, with your fingers. There are these paddles up here,” he held an imaginary steering wheel above the table as if instructing a new driver to put his hands at ten and two o’clock.
The ladies were enthralled in his story.
He continued, “So yeah it’s, like, better than a clutch because the computer can shift so much faster. It was SO much fun to drive.”
His vocal cords could have been quantum-entangled with the ladies ocular muscles; each time he emphasized the word SO, their eyes bulged in sync.
“That sounds SO cool,” one of them said, again with the eye bulging trick.
Honda dealership. Noon on a Saturday. It’s an invitation-only event. We walk in and give our details to reception. The receptionist hands a piece of paper to a salesperson and he greets us warmly.
“So it says here you’re interested in the Element?”
I nodded. My partner and I had researched some of their used vehicles ahead of time. They had one Element left that was equipped with a manual transmission.
“I’ve got it all fueled up for you,” he said, “Just let me grab photocopies of your licenses and you can take it for a test drive.”
And so we did. And it was a piece of shit. Overpriced for having bald tires, a broken air conditioner, and running so rough. The interior was so beaten up it looked like it had been used as a moving truck.
We let the salesman know.
“Okay,” he said, “Let’s try to find you something else.” His friendly demeanour had started to fade just slightly.
“Now, you’ve said it has to have a manual transmission. That’s going to be hard to find. I mean, heck, most of our technicians can’t even drive a stick.”
At the office where I used to work, we contracted some work out to one of our vendors. The technician we normally work with had just got back from a week-long trip to California. I asked a few obligatory questions about his trip and he filled me in.
“It was awesome. The weather was perfect. I rented a Ford Mustang, brand new, convertible, and drove it up the coast.”
“Must’ve been sweet shiftin’ gears with all that muscle. The wind in your hair,” I mused.
“Oh, no, I rented an automatic.”
An auto… automatic…AUTOMATIC!!! Argh!
The guy in the bar impressing women with his mid-life crisis shifters. The Honda techs that can’t drive stick. The guy who thinks a sportscar ride up the coast is complete without pedals under both feet…
They’re missing out.
Before long we’ll all be riding around in self-driving cars, saying, “Okay Google,” or Alexi, or Siri, or Cortana, or whatever callsign we give to the inanimate cloud-connected circuitry. I think that is very cool, especially if it all works properly and doesn’t leave us stranded in the middle while it reports, “Something has gone wrong. Please restart the vehicle and try again.”
Until then, let’s have a little fun. Learning to drive stick is like learning to play the drums. It’s very good for your brain. It’s rythmic. It’s cool. I’ve never met anyone who took the time to learn the skill who would say, “Driving a manual is pretty boring. I wish I could just drive an automatic all the time.”
I do have friends who say, “It’s too hard to reply to text messages if I have to concentrate on shifting.”
Friends, I am so embarrassed that you would say that. Not only is texting and driving dangerous, but it is splitting your attention in such a way that you will never be a good driver. Don’t you want to be good at it?
It’s like sex. You want to be good at sex, right? Would you operate your cellphone during sex? Shit, people probably do that. It’s that strong of an addiction. They can’t put the goddamn things down for two minutes to concentrate on one thing…
Wait. This isn’t another one of my rants about cellphones, this is about manual vs. standard transmission. Let’s stay on the sex analogy for a moment. Operating a transmission with paddle-shifters (a semi-automatic if you will), is like having sex with a condom on. Er, maybe it’s more like having sex for the first time, I don’t know. Either way, it’s kind of like sex but it’s not what real sex could be. It could be great. It could be perfect. If only you learned to do it properly.
When I’m driving down the road, with the right music on, with the windows down, clutching and shifting gears on a nice sunny day, sometimes I forget that I’m driving a beige Subaru with two car seats in the back. My head is on a swivel, my cellphone is turned off, and I know I am getting the most enjoyment possible out of my commute at that moment. I know when to speed up and when to slow down because I feel the RPMs of the vehicle in my arms and in my feet.
Manual is better. It makes you pay more attention, so it makes you a better driver. It’s more fun. Chicks used to dig it, but now paddle-shifting is apparently good enough.
If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.
I am Sam I Am and driving a stick is Green Eggs & Ham. You will like it, you will see.