A Letter From a Dying Member of the American Community
Things used to be different. They used to be great. I used to be great; spending days bumbling through neighborhoods and cities, past pedestrians and buildings with a certain dignity and respect. I was admired then. I meant something THEN. I even remember spending afternoons and long weekends on the dazzling Route-66. How I can see her shimmer in the summer light now. Man, we had fun. Those days, however, those memories — well, they’re just that. Memories. Distant memories.
It’s a different world now. It’s not the world I knew growing up. Definitely not the world my parents knew. It’s busier now. Less personable. People eat alone in their cars, not having the time, or desire, it seems, to do anything else. And when they do have time, they spend it on these weird hand held devices that look like a contact book without any pages. Always scrolling and tapping away. I guess it’s no surprise they don’t have use for an old fogey like me.
Who am I? Isn’t it obvious? I’m Stick Shift (manual transmission, if you like). One lonely old stick shift, left to sit with its thoughts in the middle of Who-Knows, Michigan. Fun fact: it’s cold here this time of year. It’s always cold.
While I’m just one, potentially deranged, stick shift, I think I speak for my brothers and sisters when I say: go fly a kite, automatic transmissions. Seriously, just take the day, or the rest of your life, and go fly a kite. Preferably next to a dangerously steep and slippery hill. I mean, thanks to you guys, a good majority of us, including myself, have been forgotten like last week’s newspaper. Or worse, like that can of old Catnip that’s been sitting next to me for the past five years.
When automatics first started appearing on the road I thought it was cute. Sure, it was a pretty terrible concept for a car, but they added a certain something. Something that I have yet to figure out, but something nonetheless. Then, slowly, automatics began to take over. Stick shifts everywhere were being passed over at dealerships, without so much as a test drive, for this new, weird, grotesque smelling, automatic.
I assured myself it was just a fad. Give people some time to figure out how tremendously terrible the car was — is — and things would go back to normal. But they didn’t… They didn’t. Things got worse. Like a bad virus, automatics continued to dot the landscape. And then the unthinkable happened. They began replacing stick shifts.
I remember the first time I saw it. Billy, a 1992 Honda Civic. Oh sweet Billy. My neighbor, and best friend of seven years. We spent many evenings talking about the finer things in life, sharing our dreams, fears, hopes. Many gallons of oil were had together, and then… one day… Billy was gone. And in his place? A shiny, filthy, automatic.
Billy of course wasn’t the only one. The rest of my neighborhood was soon replaced, myself included. I tried to care when it happened, but seeing Billy go like that, I didn’t have anything left inside of me to give. It didn’t help that my owner savagely sent me to a pick-n-pull, where strangers came and went, taking every thing I had, literally leaving me with nothing left inside. But I meant that emotionally, too.
Sure, there are still stick shifts out there. A lucky few, enjoying the open road, the concrete beneath their wheels. It seems as though they’ve been able to put off the inevitable, if only for a short while longer. Their day will surely soon come. Their world as they know it will be ripped out from under them like a novice magician ripping a table cloth out from underneath restaurant goers. I hope to all get out I’m wrong, but I can’t help but feel I’m right.
So for now, and the foreseeable future, I’ll be here. In the middle of Who-Knows, Michigan, next to an old can of Catnip, watching things unfold — hoping for the best, expecting the worst, and longing deeply for England.