Nothing says newbie than driving down the street in Italy getting yelled at by everyone as you continue to stall out. I learned how to drive a manual transmission after close to 20 years of driving experience, and it felt like learning how to drive all over again.
The first time I drove a car, I could barely make it around a block. The first time my dad took me out, on what became regular practice drives, we drove to his work. We had to take a freeway with a 65 mph limit, and there were curbs. He told me, “Just drive slow, and don’t hit the curbs or we will die.” I don’t remember much of the drive, just terror. Then I had to drive home. The relief was palpable when we got home. We must have done these four hour drives every Saturday and Sunday for a few months until I was a decent driver.
The first time I drove a manual transmission, it was my aunt’s Mustang. I stalled out bad because I didn’t know about putting in clutch at a stop. This was after 15 years of driving experience and plenty of knowledge on when to change gears, just not how to use a clutch.
The second time I drove a manual was in Italy on a highway. Highway driving is pretty easy for a manual; city driving kills me. However, it had to be done. We were going to go to Tropea, and I had to practice. When I rented the car, I had to drive it back on the highway, but it turned out fine. I knew I need practice though.
I went out late at night. I realized I had an issue with just getting it into first gear. So I would stop when nobody was behind me, and I did this multiple times up and down the street.
I stalled multiple times. I did the terrible clunking back and forth, then stall. I heard the transmission grind. So did everyone else, and in Italy, just like parenting, everyone will glad point out when you’re doing it wrong. I had my windows down until I realized I could put on AC. I didn’t even hear the words, but the sentiment came through like the cool night air: what an idiot.
Overcoming embarrassment was key.
What I didn’t know when I first learned to drive a car was that overcoming embarrassment due to failure is a must. Nobody hops in a car the first time and drives like they’ve been doing it for years. It takes time and practice, failure before success.
So even though I had the pride of driving for 20 years, through all kinds of the worst traffic in America, I had to suck it up. I had to accept failure. I had to stall out. The embarrassment was as tough as the clutch and gas interchange. I figured it out, and I survived the practice run.
I got out of the car with the same nervous legs as when I first learned how to drive. The excitement to be alive because it seemed like you would die. I never felt I was in danger of dying physically, only from embarrassment.
The Real Test
The next morning started off with the same craziness usually associated with three kids with the addition of preparing them for an hour and a half drive to go to a beach. The main difference in car layout is that they would all sit together. This was the true test of my meddle.
Of course, I stalled out the first time I went into first gear causing my wife to cringe. I assured her we would be okay as we got on the road. She mentioned a few times, maybe we should just cut our trip short and find a local beach. I insisted we keep going.
Some times you don’t have to look for trouble, trouble finds you. We had to make a left turn that then merged with a right turn from the other side of the road. Unfortunately, my timing was off and I had to yield. The result was being stuck yielding to cars on my right, on a hill, trying to get into first gear.
After 5 tries, my wife started waving cars around us. After about 10, we started laughing. This was the exact situation we were afraid of. After 20 tries, I was simply frustrated. Finally, success, and we were off. It was exciting, it was thrilling, and I liked it.
We had this problem one more time, but we survived. We decided to not stop unless we absolutely had to, and as a result, we almost hit three people and two cars. I accidentally turned right when I was supposed to turn left, so I pulled a quick u-turn, making sure not to take it out of third gear.
We had to stop once because the baby was too hot, so we took in the scenic view and continued to Tropea. We arrived, laid on the beach, played in the cool water, and had a good time.
Late in the afternoon, we departed, but We drove up the hill to the city. We took the risk of driving in the hills to stop by a store, and we survived by the skin of our teeth.
Luckily, we arrived back, and I returned the car that night. Afterwards, I didn’t want to hop back in a manual car, but a few days later, I certainly did. The excitement of not knowing if we would survive was an adrenaline rush.
Now, I just want to sell my car and buy a manual transmission. The only issue is that American roads are designed for automatic transmissions, so I don’t think it wouldn’t be as fun.
Further readings of mine: