Monday, June 23, 2008

New Tricks

I'd say it took me longer to really figure out how to drive than most people. After getting my drivers license, my first solo jaunt in a car (to drop off a video a mere 8 blocks from my house) led to me forgetting when I could turn left, getting beeped at, freaking out, turning into oncoming traffic, and then running over a bush on an island at a gas station to avoid hitting another car head-on. Hardly a success. Another time, on a post-college road trip to Graceland, I ignored the gas gauge while taking my turn driving. We wound up on back roads in the middle of Kentucky looking for someone who could help us either find a gas station or get extra gas. My friend Karen, who owned the car we drove, kept asking how I could forget about the gas gauge. I still don't have an answer for that question. I just did.

When I lived in Chicago, I never owned a car and was thrilled about it. I didn't need a car. I could walk or take transportation, or if absolutely necessary, get a cab with no problem. (I didn't like spending money on cabs unless I really needed to be somewhere.) I planned my routes so I could do everything I needed - shop for groceries mainly, but also take care of other necessary errands. Even when I was totally broke and jobless, I could still afford to take public transportation if I saved my change. My friends with cars always seemed to be in an endless war with the city - and the city was always winning. They needed to move their cars every 6 hours to avoid being towed. They would waste time circling around looking for places to park near the bars they frequented. They'd get tickets on a monthly basis. I never felt superior to friends who had cars - hell, they'd give me lifts places sometimes, and it was a fun treat - but I also knew I was just not cut out to be a car owner.

7 + years ago, Aa and I moved here to Seattle. And almost immediately, I got my first car. It actually belonged to Aa's grandparents - a red Geo Metro with about 19 miles on it. It was adorable, but it felt like driving a whiffle ball. I liked the car, but I hated all the obligation that came along with it. I sold that car because I found I hated car ownership. But a year later, I found myself so frustrated with Seattle's bus system, I bought another car - a 1991 Honda Accord. It was a good car, but I still hated everything that came along with ownership. It drove me nuts. Part of the problem was I couldn't let go of the anger I felt at Seattle. I'd moved to a city, goddammit. Why the hell did I need a car to get so many places? For the longest time, I thought of Seattle as an arrogant suburb rather than a city. To be honest, sometimes I still do.

But I digress. During the last 7ish years of my roller coaster relationship with cars, Aa happily drove around a little 1998 Volkswagen GTI. He bought it almost as soon as we got out here. He's done all kinds of things to the car that he says makes it "more responsive". As a passenger, I think he just made the car louder and bumpier. But the thing with the GTI is, it's a manual transmission. And, grandma that I am, I never learned to drive stick shift. Aa tried to teach me once. It didn't go well. So I've spent the last several years (! YEARS!!) simultaneously pledging to learn to drive stick and sort of putting it off. I like to think it's not entirely my fault. Most people will spend a Saturday afternoon in a parking lot with you and think you're ready to go. Uh, no. I am a student with special needs. This means that over the years I've had sporadic lessons, but was still terrified to take the GTI out on the street.

A couple of months ago, my friends Phyllis and Julian showed up on my doorstep. Phyllis had just gotten a car w/ a manual transmission. And Julian was committed to teaching me to drive stick that day. I was shocked. And freaked the fuck out. But I went with them and spent 3 hours in a parking lot. And then - glory of glories! - I drove Phyllis' car to the pet food store and home. It was THRILLING.

Since then, I have driven the GTI only very rarely. The car, in my mind, is still Aa's car. And he is into his car in a way most people I know are not into their cars. This is not to say he's like a meathead about it - he just likes his car and pays a lot of attention to it. So driving that car in a less-than-expert fashion kind of freaks my shit out.

Aa's on tour till early July. And this weekend, I found I had to drive the GTI. My palms were sweaty, I talked to myself a lot, and I killed the engine more than I care to admit. But by yesterday evening, I was able to go from a stop to first gear without killing the engine. I wasn't talking to myself as much. My palms were still sweating, but I was actually having fun.

I don't think I'll ever come to love driving. (Nor, honestly, will I ever forgive Seattle for forcing me to become more car-centric, but that's something else entirely) But this weekend, I leapt over some hurdle with driving and the GTI and a bunch of other stuff. It's exciting, and I'm really proud of myself. And I don't hate the act of driving nearly as much as I used to.


Alex said...

Dude, driving a stick in hilly-assed Seattle is no romp in the park. Good for you!

Seattle is a jumped up suburb. I think that's why I liked it.

Hilly-assed Seattle...wasn't she some kind of diet guru?

Hoyden said...

Hey, remember that time you hit the parked car and I cracked the windshield with my head? That was fun TOO! Glad you're enjoying stick!

MintyJ said...

Hoyden - I *do* remember that because Dad reminded me of it on the phone last night. Only he said it this way: "There was also that time you hit that parked car and broke the kid's leg!!" I did forget you cracked the windshield w/ your head though. Ah. What a truly stellar driving career I've had.

Alex - I've been avoiding hills as much as possible. I will probably continue to do that for at least the next several months.

Charlie said...

Hot dam!
I remember the first time I learned to drive a stick. It was in college in New York (really Long Island where the suburb started) and my friend Joy from high school and some girl whose name I can't quite recall anymore and I stayed up all night long driving to and from Connecticut, twice.

The first time up, I drove her car so we could go see her ex in Hartford. Then we got home, sat around till sunrise, and got it into our heads to go to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT. Cause, you know, there really is one so why not.

Ah College.

Yay for driving sticks!