How often do you look at your phone while driving? Nearly every person on the sweet Californian roads is guilty of it. Causing you to stay still in the middle of the lane while the cars in front of you move up, or just missing the green entirely. You probably look around to make sure no cops are looking, or to make sure the light isn’t about to turn green, some people just don’t give a damn. You need to check your phone, what if you got a text, what if your idol just started a facebook live broadcast, or what if god forbid, you get a like on that pic you posted of yourself on instagram. I get it, driving can be boring for most people, there’s no challenge no threat, no need to pay an ounce of attention. It’s simple really, just step on a pair of pedals, turn the wheel, and that’s pretty much it( at least until self driving cars become mainstream, then you’re going to spend all of your time on the road looking at your phone). Me on the other hand, I don’t even glance at my phone, i’m having too much fun. You see, unlike most drivers, both my hands are always occupied and the same goes for my two feet. One hand on the wheel, and the other, not holding a phone but holding a shift knob. It may not seem like much a difference between what you drive and what I drive, but for me those two mechanical pieces made driving an entirely new and viciously fun experience.
Before i was 16, i never even heard of a manual transmission, I was exclusively surrounded by automatic cars. I knew about manual transmissions on motorcycles, but the idea of different transmissions for cars completely eluded me. That all changed however when it was finally time for me to earn my own drivers license. Learning how to drive was something I was waiting for my whole life, ever since I got my first hot wheels toy car. But at first, driving wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be, it was actually kinda boring. This was probably caused by the bland cars that I learned with, but I knew there was more to driving than just that.
Earning my license made my brain wrap around cars and their culture. I started reading about them, taking pictures of them, watching videos about them, and even driving them in video games. I was enthralled by this stuff, but the topic that caught the most of my attention was how the automotive journalists spoke about the manual transmission. These writers always seemed to talk about how it was the most fun, the most engaging, and the most demanding. How it turned your average civic into a fun machine. But they also spoke about how the great transmission was dying, becoming less and less common in new cars. With the sights of the automotive industry aimed on electrification, the manual will soon be a distant memory. To me, this was a call to action. I wanted to experience this amazing transmission that could transform cars, and contribute to it living on. I made it my goal to acquire a car that had a manual transmission. So I started saving up for a Mazda Miata, the cheapest and easiest way to get into a manual rear wheel drive fun car. I told my parents what I planned on doing with that money, and how it was going to change my life. They must have taken notice to just how dedicated I was to this idea and how hard I was going to work to achieve my goal, because one day after school, there was a small surprise waiting for me in my garage.
That surprise came in the form of a metallic blue, rear wheel drive, coupe called a Scion Fr-s. This little bastard had all the features of a sports car. Slanted headlights full of angst, intimidating rear hunches, and a low ride height. But most importantly, it’s two liter flat four was paired to a manual transmission. Mission Accomplished. I already had the money to buy a Miata, but screw it, this was better in every way. To me, it was perfection on four Michelin wrapped alloys, and I couldn’t wait to drive it. My dreams were about to become a reality. But first I had to learn how to actually drive stick. I thought it was gonna be a cakewalk, with my background in dirtbike riding this seemed like a simple transition. All I had to do was just push in the clutch, step on the gas, and change the gears. But I wasn’t the quick learner that I thought I was.
The first drive my dad took me on with the car was a complete disaster. Now luckily, I didn’t wreck the car, but the clutch probably wasn’t in the best condition after that first drive. After my family introduced me to the car that I was going to be driving for my college career, my dad wanted to take me on a short drive around town with the little blue car. I enthusiastically agreed. About two miles into our drive, my dad pulled over on a side street, got out of the car and decided let me take the helm. My heart raced as my dad told me “alright now you drive” in a semi enthusiastic tone, as if he was cautiously optimistic of how my first drive was gonna go. I was pumped, I had this, this was gonna be awesome, this car was gonna kick ass. The car was kicking ass, my ass, because I soon found out that I sucked at driving stick.
I sat down in the black and red bolstered seats and looked around the cabin dumbfounded. Unsure of myself, I pushed the clutch in, grabbed the shifter, looked at my dad and asked “now what?”. “Drive” he responded, yeah that helped. I could barely even get the thing to start rolling. The street was at an incline so the instant I reluctantly took my foot off the brakes, the car began to roll backwards. I slammed on the brakes, lurching me and my dad backwards. My father gave me a look that said “Really? C’mon you can do better.” I tried again, as the car rolled backwards I punched the gas and let off the clutch slowly. The Fr-s sat still as gravity and combustion fought against each other. Then the car began to move forward. “I’m doing it. I’M DOING IT!” i thought to myself. “Let off the clutch” my dad muddered sturnley. Crap. Unsure of why he was telling me this, I dumped the clutch entirely. The car threw a tantrum as it shuddered and lurched back and forth, breathing its last breath before it died. “You stalled it” said my dad, as I looked down in self pity. “Don’t ride the clutch like that you’re gonna burn it up” my father remarked. It would’ve been nice if he told me that earlier, but I wasn’t gonna give up that quick, so gave it another go. I stall the poor car for about three more times until i’m finally able to get it to move, each failure angering my dad more and more, which in turn stressed me out more and more. I give the tortured blue car half the throttle and let off the clutch to a super shaky start, but it begins to roll forwards. I finally got it. I give the car more throttle in first gear until the rpm’s begin to reach redline. “Shift up Joseph” my dad stated, so I gave it a shot. I grabbed the shift knob and watched my shaky hand, making sure that I put the car in the correct gear. I let off the clutch slowly without incident to my surprise. That was way easier than making it move from a stop. Maybe I do got this I thought. But then an enemy approached, a big red stop sign. Damnit, “STOP” are you kidding me? I just started! Reluctantly, I pushed the clutch in and kept it there until we crawled to a stop. I waited at the sign for a good 10 seconds before I tried to get the car moving again, I needed to make sure that I did this right. Pull out the clutch, give her some gas aaaaaand, I stalled it again. Another car came to the intersection, so I had to waive at the to get him to go ahead and cross, because I knew I wasn’t gonna be going anywhere anytime soon. That was incredibly embarrassing. It was at this point that my dad ran out of patience, he told me to get out of the car and get back into the passenger seat. Annoyed, frustrated, and defeated, I did as I was told. My father was silent on the drive back home. I tried to explain to him that I needed to practice in a parking lot or an empty road first, but the only thing he responded with was ”We should have got you the automatic”.
An automatic Fr-s. No, hell no. My dad’s words hurt, showing me that he had almost no confidence in my ability to learn how to drive this Scion, but I wasn’t gonna let that car sit. I NEEDED to learn how to drive it. Within that car was an experience that i’d been waiting for my whole life, and I wasn’t about to let it slip away when I was this close. Reflecting back on my experience with learning how to drive an automatic, I realized that only one person, would be able to really help me get this manual transmission down, my mother. Unlike my father, my mom was incredibly patient when they were teaching me how to drive. While my father was quick to anger when I made a mistake, my mother would instead point out my mistake and then explain to me how I could avoid making it again. She wasn’t a gearhead like my dad, but she knew how to drive stick, even though it was over ten years ago since she last touched a car with a manual transmission. She may have been rusty, but her kindness and patience more than made up for it.
The next day when my mom got home from work, I asked her if she could help me out with learning how to drive the Fr-s. As always, my mom was tired from work, and had to make diner soon, but she was able to find the time and energy for me. I hopped in the passenger’s seat while my mother struggled to get into the driver’s seat. My car has a low ride height, two long doors, and a low roof line so it isn’t the easiest car to enter for older drivers. Nor is it the easiest car to drive, with its super stiff suspension, but my mother carried on and got into the blue menace. Once my mom was settled in, she drove us down the street to the parking lot of my old elementary school. With the sun setting over the place where I once learned the basics to everything, this truly felt like a fresh start.
We got out of the Scion and switched seats. I reacquainted myself with the steering wheel, clutch, and shift knob, then prepared myself to stall the engine, grind the gears, and burn the clutch. I looked at my mom and asked her “How do I do this?”, she then gave me step by step instructions on how to get the car moving. I took all her advice in, slowly let the clutch out, gave the car some gas, and I immediately stalled it. Except this time, I wasn’t told to get back in passenger’s seat, nor was I yelled at. Instead my mom just let out an “oof” gave me a chuckle, and told me with a smile to try again.
Over the next week, Me and my mother practiced driving the Fr-s. When my mom pulled up to our house in her car, I was already outside waiting for her, begging her to teach me as soon as she got home. She would go inside our house rest for a bit, then get right back into my car. We would circle the parking lot every afternoon, practicing starts, and shifting into higher gears. Whenever I got the car moving smoothly my mom would give me some encouraging words. “There you go. See?”, she would say, or “Good job, good job” in a proud tone. But when I let the clutch out too quick my mother would respond by saying “a little smoother”, even this was encouraging though, showing me I was on the right path. We practiced so much to the point that the surrounding neighborhood called the police on us, likely out of fear that we were scoping out the school for a robbery. We would drive until the sun set, then head back home. But every time i’d walk into the house after a session, my father would repeat that same phrase, “Should have got the automatic”. But that just encouraged me to prove his ass wrong. And by the end of the week, that’s exactly what I did. I took him for a ride to show him that I could drive a stick, with a massive grin on my face the whole drive. With my mother as my teacher, I was finally able to drive my car alone with confidence. No more stalling, no more rolling backwards, and no more hurting the clutch. Except for the times where I dump the clutch to launch the car, or the times where I kick the clutch to initiate a drift.
I was proud of myself, and my car for not destroying itself while I learned how to control it. When I think back to it, my father’s comment was a driving force behind what pushed me so far to learn how to drive the car. It made me persistent. It made me dedicated. It was a challenge, one that I wouldn’t let my father win. He may have not been a good teacher, but he was certainly a great motivator, and for that i’m thankful. My mother was a fantastic teacher, she was patient, thorough, and kind. Without her positive reinforcement, I may have just given up on the car and accepted the Automatic version. I needed both of my parents to overcome this life changing trial in life, but me and my persistence were what completed the trinity of accomplishment. Persistence is the ability to continue towards your goal, no matter how rough the road may get. My father may have put me down, but I persisted. My mom may have been tired, but I persisted. I wondered if the transmission was even worth the effort, but I persisted. Without persistence your dreams and goals, no matter how big or small, will pass you by. But with persistence, you’ll be passing everyone else by, making your life as fulfilling as you want it to be. So put that phone down and look at the road ahead. Will you step on the gas as soon as the light turns green, or just sit there while everyone passes you by?