Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Day

Before I begin this anecdote I have two requests.

1)  I'd like for my father to stop reading for long enough to set up a webcam.  I want him to record his reaction to this post for me.

2)  I want the first person (and that includes you, Dad) to make a woman driver joke to be on the next flight to Europe so that I can personally beat him/her over the head repeatedly with a German cuckoo clock.

Why the special requests?  Because today I learned to drive a car with a manual transmission.

It started with my leaving my cellphone at work.  Being that my cellphone is my major way of anyone getting ahold of me, I needed to get it.  Unfortunately, I only noticed it was missing from my purse on Saturday morning when most of the people I know in this country are hung over.  Also, I was tired of scamming, begging and bumming rides from eveyrone at work.  The lack of transportation was getting to me, and it even went so far as to make getting regular transportation even more difficult to obtain.  The problem was compounded by my antisocial nature.  I wanted to see some of Germany--Hel, I just wanted to see a movie--but not if it meant I had to talk to people.

So I got out my little book, borrowed a neighbors telephone and called the rental place.  I'd have a week of independance if nothing else.  They set me up that afternoon with some temporary transportation, that could get me to work, to the store, to the movie theater, and most importantly, to the used car lot.  The day would have all worked out perfectly but for one slight problem.  That being the manual transmission.  But I was prepared for that, sort of.

I'd read about it on the internet.

And I got a... briefing from the car rental guy.

Nevertheless, when I got into the car and tested it out, I found I couldn't move in reverse to get out of the parking spot.  I did everything as I'd been told, I didn't panic when the car started moving when I released the clutch.  I shifted the gearshift towards the R, but it wouldn't go backwards.  So I glanced around the partking lot, and accosted some random guy as he was exiting his car.

"Hey, you drive manual?"


"Umm.. help?"

He nodded and came over, said he knew exactly the problem.  "European gearshift.  You have to shove it all the way over until it clicks, then up."

I did so.  The car still stubbornly insisted on moving forward.  This wouldn't have been a problem, if not for the other car parked in front of it.  The car I was getting just a bit closer to each time I tried to move.  So I had the random stranger sit in the car and try it himself.

(Dad, you had better be filming your reaction to this story.)

And what do you know, it wasn't my fault.  He couldn't get it go backwards either.  We had no choice but to go forward past the other car (we had enough room between the bumpers to slip a few pieces of paper by) and sure enough, as soon as we cleared the other car and switched drivers again the damned reverse started working.

No, I didn't back into anything.  But I swear, I put it in the exact same position each fucking time.

Still, I was doing fairly well.  Within a half hour, I got it moving around the parking lot smoothly--after stalling a few dozen times in the first 20 minutes--and felt comfortable enough to go to the street to get to work and look for my phone.  The street was an uphill street.  And of course, the damnable thing stalled at the top.  And of course, the next car--an ugly boxy yellow thing--pulls right up behind me.

So here I am, still adjusting to the clutch and the slight rocking backwards because the parking lot didn't have enough hills to get used to that, and a line forms.  The woman in the yellow car behind me couldn't back up due to the black car that was right behind her, and I couldn't get any further up the hill.  She was fortunately very amused by the situation.  She and her entire line of cars eventually passed me.  Then another line formed, this one smart enough to back away.

After providing a total of 20 minutes entertainment to the base population, a pedestrian stopped to help me figure out the right combination of accelerator and clutch motion (he advised thinking of it as a teetertotter).  I didn't have another problem until work, where I discovered that my phone was not left at the office.

But don't worry, I think I know where it is.

I focused on my next errand, because by heaven's frosty gate I was going to get something accomplished this day.  The building for the next errand happened to be up a large hill.  But I wasn't worried, I'd discovered the secret to hills.  I wasn't quite sure about the speed limit, but I'd discovered the secret to hills.

Well, I thought I had.  I was still getting used to the clutch, though, so I stalled when I got up the hill and tried to turn into the parking lot.  So I restarted the engine, and stalled again.  I got a bit frustrated with it, particularly the car's desire to slip backwards on the hill as I tried to get it to start forward.  Took maybe ten minutes to park because of that.  But after that I ran smoothly around base, from the store to the other store, to the first store when the other store told me they didn't have what I wanted.  I obtained some potentially valuable advice about diesel engines at the last stop.  Sure, I overshot the movie time, I'm afraid.  But I remembered the way home.

The shine on remembering the way home was dulled when I stalled twice on the way home.  Both times entering traffic circles, which just sucks because there is someone moving in a little circle in front of you and invariably there is someone behind you.  That just makes recovering from the stall worse because there's suddenly this sense of urgency.

To top off the day, I stalled entering my freaking driveway, because guess who lives on the side of an uphill road! (And some jackass blasted his horn at me, which is illegal withing city limits, and startled me into releasing the clutch too soon as stalling a second time while I was trying to recovering from the first stall!)

But all in all it was a fairly productive day.  I'm now confident I can get to work and back (though I'm not touching the autobahn yet, I don't care what stupid souvenirs people want from other parts of Germany), and I've expanded my options for permanent transportation.  (There aren't many automatics for sale where I'm at, so this is a big thing.)  For this I'd like to thank my AWOL cellphone, my three impromptu teachers, the road-gods of Germany, and the cops who pointed and laughed as I banged my head against the steering wheel in frustration.

(And Dad?  Upload the video to Youtube, so I can watch it at my leisure.)


  1. Congratulations on learning to drive stick. One of the best practices I learned for getting used to the clutch is to get the car on an incline and practice going forward and back by teeter tottering the gas and clutch. All it takes is practice.

  2. I had the opposite experience when I visited the States, where I ended up getting an impromptu lesson over the phone at the rental agency at Bush Intercontinental in how to drive an automatic. (I had no idea one needed to depress the brake pedal in order to shift into drive, and was quite convinced my rental car was broken). *grin*

  3. I didn't learn to drive until I was 26, and learned to drive a manual (about 50% of Australian cars are manual). The best practice for me was driving in empty car parks to get the hang of gear changing, and doing the clutch/accelerator balancing act on a hill. I drove my first automatic last year, and while it's great in traffic, I mostly drive completely empty rural roads and I think I miss my manual.

  4. While I technically learned to drive at 16, I didn't get my liscense until I was 18 and didn't actually drive beyond the test for that until I got my first car at 22. The last time I tried to drive a stick was over a decade ago. Which went..badly. Luckily it was my friends car and I had just had to try until the cops left and he could get his suspended liscense butt back behind the wheel...

  5. You did a magnificent job of teaching yourself how to drive a manual transmission car. Most people could not attempt this on their own.

    I haven't driven a manual car in over 4 years, and had driven several over the years, but I still occasionally stalled the darned thing. With an automatic, you just slam on the accelerator or the brake as needed. With a manual, you actually have to pay attention to what you are doing. I find it keeps you more in tune with the driving experience, thus making you a safer driver over all.

  6. The trick is figuring out the part where you lift up on the gas, and press in the clutch. It is a little like riding a bike, sooner or later, you figure it out, and then it's easy.

    I learned to drive a standard, way back when, and it can be a lot of fun. Heck, I even learned to double-clutch. My husband...then fiancee, taught me how to drive by taking me out on I-91 at rush hour in a Datsun 260-Z with a five-speed and a manual choke, which was a bit like throwing someone who doesn't know how to swim into a lake. Worked though.

  7. There should be a special level of hell for people who teach the "teeter totter" approach. Much better approach is:

    1) Give it a moderate amount of gas and keep the accelerator right there;

    2) Ease up on the clutch gradually until you start moving forward;

    3) Keep easing up on the clutch, and also ease up on the gas if you feel you're moving too fast;

    4) Once you've fully let up on the clutch, use the accelerator to control your speed (like normal).

    This is not a complete picture of how to start moving with manual transmission, but it's enough that practice and experience will fill in the blanks. You're no doubt past the point of needing a primer, but dang it, the "teeter totter" approach causes more needless grief.

    "Never drive automatic, never shoot automatic." - Guy Gardner