Thursday, April 18, 2013
About a month ago I was watching the news, when they were reporting about a carjacking, and I’ve got to admit, it was kind of funny. Now a vicious crime, it’s never funny, but I couldn’t help my self, this one was. Seems like a bad guy saw a car he just had to have, and as he made the guy get out of his car and crawled in he noticed something, it was a four on the floor, and he didn’t have a clue how to drive it. If I remember right he had to ask the guy how to crank it and how to get it in gear, but after a few minutes he just gave up and left the guy standing side the road with his prized Corvette. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I thought all car thieves knew at least how to drive a stick shift, but I guess not.
I don’t know about this generation, but for ours it was a rite of passage to learn how to shift gears. Do you remember the old saying of “Popping second”, where you stomped the gas, hit the clutch just hard enough to let you change gears, and then heard the tires chirp when second gear grabbed? That was the dream of our generation just to hear that ‘EERK,” but then we got a little older, and realized that little “EERK” might cause a little deflation in your pocketbook if something went wrong, or worse yet, if Daddy caught you.
But back when we were growing up if you couldn’t drive a clutch, well, there was something a little wrong with you. I remember when I learned, I was about twelve, and I was a late bloomer, but we didn’t have a tractor, that’s where most kids learned to drive back then. Daddy would take me driving on Sunday afternoons after church, all over the back roads of Earles in his Volkswagen. It took me a while to learn the tricky ballet of pushing the gas as you’re letting off the clutch, just fast enough not to stall it, but not too fast to choke it down. After a few times of chugging it to a stop I finally got the feel of it and we were off, that is till the next stop sign, and then we would do it all over again.
Before long it became second nature, like tying your shoe, till I got married, and Mel found a car she wanted, and you guessed it, four on the floor. So I drove it home that evening, got her to the drive, and told her, “Alright it’s your turn.” Now I know how my Dad felt, watching me chug along, grinding gears, and snatching the gear stick, but this was a brand NEW CAR. But she had to drive it to school the next day, so she had to learn. I remember calling her the next day and asked how she did, “Only choked it off twice.” Well, at least the transmission wasn’t in the middle of the Georgetown highway.
Well the years rolled by, and every truck I had always seemed to be a four on the floor, make that a five, they added a gear, that added to the confusion. And as usually happens when you have kids, and a gear stick, they got to learn how to drive one. So I took Jessie, just like Daddy did me, round and round the back roads, till finally she learned to change gears without me grinding my teeth as she ground the gears. A few years later when she was at Clemson, as she was driving somewhere, a friend of hers asked what she was doing. When she asked what he was talking about, he replied, you keep stomping on something and messing will that gear stick, he had never seen anybody change gears before. Is that even possible?
But I guess it is. These days you hardly ever see a car with four in the floor, unless it’s one that most of us can’t afford to buy in the first place. That and “Three on the Column,” remember those? I only got to drive one a couple times, but it was fun. Before long we will just sit down in our cars and tell them where to go while we watch a movie or the news as we travel from place to place. I’m not looking forward to that. But like the rest of us, I’ll probably have one, if I’m still around. But there is something about pushing in a clutch that gives you a feeling of freedom, even in a small way. You’re making a decision whether you want to go fast or slow, backwards or forwards, you doing it. But we’ve got to a point where we want the less decisions we have to make the better. We want someone or something else to do it for us.
But we are missing so much, like popping second.
You can reach Robbin Bruce by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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