Can I learn to drive a stick shift?

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Oct. 24 2005 11:49 AM

Caution: Student Driver

Can I learn how to drive a stick shift?

(Continued from Page 2)

Farrell remained calm as he gave me directions, sending me ever further into traffic. At one point I found myself in the left-turn lane in downtown Silver Spring, Md., when the light changed. This time the car didn't stall, and I was so excited by this accomplishment that I drove forward into oncoming traffic. Farrell dove across me and turned the wheel just in time. I wanted to ask him if he'd ever been in an accident with a student, but forming the words seemed tantamount to calling down the evil eye.

I kept following his directions, and before I knew it I was on an unfamiliar expressway, Old Columbia Pike. Semis were whizzing by and my stomach felt as if I'd just swallowed a vial of Helicobacter pylori. At one point, while attempting to get into fifth gear, I accidentally shifted the car into neutral. Another time, trying to go from second to third, I mistakenly put the car in first and it did a cartoonlike shimmy. But the only time Farrell lost his sang-froid was when he told me to make the light on a left turn off the highway. I choked and stopped on yellow. The woman behind us screeched to a halt, inches from my Student Driver sign, and started honking and gesticulating. Farrell waved pleasantly to her and explained to me that he had seen that she had been about to rear-end us and asked if I would please do what he said.


We were now worrisomely far from my house, but he said we were picking up his next student, who would drive us back. We pulled up at a high-school parking lot, and the student, with a ponytail and braces, climbed into the front seat while I got into the back. Her name was Vanessa and she was 16.

"She doesn't have any fears," Farrell informed me as Vanessa smiled confidently. For that I envied her, though it didn't make me want to drive with her. Vanessa pulled onto the street and Farrell gave her a running stream of suggestions, "Look far ahead." "Slow down." "Merge. Merge. Merge!" Then Farrell told her to take a right; it turned out Vanessa did have fears.

"But Mr. Farrell, that's the ramp to the Beltway!" she cried.

"Yes. Take a right," he replied.

"Not the Beltway, Mr. Farrell, please not the Beltway!" she said as she made weeping sounds. To most of the country the Beltway is the place inside of which rapacious lobbyists rob and pillage. To me it is a 64-mile asphalt loop of dread. As Vanessa took her first on-ramp onto the Beltway, I thought there was a strong possibility I would be squashed in this tin can with a 16-year old at the wheel. I also thought, "Hooray, I'm not driving!" and happily closed my eyes. She gained confidence as we sped along and, taking the exit nearest my house, and with only a few bouncy shudders of the car, deposited me at my front door.

When my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon, he had to do all the driving because we could only rent a stick shift. I was hoping that I could learn to drive one, so I could relieve him if we went back on a second honeymoon. But neither Italian-American relations, our marriage, nor we would survive my driving a stick shift on the autostrada.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

How Steven Moffat Made the Best Doctor Who Episode in Years

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 16 2014 11:56 AM Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet
Business Insider
Sept. 16 2014 1:23 PM Germany Has Asked Google to Reveal Its Search Algorithm, but That's Not Going to Happen
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.