“The young man outside said your car won’t start.”
I’m sitting in the lobby of a local carwash. My car, as far as I know, is on good behavior as of late.
“Did he push in the clutch?”
A knowing look washes over the manager’s face.
We walk outside. He climbs in, pushes the clutch and a throaty rumble belches out of the exhaust.
“You know,” he says, “these have to be the best anti-theft devices. Young people don’t have a clue how to drive them.”
We both laugh knowing we are among the keepers of a lost art — those who know how to perform this mechanical task in a world managed by computers.
For most of us today, the manual transmission is a throwback in time. Our memories conjure up deep memories of the first time we found ourselves sitting behind the steering wheel, terrified how we could ever tame the bucking beast of metal under our control.
Ask anyone about their first experience learning to drive a manual transmission and stories will flow, flooded with passions generally reserved for first loves.
Three-on-the-trees, farm roads with grandpa, or the terror they felt when a red light stopped them on a hill, sure they’d roll into the car behind them.
I fell in love with a blue 1975 Datsun 280 Z parked alongside the road while in high school. Love at first sight. Beautiful, graceful lines, an engine that purred like a sewing machine, and strange stick poking up from between the two black seats. Sexy, exotic, and mysterious all presented in one stunning package.
She was everything I ever wanted but didn’t know I ever wanted. But she was also out of reach as if she spoke a foreign language. But I was not to let the communication barrier keep us apart.
Getting back into my hunkering V8 muscle car, I drove across town at 7 miles per gallon.
I begged a friend to teach me to speak the unknown language separating me from my new love.
“It’s easy,” he said, “let’s hop in my car and I’ll teach you.”
I remember that dark night, learning how to press and depress the clutch. Flat surfaces, hills, downshifting to break, we practiced for hours.
The next day, armed with my new language skills, I returned to the side of the road to court my new love. We married.
For the next 150,000 miles, we traveled long road trips across the country, camped on the beaches, took mountainous roads a bit too fast, and never looked back.
The day we parted was one of the most difficult days of my life. I remember standing in my driveway with a roll of cash wrapped in a rubber band in my hand and my love leaving with another man. A tear or two might or might not have been present.
But to this day, rarely do I fire up my car, depress the clutch, and not think of her.