My First Time In Second Gear

Fri 30 May 2014

When comparing first times, having sex and driving a car with a manual transmission are surprisingly similar: you may have attempted to improve your experience by researching how other people have successfully completed the task, but when the moment of truth arrives the only thing left is you - nervous as all hell, not quite sure how everything will turn out and terrified of making some mistake that either causes major damage or (more importantly) makes you look like the rookie you are. Additionally, some people might judge you based on the lack of experience you have in either field. But I've never been one to shy away from divulging embarrassing information about myself to complete strangers, which is why I, with some hesitation, will admit...

...that I have never driven a car with a manual transmission before. Or at least I hadn't, until yesterday.

Yesterday a small team of Ford promoters came to my workplace to promote Ford's EcoBoost lineup - I decided to check them out because I couldn't imagine why they would come here, but their promise of a lunch voucher convinced me to listen to their pitch. As their goal was showcasing the EcoBoost lineup, they had brought along an assorted variety of cars, including a Fusion Hybrid, Connect Transit and F-150 - and a Fiesta ST. That's right, a Fiesta ST, which could be all mine (with Ford-mandated passenger) to take for a leisurely spin around the campus - just one small problem: I can't drive a manual.

I had always wanted to learn how to drive a manual - I've been enticed by fast cars for a long time now and non-fully-manual transmissions have only very recently become worthy of anything other than scorn - but it's never managed to work out: I don't have any friends with cars I could borrow that have manual transmissions and my mother wrecked hers before I was old enough to drive it, leaving me trapped in two-pedal-land with a deep, dark secret.

One thing you should know about me is I typically don't mind taking one for the team: if I need to turn into the far right lane but doing so would block cross traffic I'll turn into the next lane over and try to merge; similarly if I want to drive a Fiesta ST but I don't know how to drive a manual and thus might wreck the clutch for those who can or stall in an inopportune place and hold up a bunch of other people behind me I'll refrain until some unknown time in the future and try to catch a ride-along instead.

Yesterday, though, I had an epiphany: "Fuck it. YOLO, right?" And thus I found myself sinking into the Recaro buckets of an orange Fiesta ST with a ridiculous graphics package that guaranteed everyone would be looking at me as I stall the car every 50 feet and an early-forties Latino man named Juan in the passenger seat. As I was adjusting my mirrors I was more nervous than I'd ever been - I was buckled in, no backing out now. Then Juan told me to start 'er up and get on with the drive.

I stalled it immediately. I had expected on stalling at least once (how could I not?), but I'd hoped to at least get the first launch down so I don't look like a complete know-nothing; nevertheless, I figured that the worst had come to pass with no ill effect and now I could get over my nerves, refire the engine and get on my way.

I stalled it immediately again. Now I was really sweating bullets - would Juan call me out after reading the autotragic written on my face? Thankfully, instead he calmed me down and helped dispel some of my nerves to the point where (after one more stall) I managed to get us moving.

I'll admit I wasn't expecting to lose a first with someone like Juan, but he was everything you could ask for in a partner: patient and reassuring, comfortable giving me guidance when I needed it and letting me work by myself when I didn't. I would apologize for damaging the car every time I'd stalled; he would reassure me that I was doing fine.

Some sample dialog towards the end of the drive, me verbatim and him close:

Juan: "So when was the last time you drove a manual transmission?"

Me: "Would you believe never?"

All-in-all, I stalled it about eight times on our journey of maybe 1000 feet - in my defense, we went through like four stop signs and I was shifting into neutral every time we slowed down so I wouldn't let the engine go too low and stall. Also, I wasn't gassing the engine when I let out the clutch - Juan said the engine had enough torque that I didn't need to and I felt I had enough to think about trying to find the engagement point.

As we pulled back into the staging lot, I felt both exhausted and exhilarated, like having one of those nightmare college-class-you-forgot-about finals while skydiving: I had finally driven a manual, and I didn't have to pay $2000 to replace something! Later that day I had lunch with a few coworkers and told them about the promotion and how I failed at driving a manual with anything resembling proficiency. One woman said this made sense, as earlier in the day she was talking to her manager and had noticed how this one car was just stalling everywhere they went. "That's meeeeee" I exclaimed, and the table burst into laughter.

Epilogue: After lunch, I went back and drove the ST again, only stalling out three times. I guess driving a stick and having sex are similar in one more way: once you've done it the first time, you'll do anything to repeat the experience.