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Nshima & Curry
Nshima & Curry
DRIVING A STICK SHIFT ISN'T AUTOMATIC
I tried to warn her. I tried to tell my wife, Malathi, that
learning to drive a stick shift is much harder than an
automatic, but did she listen? Nope, she was too busy
drooling over the burgundy Subaru Legacy wagon in a dealer's
lot, convinced that THIS was the car for her, never mind
that it had an extra pedal and a gear stick that went in
more directions than Don King's hair.
"Why is it called a manual transmission?" she asked, and I
tried to think of a simple but effective explanation:
"Because every time you drive this car, you'll have to
consult the manual. Now what do you say we look for an
The salesman was no help. He told Malathi that he once
taught a female customer to drive a stick shift in 10
minutes. Ten minutes? That's how long it took Malathi to
realize she'd have to use both feet.
The salesman, of course, would have said just about anything
to get Malathi to buy the car. Considering it had power
locks and windows, I'm surprised he didn't call it a
semiautomatic. That would have given me a great way to get
rid of telemarketers: "If you don't stop calling me at home,
I'm going to send my wife over there with her semiautomatic.
It's got four cylinders!"
I tried to tell Malathi that it might take weeks, even
months, for her to drive the car smoothly. "Stick shifts
aren't easy," I said. But she had seen me handle a stick
shift -- I've never owned an automatic -- and she thought,
"If clumsy can do it, why can't I?"
She was soon signing the purchase agreement, beaming from
ear to ear, almost as thrilled as the salesman. And so began
one of the most frustrating periods of her life, as she
attempted, bravely, to tame the stick-shift monster. "Go!
Go! Go!" she would yell, as the car jerked and shook and
stalled, unable to grasp such simple instructions. I tried
to help, of course: "It's a Japanese car. What's the
Japanese word for 'go'?"
Growing weary of my snide remarks, she tried to hire a
professional instructor, but couldn't find one who taught
stick shift. She was stuck with me -- in a way that even
those wedding vows couldn't have prepared her. I was ready
to answer all her questions, even if I had to be blunt.
Malathi: "Why is the car making that awful grinding noise?
Did I forget to do something?"
Me: "Yes. Clutch! Clutch! Clutch!"
Malathi (gripping steering wheel tightly): "I'm clutching!
Actually, she wasn't quite that bad. I'm proud to say that
my wife improved steadily, day by day, and in just two
weeks, with a smile on her face, she was ready to try second
It wasn't long before she was cruising down the road,
switching gears with ease, wondering why her husband had
made such a fuss. Then the inevitable happened: She spotted
something red in the distance and said, "Oh no, it's a stop
sign. How do I stop this thing?"
I had to remind her that stick shifts, just like automatic
cars, are equipped with brakes, saving her the trouble
of sticking her left foot out. But what she really wanted to
know was which gear to stop in. She didn't care for my
answer: "Any gear, dear. Just make sure you stop."