I found myself thoroughly bemused by news-bit this week of the would-be car-jacker that was thwarted by a standard transmission. Personally, I think the automatic transmission makes is just a forerunner to the rise-of-the-machines style takeover by our technology. One minute you let your car shift for you, the next thing you know the governator is traveling back in time to kick your ass. That and it makes for less attentive drivers who slam on their brakes all the time, which is number six in my list of the world’s most annoying habits.
I’m one of those weird people who learned to drive a standard early. In my middle school to early high school years, my dad would give me a lift on his way to the plant, allowing me to avoid the undignified practice of the riding the big yellow dog. The Rice Rocket was an ’83 Honda civic wagon with no radio, no AC, failing ball joints, intermittently functioning windshield wipers (for a while we had a pull chain on them, but that only got you one pass, then you had to stop and push them back down manually), a sizeable library of mechanical engineering texts in the trunk for light reading and of course a standard transmission. We also never had to change the oil, the theory being that enough leaked on the driveway, you could just add a quart every time you filled up and it’d be fine. Also, in my senior year when I could finally park at school the exhaust plume was singlehandedly responsible for canceling a few band practices (Al Gore was twitching somewhere).
But I digress. On the way in to school, my dad would steer with his left hand and hold his coffee with his right. He never went for the travel mugs – he was hard core and just rolled with your standard mug, smoothly compensating for the dips and turns on in the road, calling out gears for me to put the car into. It was a pretty smooth operation. No wrecks, no coffee spilled. Switching from shifting with my left hand to right was a little weird when I took the wheel, but I got over it.
So each morning when I pull my Dukes of Hazard exit off Mopac to turn on to Bee Caves (yes, the Subaru horn does play Dixie) and downshift across four lanes of traffic, I think of my dad in the Rice rocket and our decidedly superior driving skills, while I try not to spill any coffee.