On The Open Road
I think my passion for driving stems from my pent up years when driving was just out of my reach. When I turned sixteen, my parents owned a standard transmission automobile, and despite my father’s occasional weekend efforts in the Intel parking lot, the car knew I had no business driving with two feet. After I turned eighteen they finally purchased an automatic, and then proceeded to drive our entire family to the Midwest for our exile in the snow. Using one foot made the process easier; the snow, however, took me out. This happened just after they purchased a brand new car for my older sibling; my regards to any fellow second-born siblings.
On the drive from southern California to Illinois, I had my first chance behind the wheel on the open highway from Tucumcari, New Mexico. For the first time in family history, neither of my parental units sat behind the wheel. Dad took the navigator’s bucket seat, and for the benefits of legroom, Mom took the center position in the back seat. From her perch in what I more commonly refer to as the, “Oh Shit Seat,” she gaped straight out the window at the semi-trailers and experienced drivers with whom I shared the two east-bound lanes of Interstate 40. And as one of my favorite movie lines quotes, “I do not believe she drew breath,” from the time she climbed in the back seat until I brought the vehicle to a stop in Amarillo, Texas.
I do believe every driver should be able to drive a stick shift, myself included. Once I mastered the automatic (“mastered” being a relative term), I decide the best way to learn to drive a standard transmission involves a simple two-step process: buy a standard transmission car and sell my automatic. I call this approach, “Forced Stick-Shift Driving 101.” I do not recommend it. I make the smart choice and purchase my brand new car in the middle of the Michigan summer so that I do not have to learn to drive with two feet and navigate that evil, white substance that Mother Nature throws down upon me.
Much like my experience across the Texas Panhandle, I climb behind the wheel and hit the road to teach myself my latest skill. I begin with a short excursion to Lake Superior (see “The 5th Lake” from March 2012) and continue adding on the miles until I see all five. Just to be absolutely certain of my ability with the stick shift, I drive a little farther past Niagara Falls. And on to Gettysburg. Then I swing through the District of Columbia, and on to Norfolk Naval Station. I opt for the Outer Banks and use my new skill to drive onto the Okracoke Ferry. By the time I reach the Florida shoreline I think I may have the two-foot maneuver under control. Just to be sure, I drive back to Michigan by way of Springfield, Illinois. Maybe my passion for driving is less about driving, and more about learning.