How did I learn to drive a stick shift? Trial and error — mostly error. Today is National Stick Shift Day. Well, Cars.com's Editorial department has decided to make this a thing because if you can drive a stick shift, you're a badass. And that's as cool as it gets.
For me, learning to drive a stick was a painful process. My wonderful parents bought me a used Ford Escort hatchback with a manual transmission as a pre-graduation present (they realized that a fledgling journalism career and ridiculously low salary when I eventually got that first job would be hurdles to buying my own car). The problem was, I didn't know how to drive a stick.
I confidently told Mom and Dad that I was sure I'd get the hang of a manual transmission in no time, but after practicing for two weeks in my hometown of Rochester, Minn., it wasn't happening. And then it was time to drive back to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for my final semester of college.
The road to UWEC was paved with flop sweat, tears and nervous laughter as I drove the two-lane highways littered with small towns and their blasted four-way stops. I couldn't figure out how to get the car moving without turning the little hatch into a bucking bronco. If by some miracle I could just get through 1st gear and keep accelerating, I got to a level of comfortable discomfort with that manual transmission.
I somehow managed to make it back to college in one piece, though my nerves were shredded. And I avoided driving the car for a couple of days, but at some point, my own laziness won out and I started trying to conquer the stick shift again. It took another couple of weeks of terrorizing the roads with my non-skills before the whole stick-shift thing clicked.
I'd like to say the story of my stick-shift anxiety ends there, but it doesn't. After happily driving my Escort for years, I upgraded to a 1997 Saturn SL with a manual (because, badass), but my manual-driving days ended in 2000 — until I started working at Cars.com.
After years of not driving a stick shift, I bravely (OK, stupidly) told some coworkers who couldn't drive a stick that I could, and we piled into a Suzuki Kizashi to head out on a quick trip ... except I couldn't get the Kizashi into 1st gear after backing out of a parking space. We sat stuck on a steep incline of the parking garage, and once again, the flop sweat and nervous laughter hit me. I wish I could say I conquered that manual transmission, but I didn't. I phoned a friend who ran out of the Chicago offices to the parking garage to save the day. Talk about embarrassing.
Thankfully, years of practice driving a variety of cars with sticks have cut my nerves down to a minimum. Well, that and my colleague Joe Wiesenfelder's master class video on how to drive a stick shift (watch it below). If you've been too scared or nervous to learn how to drive a car with a manual, do it. You won't regret it.
Happy National Stick Shift Day! May your throws be short and your stall-outs few!
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