Tuesday, October 28, 2003


On Sunday I had my first driving lesson in 35 years. Although it didn’t end up quite as bad as the first time, it was still very nerve-wracking. When my dad tried to teach me to drive when I was sixteen, he wasn’t very successful. Sure, we practiced in the empty church parking lot, and I guess he thought I was ready for the road, so off we went. While I am not the klutziest person in the world, it does take me a while to get the hang of something new, especially something physical, like dancing, or in this case, shifting gears. In my defense, I do think that learning how to drive, watching traffic, pushing the gas, pushing the clutch, braking, turning, etc, can be quite over-whelming. At least it was for me.

So, there we were in my dad’s VW bug, barreling down Taylorsville Road. So far, so good. Then dad asks me to turn at the next street. The combination of braking, downshifting and turning simultaneously was just too much for me, and I crunched into the car in front of me. That would be the end of my driving career until I was married and we bought an automatic.

Fast forward to now. Here we are in Italy, where the cost of gas is sky-high, and the best mileage is reserved for stick shifts. If it were possible to offset the mileage loss of an automatic with a diesel engine, I would have asked Art to consider it, but unfortunately diesels don’t come with automatic transmissions. So now, here I am, 51 years old, learning how to shift. Driving in circles around a parking lot on a Sunday afternoon. Did I mention how difficult it is to find an empty parking lot? Most business put fences with gates around their lots, and lock them when the stores aren’t open. I’m not sure what the worry is at the local grocery store. Maybe in a mall with underground parking, there could be a valid reason, but for the basic, above-ground and not-even-that-big lot, I just don’t get it. Back to the driving lesson.

We stumbled across an empty lot with a partition down the middle, forcing me to drive in circles. Mostly I practiced just moving the car from a dead stop. I probably stalled the car 40% of the time. Once I was feeling better about starting, I practiced shifting to second. Okay, a couple of misses, but for the most part, that went okay. Now I’m getting nervous, because I know what’s coming next….the dreaded downshifting. I really thought that once I was comfortable driving a car, that shifting would be an easy add-on. Wrong! I guess I really must be much more uncoordinated that I have admitted. Since the going in circles was driving me crazy, and there was no way I was going out on the road, I decided to quit while I was ahead.

I am only learning how to do this so that I can drive in an emergency. I have already told Art there is NO WAY I am ever driving on the E45, much less the A1. These people are crazy, and they are relentless. Were I to get on the E45, it would take me an hour to get to Perugia, because I would be just fine coasting along in third gear behind some little Ape and a couple of huge trucks that can’t go any faster than the Ape. For those who don’t know, an Ape is a three-wheeled vehicle, powered by a small engine…lawn mower size, I would guess. There is usually a pickup bed on the back, but sometimes this is covered. The word Ape is pronounced Ah-pay.

Next week we will pick up our car, and then I’ll have to learn on our clutch! Although I understand everything about a stick shift in theory, it’s the practical application that I am having trouble with!


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