Friday, March 29, 2013

standard shift

In 1979, on my thirtieth birthday, I bought a standard shift Honda Civic.  Did not know how to drive it.  I had to go out with a friend who knew how to, to test drive the car.  It was at a time when Civics were difficult to get. So we test drove a sample, put in an order for my car and waited for a call when my car came in.

Got the call a few weeks later, drove out to the dealership, and I sputtered and drove in jerky movements the 20 miles to my home.  My friend still laughs about the drive when we talk about it. After a while I got the hang of driving and I have been buying standard shifts ever since. Just bought a new Fit and that brings to eight the number of standards I've either bought or co-owned since that first 1979 purchase.

Today I was driving to work, shifted during some stop and go traffic, and wondered for the first time if it was time to stop shifting and go automatic.  There's a metaphor there of course.  Is there a time when we decide to stop directing the motor and let the motor go on by itself.    There is an ease in the automatic transmissions, you don't have to make as many decisions, your left foot can just hang out.  Being on automatic can seem like the way to go after thirty plus years of shifting to address this situation or that.

Every once in a while my folks would ask me why I drove a shift. My standard answer was because I had a cousin who was rich.  The cousin, actually my father's first cousin, owned a garage that did nothing other than fix automatic transmissions.  He came from poverty, real poverty, but he became loaded fixing automatic transmissions.

It makes sense.  A machine is a machine.  It tries to make the call about when to shift without factoring in what an intelligent human can.  Only once, once, in 30 plus years have I ever had to replace the clutch on my standards.  And with one exception, I have driven the cars well over 80,000 miles. The time I had to replace the clutch was after a year when I lived on a beach and the salt had gotten to the bottom of the car.

But today I said to myself, "maybe I should get an automatic, stop shifting."

 I think it is a bad sign that this thought came into my head.  Must be tired.  When we stop shifting, metaphorically, stop making decisions on our own, and just live on automatic, I think we run the risk of deteriorating like the vehicles that made my cousin rich.  We give up. Things are as they are. We say "it is what it is" and stop shifting to maximize the potential quality of the ride.  Yes, it is easier in the short run to drive an automatic, but your engine can insidiously disintegrate sooner.

I'll try to push the thoughts of proceeding on automatic out of my consciousness.

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