I turned 16 in 1986 and was given the family station wagon to drive. If you’re envisioning a large, clunking, gas-guzzling wood-paneled, Ford Country Squire in metallic peat, relax. My car wasn’t that eye-catching. My wheels were attached to a murky-white automatic-transmission Subaru wagon with a tiny 1.8 liter engine and manual windows. But it had 4-wheel-drive! That one fancy feature came in handy during my first two driving (sliding) winters in Chicago.
My little brother got his license at the beginning of winter #3. Unlike me, he was willing to plunk down his own cash to drive a cooler car than the family wagon. He became the proud owner of a Chevrolet Camaro (think Dead Milkmen) complete with a “Stussy” bumper sticker. The Camaro was not equipped with 4-wheel-drive or automatic transmission…enter the Subaru.
It was a dark and snowy night and my brother borrowed the Subaru to go out with his girlfriend. I still have questions about what happened, but I’m told that a blind, crazy woman with a purple mohawk lost control of her Ford Pinto and plowed into the Subaru. My brother was unharmed, but the Subaru was dismembered. I can still see it sitting at the body shop the next morning…lonely, violated and covered in purple hair. After the crash, my brother drove us to school in the Camaro. He kindly offered to teach me how to drive it and that seemed like a good idea. After killing the engine countless times, we called it a day when I put it to rest on the railroad tracks. Neither of us pursued further lessons.
That was it for “driving a stick” for 20 years. By that point, I was married with two kids and drove a loaded, automatic-transmission Nissan Quest minivan – FAST! You get the picture…stay-at-home-mom with Bose speakers, highlighted hair, Kate Spade sunglasses, padded bra (the kids had not been kind) and a sarcastic mouth. Talk about a cool, yet common mental picture. This was the point that my husband decided to dump his foxy company-issued cornflower-blue Ford Taurus for a gunmetal-gray Infiniti G-35 coupe. He decided he was going to finally teach me how to drive a stick. We drove to a deserted parking lot in suburban Houston and I got behind the wheel. Despite my husband’s incredibly annoying teaching style (which includes much repetition and little patience) it didn’t take long for me to get the hang of it. Full of shock and awe, I drove home through the flat, forgiving streets of Houston…victory…I could drive stick! But, wait, there’s more!
A few months later I had another “opportunity” to drive the Infiniti. My husband had ridden his bike to the gym to work out. He called to say he’d forgotten the key to his lock and asked me to come get him. Uh oh…the Infiniti was parked behind my van in the driveway. He was supposed to park on the street! I nervously entered the Infiniti, pushed in the clutch and turned it on. I moved the stick into “reverse” and killed it. I killed it a couple more times before my cell phone started ringing. It was my husband. “WHAT!” I shouted into the phone. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m in your @#$%^&* car & I can’t get it out of the driveway!” “What do you mean?” he stupidly asked. I hung up. He called back again. In protest, I opened the door & threw my phone into the lawn. I tried again, got it into reverse and backed out. I shifted into 1st gear, but didn’t turn the wheel quickly enough and crashed into the curb in front of our house. Realizing defeat, I turned off the car, put on the hazards and got out.
The kids and I got into the van and drove to get my husband from the gym. As we rounded the corner onto our street, he saw his Infiniti parked at a perfect 45 degree angle with hazards flashing. He wouldn’t stop yelling and I couldn’t stop laughing. Shortly after we pulled in the driveway, our neighbor came over to find out what happened. He had wondered if my husband had driven home drunk and “parked” his car. While I would have loved to perpetuate that belief, I was stone-cold busted. I cannot drive a stick-shift. I will never drive a NASCAR. I am forever doomed to the Richard Petty “ride-along”.