Monday, February 26, 2007

Look Ma, No Automatic Transmission

A few weeks ago I achieved the un-possible. I drove a car, without an automatic transmission… and nothing blew up.

Now, driving a motor vehicle without causing the engine to suddenly burst into a thousand bits of molten metal may not seem like much of an accomplishment for most people. But I am not most people…

Once upon a time I had a boyfriend. And that boyfriend had a (fancy schmancy manual transmission sports) car. And one night, he was drunk, and I was not, and so I snatched the keys from his hands in the hopes of driving us home safe and sound. Sigh. See, the thing about hope is that it can be a deceiving little bugger. And just when you’re not paying attention… bam! Hope kicks you in the keister.

It was perhaps my fourth time ever driving a stick-shift, and my drunken driving instructor/boyfriend was, at the moment, of little to no use to me as a driving coach. (In his defense, he was, in general, a pretty good teacher, except when it to came to giving snowboard lessons, which he was terrible at, but that’s another story all together.)

Anyway, so there I am, driving a stick, sweating profusely and clinging to the steering wheel with a death grip to end all death grips and he’s (inebriated and) shouting driving commands at me. Second gear! Third gear! Downshift! Floor it! You can make the light! Let’s race this jerk in the car next to us!
(I’m about ready to smack the jerk in my passenger seat, Mr. Drunky Von Drunkerson! Shut up!)

He calmed down a bit until we got to freeway. There, he decided that it was time for me to practice my downshifting / driving like an asshat technique. I was cruising along (panicked, yes, but also) happy in the slow lane at 65 mph when I started closing in on the car ahead of me. Now *I* was more than content to slow down to a perfectly respectable 60 mph so that I could stay (nice and neat and safe) in my slow lane. No fuss, no muss. But the boyfriend was not having it. This was, apparently, a PERFECT opportunity to drop the transmission from 5th to 3rd, floor it, and (if I remember correctly) “blow past this grandpa”.


HURRY GO!!!!! Before the guy coming up behind you beats you to it!


Clutch in! Shifter out of 5th and over-up into 3rd! Then Floor it! GO!!!!!



Ok! Clutch… 5th… over to 3rd… and up…

They say you can’t put a finely tuned, German engineered, spots car going 65 mile per hour into 1st gear. But let me tell you, you can. And it ain't pretty.

Ka-Ka-Klang! Ka-Ka-KLANG! Our bodies were thrown hard against our seatbelts as the car grinded (quite literally) to a halt. Hazard lights, tears, hyperventalion. Not pretty. My boyfriend, bless his drunken heart, saw my melt down and noticed that we’re were on the shoulder instead of cruising along down the highway, blowing past some grandpa. “What’s the matter?” he asked, concerned, “Did you stall?”

(Must resist urge to strangle drunk boyfriend!)

“Yes darling, I stalled. Quite permanently. We have to call AAA now.”

“No no, I think you’re fine, just turn the car off and start her up again.”

I think his skin may have actually smoked a bit as I burned his face with my death stare.

We towed the car home and, being engineers, eventually took the whole engine apart to examine the extent of the damage. It was, let’s just say, extensive. Hunks of deformed metal EVERYWHERE. A whole piston – gone! Cylinder walls obliterated. A dozen or so guys crowded around to ooh and ahh and holy crap! over the mess I’d made. Their faces cringed as we peeled back layer after layer of the once beautiful straight-6 to find more and more engine bits in places where engine bits did not belong.

Never again, I thought. Until recently. When Kyle trustingly handed me the keys to his manual transmission.

My car was in the shop for the day and I had school and work and errands to scurry to and from. I was desperate. And probably a little sleep deprived. And definitely not thinking clearly. But I took the keys. And I drove his car all day.

And nothing blew up.


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