The light was red. My eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, which reflected the line of vehicles waiting to go. Probably to important places that required punctuality. I stared at the light and gripped the steering wheel, my heart rate increasing with each passing second.
My left foot began lifting off the clutch while my right pressed the gas pedal. I jerked forward slightly as a stillness fell upon me. Shit. I frantically turned the ignition while cars flew past me in the right lane. Here we go again… clutch, gas, jolt, silence. Shit! As I turned the keys again, I rolled down my window and waved for cars to pass me. This was a pointless motion; the amount of traffic made it impossible for anyone to get around my static vehicle. I heard a car horn as I tried the delicate clutch, gas transition for a fourth time. Fail. The light turned red.
This was me last September on my first solo journey in my boyfriend’s manual Subaru. I had spent the previous week driving through parking lots and side roads with my boyfriend giving me pointers from the passenger seat. After quickly becoming a pro in the parking lot, I thought I could handle the simple task of running a few errands. The only problem was that every store worth going to in Fort Collins is along one street. Sounds convenient, but this is the most congested street in the city, with stop lights every quarter mile. Not ideal for a stick shift rookie.
This is not an exaggeration: I stalled at least once at every single traffic light. Yup, every one. It was not a pleasant experience, but looking back it was full of some pretty solid life lessons. So in honor of this I’ll have a South Park moment and say, “I learned something today.” Here’s what I took from that horrific experience:
Don’t worry about what others think
You probably hear this all the time, but it is incredibly difficult to forget who is around you and just do your own thing. Humans by nature are incredibly egocentric. We think others are constantly looking at us, judging us, thinking about us… but in reality no one cares about you and what you’re doing. At least not as much as you think they do. When no one was around me, I was pretty good at starting from a stopped position, which is the trickiest part of manual driving. But as soon as I would see even one car pull up behind me, my nerves would sky rocket, causing me to do the very thing I was afraid I’d do: kill the engine. After experiencing the worst possible situation in which I stalled out at every opportunity, and surviving, I stopped caring about the people around me. In return I stopped stalling.
You need to be able to rely on yourself
No matter how great your support system is, you need to be able to rely on yourself to get through difficult situations. There won’t always magically be someone around the corner to help. When I finally made it to a grocery store parking lot and shut the engine off (on purpose for once), I wanted nothing more than for someone else to drive me home. I looked at the passenger seat and desperately wished someone was there to take over the whole driving manually thing. I briefly thought about calling someone. I also thought about walking home. But instead of taking the easy way out, I mentally prepared myself to drive home. I know this isn’t as intense as cutting an arm off to be freed from a crevice or something crazy like that, but after having this experience I’m one step closer to taking a knife to my own flesh if the situation calls for it.
People aren’t that bad
Some of us get it into our heads that people are evil and always looking out for number one. And if you get in their way, you better watch yourself. But after testing my stick shift abilities on one of the busiest streets in Fort Collins, I’ve realized that people aren’t so bad. If I had done this in New York or Chicago, I’d probably have a section dedicated to thick skin somewhere in here, but this wasn’t the case for FoCo. I was only honked at once. I never saw anyone flip me off. Two people actually asked if I was having car problems and needed help. Despite all of the recent craziness, it’s nice to have a reminder that people aren’t all that bad.
I feel like this word speaks for itself; I don’t need to dress it up by putting any other fancy language tools around it. This has come in handy for me so many other times in my life, whether sports or class or just figuring things out in general, that it isn’t surprising I had to keep it in mind while learning stick shift. Having to restart the Subaru at least once at every intersection sucked. It really did. I guess at any of those moments I could have turned around and driven back home, but I was determined to at least go to the grocery store. Like many moments in life, this one was motivated by food. I somehow managed to hold myself together through the duration of my driving (or attempt at driving), but once I walked through our apartment door I lost it. Unexpectedly, I started sobbing and shaking and making a vow to never drive anywhere again. We lived in a bicycle-friendly city, so I felt this was do-able.
My boyfriend told me he wanted my to try driving again the following day. I felt like this was a bit soon but knew he was right. I would never be able to drive if I didn’t stick with it (get it, stick?). I remember feeling like the time would never come when I would drive without even thinking about stalling. Just like right now I feel like I’ll never be fully employed. I’ll probably never have enough money to buy anything other than groceries, either. But the fact that now I feel like a race car driver every time I go somewhere gives me hope that everything else will come with perseverance, too.