Every girl has a mental list of what she wants to see in a guy. Mine was the usual – smart, kind, funny, cute, active, etc. – but there was another requirement, too: knowing how to drive a manual car. I’ve had a love affair with manual cars for as long as I can remember. An old manual junker of a car ranked far higher on my personal ‘coolness’ scale than the slickest new automatic. I can even admit to developing crushes on boys in high school simply because they drove manual cars and that set them a notch above the rest.
This meant that I needed to learn how to drive a manual car because I would not be outdone by a boy. The problem was that my parents drove a Toyota Sienna minivan – most definitely not manual. That’s where the boys-with-manual-cars came in handy. I orchestrated driving lessons in the empty parking lots around Huntsville and garnered enough knowledge to be able to ‘fake’ knowing how to use a stick shift.
That’s when I met the blue Miata. My summer neighbours, Lloyd and Kelly, owned a beautiful blue Miata convertible that made me drool every time I saw it parked at the boat landing. Ah, that car epitomized everything I held to be cool and sophisticated and I lusted after it with every ounce of my being. Imagine my delight when Lloyd gave me a driving lesson on the hilly, bumpy cottage road. Then, one glorious day, he agreed to give me a ride to Toronto, except that when he picked me up, he tossed me the car keys and said, “I’ve got work to do. You can drive.” I stammered nervously, “I really don’t think I’m good enough…” “Oh, you’ll be fine,” he replied, and, with that, got into the passenger seat, plugged in his Bluetooth device, and settled in to work for two hours. Obvious end of discussion. It was sink or swim for me. Somehow I did it, driving to the outskirts of Toronto along the traffic-laden Hwy 400, in a state of pure elation.
I got to know that Miata much better because, several years later, I spent a summer living at Lloyd and Kelly’s house in Toronto. I worked as a waitress and biked home after the dinner shift, until they insisted I use the car for commuting through a somewhat sketchy area late at night. Those few weeks of driving the Miata home from the restaurant certainly cemented my knowledge of driving standard and made me feel like I’d figured it out.
Even then, I didn’t stop applying the manual car criteria to potential boyfriends. One relationship that didn’t work out might have had something to do with the fact that he didn’t know how to drive manual or, rather, had no interest in learning, and it turned me off. When a new cute guy named Jason picked me up for a first date driving a sleek red Acura with a manual transmission, I secretly swooned while trying to remain outwardly cool. I ended up marrying the guy, but I swear it was for more than just knowing how to drive manual!
I don’t understand the North American dislike of manual cars. Sure, it can be challenging to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it’s positively addictive. I also think that driving manual teaches people to be better drivers because you understand more of what the car is doing and are more in tune to the road. It makes a driver versatile, since most of the rest of the world is not automatic. I have a cousin who went to Germany for his honeymoon, got a rental car, and couldn’t move it off the lot. (Embarrassing!)
My husband and I have agreed that we never want to buy a vehicle that is not manual – yet another reason why a minivan is not (and will never be) in the plans for our family. Not only do we both love driving manual — always working on perfecting those downshifts — but I also want to do my part to keep manual cars on North American roads, because they’re just plain awesome! As you can see, my love affair has only intensified over the years.
P.S. I’m happy to teach anyone who wants to learn 🙂 Come on, girls…