Today’s post is a homage to my nephew Michael and his severely damaged Subaru—Charles. Michael, this too shall pass, and I hope Charles gets a new engine and is back on the road soon.
I love to drive. The joy of the open road, especially in a convertible is one of my favorite feelings. My trusty Saab is a 2006, so it lacks many of the toys that newer cars have. So when we travel and rent cars, I really enjoy the modern conveniences. I was in Boston last week for work (I know, way too much business travel) and I rented a Ford Fusion. It was a hybrid with a video screen showing all sorts of interesting stuff (mostly the music I was playing and the navigation). But what I found most interesting was the gear selector. It was a round knob on the console. For some reason, I found that every time I shifted out of reverse, I would accidentally put it inpPark. No idea why, it just seemed that was the natural movement for my hand. Anyway, that got me thinking about the various types of gear shifters I have used over the years.
I learned to drive on an old Volkswagen Beetle that had what they called a semi-automatic transmission. It had one of the old style, long-handled, 3-speed stick shifts, but without the clutch. The driver still had to shift the gears, but did not have to deal with the pesky clutch. Good training wheels for when I bought the Duster.
My first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. (Boy, I bet that car was a chick magnet.) I loved that car in part because it was a manual transmission with a three-on-the-tree shifter. I bought it without knowing how to drive a manual transmission. My friend Michael gave me a 30-second lesson, drove the car to my house, and parked it outside. I spent the next week or so practicing using the clutch and learning how to drive a manual. I was so proud of myself the first time I took it out for a real drive. There was a hill near my house that had a stop light at the top and I would always try to go on that street so that I could practice the rolling start. Scary, but good fun.
Knowing how to drive a manual transmission came in handy when I moved to the U.K. The interesting thing about that is while the steering wheel is on the other (wrong?) side of the car, you still use your left foot to operate the clutch. The gear pattern is the same as a left-hand drive car, but you use your left hand to manipulate the stick. I cannot tell you how any times I would put the clutch in, and bang my right arm into the door, forgetting that the gear stick was on the left side. Not the most comforting thing for my passengers, I am sure.
I have also driven any number of automatic transmission cars with all their various shifting mechanisms. The column shifters (I especially remember the one on my Dad’s Delta 88 which could comfortably sleep the entire population of Boston), the console shifters of various cars (my Saab included) and of course the modern paddle shifters which mimic the semi-automatic from the Volkswagen.
Things come full circle.
One thing that I forgot about driving on the East Coast (especially in New England) is that no road is straight. In the Midwest, there are only three types of streets. North/South, East/West and a few diagonals, just to keep you on your toes. The streets in Boston seem to have been designed by a committee of drunken, blind, stock market analysts who believe that the random walk theory of the markets should be extended to the streets. Straight, at least for roads, seems to be a curse word.
Another funny thing about Boston is that streets are often named for where they take you. For instance, Newton Street in Brookline, takes you to Newton, where it, of course, turns into Brookline Street, so you know how to get to Brookline from Newton. I remember this same “logic” when I lived in the U.K., but I thought the U.S. had successfully avoided that foolishness.
At some point, I will try to convince Sue to go on a road trip where we rent a super car, for a week and drive really fast, just for the fun of it. Perhaps something like this. I am thinking that, you my dear readers, should fund this as part of the the Doing It on The Road research plan 😉 (I will definitely get on this bandwagon if I don’t have to pay for it.)
Sorry. None of the images are our cars, just examples of what we had.