Stick or Stuck

yes ican drive a stick-2

The other day, my friend Erica heard me saying that G and I were planning to rent a truck this weekend to haul a load of stuff to the dump.  She offered her husband’s pickup truck to us for a few hours and I was delighted to accept.  Then she said, “Oh, wait.  Can you drive a stick?”

Why yes, yes I can!  When I was 15 and getting driving lessons from my mom, she insisted that I learn on a stick.  Her opinion boiled down to, “If you learn to drive a stick shift, you will never get stuck riding with some drunk boy because you can’t drive his car.”

She had a point.  So one Sunday afternoon, I learned to drive on her Toyota Corolla hatchback with a manual transmission.  That first mile took FORTY FIVE MINUTES. “Keep the gas steady, push in the clutch, change the gear, let out the clutch.”

I was doing OK until we got to the first stop sign.  I stalled it and stalled it and stalled it.  Talk about stuck with a stick.  I worked the clutch and hit the gas.  Roar then stall.  Mom adjusted the gearshift for me.  Stall.  I tried again.  Stall.  I wanted to cry.  Stall and stall and stall.  When we were both about ready to quit, I realized that I was in third instead of first.

Luckily, we lived on a dirt road so it’s not like I was blocking traffic or having anyone honking at me.  I turned left and crept onto the blacktop.  The engine whined and screamed.  Mom told me to shift up, but I was scared to leave first….it had taken me so long to get it going!  But I snuck into second, then third–I was getting it.  Listening to the engine for the sign to shift.  Watching the tachometer.  Remembering to breathe.

We made three loops of the dirt road that we called “The Circle” and I had it.  Short of a bulldozer, I’ve been able to drive anything I’ve needed to for the rest of my life.  And my mom was right.  A few years later in college, I found myself at some party out in the woods with a drunk date and his Honda with a stick.  Not a problem.  No sirree.


The first car I ever bought was a stick and a steal.  It only had 3000 miles on it, but I bought it at the used car price.  Some soldier had bought it for his wife, but she didn’t like driving the manual transmission.  Their loss, my gain.

Richard had a BMW with a stick and a straight six engine.  I loved that car.  Germans keep it tight.  I once took a right turn at about 35 to see how it would feel.  Car didn’t even seem to notice.

I gave up driving a stick once I had kids.  It’s hard to answer questions, juggle sippy cups, and sing “Wheels On the Bus” while shifting gears.

But here’s what I was thinking about today as I drove Paul’s truck to the dump:  I felt GREAT.  On top of things.  Empowered.  I want my kids to have this skill.

How many times have you seen some doofus lose hours on The Amazing Race because they couldn’t drive a stick?  Sticks may be rare in the USA these days, but manual transmissions are common around the world.  They get better gas mileage, last longer, need less service and repair.  I’ve driven a stick around the English countryside through hedgerows so close to the road I thought they would scratch the paint off.  I’ve bumbled along Brasilian dirt roads in search of a waterfall.  In Brasil, I was more thrown by the fact that I had to crank my window down with a handle than I was by the stick shift.

Yes, automatics are easier.  But with a stick, you’re never stuck.

When you learn to do things the hard way, the basic way, you have more options.  You don’t get stuck.

35 thoughts on “Stick or Stuck

  1. debrahelwig

    AMEN. A skill I don’t have – and one of those things I really, really, really wish I’d learned (along with how to use a dang sewing machine). Still on my bucket list of things to do!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Oh, the sewing machine. I learned how to sew a straight line, but I haven’t yet learned how to follow a pattern or make anything more complicated than a quilt top. Another good one for the list!

  2. Lisa in Athens

    Oh, the stick shift. I had been learning it, almost had the timing down. My parents were going to leave me the key to my Dad’s Toyota (get ready for this) Corona wagon so I could practice as they lived on a small hill. They forgot. I’ve never had the chance again. *sad face*

  3. Virginia Wilcox

    My brother-in-law, Marvin insisted I learn on a stick as well…Not only that…my first car was a stick and even though I got my license the day I turned 16…I could not drive it to school until I could take my stick up the hill between Houston and Pio no no without stalling or rolling back. It took me MONTHS but I can now hold first on a hill without rolling back better than anyone! I too gave up my choice of driving a stick once I had kids for all the same reasons but am now getting to the point were I could see one in my future again! 🙂 Great perspective Ashley…as always! 🙂

  4. Chris

    Amen, Ashley. Of course, I’m so old that a ‘stick’ was a common choice. I bought a 49 Ford in 1953 for $225 and then had a friend teach me to drive that thing in a super market parking lot. Also bought a sewing machine in college, and used it for about 40 years. Now I have a computerized Singer. You are all missing something if you don’t have a sewing machine. Start with small things, it’s actually fun. Take a class. It’s an easy skill you’ll never regret having.

  5. kwaterbury

    Our moms sound a lot alike. Mine taught me how to drive a stick at 16. It was her 2002 bright yellow Ford Escape that we nicknamed Indy (short for Indiana Jones haha). We were driving around running errands & she pulled into this tiny parking lot at a park, parked, & then turned to me & said, “Okay, it’s your turn to drive.” I laughed thinking she was joking but as I did she got out of the car & walked to the passenger side so we could switch seats. The look on my little brother’s face (who was about 2 at the time) was priceless. His eyes got so big as he was nervously watching the switch haha. I slowly drove/stalled around this tiny loop of a parking lot and parked a few times. I quickly learned that driving in empty parking lots was the easy part. Then once I had passed her “test” & she was confident (glad one of us was) about my ability to drive a stick she told me to drive home. Unfortunately for me I’m not lucky enough to live off of a dirt road. We live in a city with a million stop signs & signals & it felt like a million more had been added in the short time I had been driving in my safety zone parking lot lol. We somehow managed to make it home (in one piece thankfully) and I felt soo accomplished. Our moms are right though. Being able to drive a stick does have it’s advantages: 1) you won’t be stuck somewhere because you won’t be able to drive someone’s car, 2) once you learn how to drive a stick you can pretty much drive anything, & 3) it scores you some brownie points because (as I’ve recently learned) a lot of people actually can’t drive one.

      1. kwaterbury

        My mom is very big on women being independent. All the women in my family are. I must say though, driving a stick uphill in the rain sucks! lol

      2. kwaterbury

        Thankfully yes I can. The worst part about that was I got stuck at the red light on that hill & was the one stopped at the line, not the tenth car down where I would’ve had a little time to manage to not stall & roll into the car behind me lol. Thank god for e brakes 😀

  6. Michelle

    How wonderful! My parents had the same advice for me. Growing up my Mom actually drove a car with the stick shift on the steering column (I’m sure there is some other name for that). But that was the rule in our house — you don’t get to learn on the automatic, until you can drive the stick.

    But you’re right on course … in a world of … “I don’t know how” where we are nearly enveloped with access to information (in our home of 2 there are 3 computers, 2 laptops, 1 iPad, 1 Nexus Tablet, and 2 iPhones) and 2 internet connection possibilities …there’s never a reason not to know. Just go learn how — instead of cowering behind the I don’t know.

    Another rockin’ post BME!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Thanks! Yes, this one has me thinking about all the ways that “learning the hard way” opens up so many more options than learning the easy way. If you’ve only learned the easy way, you’re at the mercy of the technology!

    2. Leigh

      just a lil fyi…a stick shift on the steering column is called three on a tree…I had to learn on that one as well. 🙂

  7. Elizabeth Holmes (@bethgholmes)

    I had to learn stick way back in 1980 when I started to drive — we only had cars with manual transmission a Volvo and a Chevy Monza. My 13 year old will have to learn stick too because we still only have manual transmission cars: a Toyota Echo and a Honda Fit — both were $1000 cheaper to buy with a manual transmission v. an automatic. It’s also cheaper to rent a manual car when traveling — at least in Europe. Now I also have a good reason to give Emma as to why she has to learn to drive stick — so thanks.

  8. Gay (BIG) Garrett

    Learning to drive a straight shift is when I discovered that a car can actually do the bunny-hop.

  9. Ron Buchanan

    Delightful story, Ashley!! Yo Mama taught you well!! I wasn’t so gracious when my oldest daughter was “taught” to drive a straight shift Chevy truck (with the touchiest clutch of any vehicle I’ve ever driven)! The other two daughters heard the story, and decided then and there that they would never drive a stick-shift … or at least, not suffer my teaching (sic) them!!

  10. Leigh

    Oh how I remember learning to drive a stick….Dad took me out on Stovall Road. There was a lot of crying on my part and frustration on his. But in the end, “I can change gears smoother than an automatic”. That is the phrase Dad said over and over and over again until I got it. It came in handy for me in college as well and let’s just say I can also drive “3 on the tree” 🙂

  11. Tara

    My Daddy insisted we learn on a stick too. I drove one for a few years–their car I drove and then my MGB. You are right about how it feels–awesome. And when I had the opportunity to go to England, I was so glad I knew how to drive a stick, as Mrs. B let me drive her car around over there. It was a little awkward trying to shift with my left hand, but I made it happen.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      YES! It was difficult to get used to the stick on the left, but manageable. The thing I had the most trouble with was parking garages in England…going around the end then remembering which side to stay on!

      1. Tara

        I still have problems today, especially on four lanes, trying to remember which one is for us slowbies. Driving in Japan for 2 and a half years just added to the confusion. 🙂

  12. Heart To Harp

    Amen- my did insisted that I learn to drive a stick, via his “three on a tree” construction company pickup. Like riding a bicycle, you never forget. And when in college the only car I could borrow was a friend’s MG without a starter, I was fearless. Keeping my dad’s truck steady without stalling on the steep hill in town meant that I never stalled the MG once we got it started by popping the clutch. (What do affluent college kids do to learn useful skills, I wonder?)


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