I Had The Opposite Problem

Learning to Drive Stick-Shift on a Dodge Viper

Did I say “problem”? I meant “solution.”

I learned to drive late–I was in my last year of college when I got my driver’s license (which is ahead of my sainted mother’s pace–she was, what, 33?). In high school, I didn’t have anyone to teach me to drive–my mother was too anxious, a family friend who took me out once was too afraid to take me out again, driver’s education in school was during summer vacation, and private driving lessons were expensive. So it had to wait until I was off at college, living in my father’s basement in Milwaukee, for me to get regularish tutelage behind the wheel.

When I came back to Missouri, I needed a car to get out of the long valley on the gravel road and to anything resembling a job. I garnered a decent amount of monetary graduation gifts, enough for an old used car, and I was looking for an automatic transmission since I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift–but I would make an exception if I found a sports car I liked.

Well, I found a red sports car with a manual transmission.

A 1986 Nissan Pulsar (the one depicted is not my Pulsar–my Pulsar’s clear coat was peeling off). So I had to learn to drive a stick. A family “friend,” a burgeoning mechanic, gave me a twenty minute lesson and set me loose on the curvy two-lane country highways and four lane state highways that surrounded the valley. He also helpfully fixed the symptoms of a flaw in the electronics of the car that routinely burned out batteries, alternators, and headlights in the car instead of finding and fixing the problem, which finally led me to getting an older old car with its own faults. And a new mechanic. But I digress; I see I’ve already talked about that Nissan just last year. It must be part of my decades-long mid-life crisis to keep hearkening back to it.

But back to my original story: Pretending I didn’t know how to drive a stick because I didn’t want to drive a Viper.

So, a bit of background about Jim, the Viper’s owner. He was a millionaire next door; he’d been a union poo-bah and invested in real estate and had done very well. He dated my aunt for a while, on and off, and he liked to carry $5,000 in cash on him at all times in case he saw something he wanted to buy. He liked to hit the riverboat casinos and gamble past the limit, getting other people in the casino to get him more tokens when he’d filled his limiting punchcard. He owned a Viper, and he brought it to a family reunion one summer.

My brother was on leave from the Marines at the time, and he’d brought a gearhead friend of his with his souped-up 70s GTO. They marvelled over the Viper, and Jim took his keys out of his pocket. “You know how to drive a stick?” he asked them, because he was going to give the keys to his high performance, expensive sports car to a couple of twenty-and-not-much-more males to roar around the county park and presumably south county.

I most certainly not volunteer, and my brother and his friend didn’t know manual transmissions, which is probably how that Viper got back to the garage that afternoon.

Well, that, and the handgun that Jim illegally carried in the console to brandish whenever unsavory types took too much interest in his Viper when he was stopped at red lights in sketchy parts of town. Which was more than once by his telling of it.

(Link via Instapundit; memory probably from my imagination.)