Friday, March 26, 2010

Jennifer's latest humiliation

Guess what it involves?  That's right, driving up a hill!

Every Tuesday, I go walking with a very nice group of moms from the kids' school.  Each week, one mom hosts and we explore a different trail for an hour or two, and then adjourn to the host's home for coffee and pastries (to make up for all the calories burned on the hike).  This week, the hike was near school so we started from there and then afterwards caravanned to the host's home.  Sometimes I'll ride with another mom, but this time I was on my own.  Fearing that there may be hills involved and thus, at best the possibility for humiliation, at worst, severe bumper damage, I tried to wait till I was sure to be the last one in the caravan.  I was nearly successful, with just one other driver behind me. I had no idea where I was going, my only hope being to follow the other drivers though I did have the address in my phone so I knew I could look it up on my phone GPS if necessary.

So, off we went. All was going well till we started to ascend a hill--no, a cliff, a true San Francisco-type hill sure to strike terror into the heart of every new stick-shift driver.  I was holding my breath, praying that I wouldn't have to stop, breaking out in a cold sweat as I saw the brake lights illuminate three cars ahead.  I slowed to a crawl, inching forward till the last possible second.  It was no good.  I had to stop.  As the car ahead of me started to move, not rolling back a millimeter (how do they do that????), my whole body went numb with panic.  The car behind me -- someone who knew me! the horror!! -- was too close for comfort (read:  nearer than six feet), so I took a deep breath, released the clutch as I pushed down on the gas and.... stalled horribly, the car bucking and jerking as if it were possessed.

Realizing this could take a while, I put on my hazards and waved at the car behind me to go around -- please!!!  She didn't move.  Now close to hyperventilation, I tried again.  Total failure.  I was so afraid of rolling back that I floored it, then panicked as the car leapt ahead, dropped the clutch and stalled.  My only hope  now was the parking brake, which I'd never been able to use properly despite several late-night practice sessions on steep, deserted hills.  I took another deep breath, pulled the parking brake, clutch in, gas, released the parking brake and -- I was off!  It worked!  Yes, I peeled out, leaving half the rubber from my tires on the street, but I didn't stall or crush the bumper of the car behind me.

By this time, of course, the caravan was long gone.  And I had no idea where to go.  And the poor, unwitting mom foolish enough to follow me was still on my tail.  I considered driving on as if I weren't part of the group (walking group?  what walking group?), leaving the other mom to fend for herself  but then I felt guilty.  Plus, she probably knew who I was, or at the very least she knew my car.  I'd never be able to show my face in the school parking lot again.  I'd have to collect the kids by bus from then on.  Or park three miles away and give them piggy back rides to the car.

Realizing I had no other choice, I pulled over and faced the music.  I was apologetic, she was excruciatingly nice.  I looked up the address on my phone GPS and we set off.  She insisted on following me despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise (I was the one with directions after all, so I guess she had a point.)  So rattled by the experience, I stalled twice on the way there for no good reason at all. I really don't do that anymore.  But each time I restarted the car so quickly, I don't think she noticed.  Icing on the cake, I had to borrow money from her for the parking meter.  Clearly, I am an idiot.

We walked in to the host's home to a barrage of questions, "What happened?  Did you get lost? Are you okay?"  Yes, again, I'm the idiot American who can't drive a stick shift.  All I could do was stuff a croissant in my mouth as quickly as possible so I couldn't answer any more questions.  To make matters worse, everyone was so nice, commenting that they're so used to driving manual cars that they forget how hard it is for us Americans. (Let's not implicate all Americans, here, I am sure it's just me.)

The plus side of this little experience?  I was so inspired my humiliation that (after googling "how to drive a stick shift uphill") I took the car out after the kids were in bed to the steepest hill in Luxembourg and practiced.  And practiced and practiced and practiced.  And?  I've got it now!  I started off using the parking brake 15 times in a row without stalling or rolling back, and today I deliberately stopped at  traffic light on a hill -- just for the fun of it! -- and started off without incident.  Whew!  Still, just to be safe, I will make absolutely certain that I am the last person in the caravan from here on out....

1 comment:

  1. Very proud of you! I use the parking brake all the time.

    I learned to drive on a stick (even took my driving test with one). I remember plotting flat routes to everything because I just hated that Stop-to-First-Gear moment even on the flat. Once I was at an intersection ( a 4-way stop) and I tried to wave another driver through, but he just shouted, "You'll get it!" and sat there want waited for me.

    Oh, the horror.