Friday, May 23, 2014

Three on the tree

The car looked a lot like this
When I got my driver’s license, my dad was driving a modest four-door Dodge. I think it was a Dodge Dart but the pictures I’ve found online don’t quite look the same, and I’ve never been good at recalling car models. It’s mostly not my thing. He passed that car to me (and 11 months later my brother) to use and he bought another modest used car, a 1972 two door butt ugly green Dodge Dart.

The shift pattern
The four-door was tan and along the way someone had added air conditioning, which worked really well. The trunk was enormous, the kind you associate with gangsters or Cadillacs, I swear I could have put four grown adults in there with room to spare. And it had a manual transmission, three on the tree. That meant that the gear lever was on the steering column and also had a tiny nob marked with the gear shift pattern. I didn’t have a lot of trouble managing the clutch/gas pedal dance required to change gears but I struggled mightily with that stupid three on the tree.

One night, my boyfriend (who didn’t drive) and I had gone to an A&W restaurant for floats. All was fine, no stalling or embarrassing hitches as I drove us there. But getting home was a different story. I could not get the car to drive – it kept stalling. There we were, on a fairly warm evening and me with a curfew and I couldn’t drive the damn car. Over and over I tried and stalled the car for a good 30 minutes. And of course the boyfriend was beyond useless because he didn’t drive, even though he was 18 (he didn’t want to pay for insurance).

Finally after yet another stall and very nearly in tears – and I still don’t know why I thought of it then and why I hadn’t thought of it sooner – I turned the engine off, put the car in neutral and started all over again. And this time at long last, I pulled the gear shift hard toward me and then down into first gear. It dawned on me as everything finally worked, that I’d been trying to drive from a dead stop in third gear. No wonder the car stalled.

1 comment:

Magpie said...

I learned to drive on my mother's stick shift Volvo station wagon, that had no power assist anything. It was like driving a tank. The worst was stopping on a hill, and having to coax the car into motion without rolling back into the car behind. I think of that car when I pull out of my uphill driveway, in my (stick shift) car that has "hill assist" - it's like MAGIC.