Sticking to the story for nearly three decades

Posted: August 09, 2007

I DIDN'T THINK it would last.

But who knew this relationship would continue for nearly 30 years?

But this summer, I finally, reluctantly, decided to move on.

Around 1980, my husband suggested that the wisest purchase would be a car with a manual transmission, though I knew nothing about driving one. He said the mileage would be great, and this transmission would be easier to fix.

So, off we went to the dealer, and I sputtered home with a new, tan Subaru hatchback with the stick shift on the floor. The next day, I set out for the mall 2 hours before it opened, knowing that the parking lot would be empty and that my fits and starts wouldn't hurt anyone else.

It didn't take long for me to hold my own.

In the late '80s, the Subaru mysteriously died - not from transmission troubles - and a pretty, blue 1988 Honda Civic sedan came into my life. And standard transmission became a standard feature. She lasted until fall 1998, when she met up with the back end of a Nissan Pathfinder.

Next came a bright-red '96 Civic hatchback with about 15,000 miles on it already. Together, we put on another 150,000. At our best, only last summer, we teamed up for 41 miles per gallon - who needs a hybrid?

None of these cars was spectacular, but I always felt fully in charge of the ride. I could handle just about anything.

With a stick shift, you learn to anticipate what happens on the road, learn to understand what your car can and cannot do. You get through most of the bad weather around here, and in good weather, there's nothing like opening her up.

You feel like a driver.

What a great feeling.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. University of Virginia researchers found out that teens with ADHD are better drivers behind the wheel of a car with manual transmission than an automatic. They pay more attention to the road, and less attention to their cell phones and other trinkets.

You also feel part of an exclusive crowd. How many people do you know who can drive a stick shift?

That's a great feeling, too.

But in the interest of family convenience, I just took up with a maroon '04 Honda CR-V, with automatic transmission; my partner doesn't drive a stick shift, and I'll be damned if she learns on mine!

It's a little tough admitting how quickly I've grown to love the CR-V, even as I sometimes reach for something that is no longer there.

Just the other night, in fact, I slowed for the final turn home and instinctively lifted my left foot to step on the clutch that isn't there. Fortunately, no one was around to see my misstep. My face probably turned as maroon as my car.

Some people have told me I'll never go back to a manual transmission. That I'll enjoy not having to work so hard to drive.

I'm not so sure they're right. A week after getting my CR-V, I read a review of the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe - with a six-speed manual transmission. Now, that sounds like a fun car to drive.

A gal can dream, can't she? *

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