Friday, May 01, 2009

Use The Clutch!

My first car! Okay, so it belonged to my mom & dad. And, no, neither one of those men are my dad. I just didn't have a decent picture of the real thing...okay??

"Use the clutch!" Words that still echo in my ear coming from Mr. Cato, my high school driver's ed instructor.

Clutch? I don't see no stinkin' clutch! Which is probably why the "training" car with the manual (on the steering column back then) transmission died halfway up the steep Southern Indiana hill. (In case you're unfamiliar with the terrain, the southern part of the state is known for rolling hills and valleys.)

"Put on the brake," he said, through clenched teeth. (Mr. Cato had virtues. Patience was not one)

Note 1: He was also the varsity basketball coach, known for ripping off his sports jacket and hurling it to the sidelines within 10 seconds of the start of the game.

"Now, ease out on the clutch as you push down on the gas pedal."

Clunk! Clunk! Sputter! Sputter...die....

(Sigh) "Put on the brake...again. Ease up on the clutch and give the car some GAS!!"

"Yes sir." I gulp, glancing sideways toward the passenger seat. Whew. Mr Cato is in a short sleeve shirt. No jacket to hurl toward me.

Meanwhile, Jimmy, Pat and Crissy were in the back seat, laughing hysterically...which wasn't helping my concentration. I shot them a dirty look, which brought on more laughter and a couple of snorts.

Finally! I made it up that hill, only to encounter another steeper climb on the other side. I exhaled. Can I possibly make it up a second hill? But, then it came to me. More speed! No need to use the clutch. This driving thing won't get the best of me!

I floored it! Up that hill, down another and up the next. Yep, I'm getting the hang of this.

Mr. Cato's death grip on the dash and silence from the back seat, said it all.

Note 2: Don't try this at home! Back in my day, the roads were practically empty and we had all the real estate in two counties to practice our driving skills. And, in case you're interested, here's a real picture of my first car! In black and white because we didn't take color Polaroids in the "olden days." F-85, red (see pic at top) and white Oldsmobile with red bucket seats, and automatic transmission.

Got a story about your first driving experience? Leave a comment!

Mary Cunningham, author Cynthia's Attic Series
Mary Cunningham Books
Cynthia's Attic Blog


Martin Bartloff said...

I love these pictures Mary, Very authentic.


Regan Black said...

when I was learning, I thought 'use the clutch' was a mantra like a yogi's 'om'.

Wasn't very relaxing, though. heehee


The Stiletto Gang said...

I used to be terrified when I would come to a stop sign on an incline. I had an old Vega with a clutch that I had to stand on to engage. My car would always roll backwards a little bit, and I worried about stalling out and rolling into the car behind me. I hated that car!

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Diana Black said...

It's a wonder any of us, Mary, survived drivers' ed on those back country roads. Especially Mr. Cato! (We were young and resilient...He was ancient! At least 40! :>)

Love the pics and journey down memory lane...


Mary Cunningham said...

I noticed some of us "oldies" had the same fear of manual transmissions.

Diana remembers how much fun we had in my "Gray Ghost" - an old '55gray Studebaker with a pink top! I'm sure the top was originally red.


Gayle Carline said...

Great post, Mary!

I was fortunate enough to learn on an automatic transmission - unfortunately, it was a '68 Buick Wildcat, which is roughly the size of the Titanic. I mentioned wanting to learn to drive a manual transmission to an older gentleman (don't remember who, but he wasn't a family member), who told me, "You wanna drive a stick shift? You'll learn one night, when your boyfriend is too drunk to drive and you've gotta drive his car home."

A year later I was dating a guy with a Volkswagen Bug - guess what happened?

I happily drove stick-shifts for years after that, until I bought my first minivan in '97.


Pam Ripling said...

Hey! Mine didn't have bucket seats! (Grumble.)

BUT. Mine was an automatic. And I think I mentioned it had a cracked block. WHICH MEANS you must carry a gallon or two of water around with you or it will overheat.

After high school, when I got my first job, I was (of course) still driving the F-85. The guys at work were used to me pulling around behind the factory where there was a hose to fill it up again.

And Martin, FYI, the photo of the BMW is the only one of mine that is actually my car. You were right about the Miata pic!


Mary Cunningham said...

Glad you were on hand to drive, even if you had to learn "on the job" Gayle.

Pam, my F-85 was an automatic, too. Probably on the floor just like yours! Smokin'!

I didn't get to drive it much because my dad commuted to work. So (grumble) at least you got to drive yours! Despite the engine prob. :>(

Martin Bartloff said...

I still dribe nothing but manual transmission cars. They are way better on the environment because they use a lot less fuel.
95' Porsche 911 Con. 6-speed
91' Porsche 911 5-speed and AWD
95' Mercedes Con. 5-speed
01' Audi Allroad 6-speed and AWD


Find pics here

Linda Austin said...

First car I bought went from gray to white inside after I washed it...tuned it up myself and it wouldn't run! Second car was a stick, my stepdad drove it home for me and taught me the ropes. Oh, I remember some slopes in busy Chicago suburbs!

Mary Cunningham said...

From Southern Indiana hills to Chicago! I'll stick to learning to drive in S. Indiana.

Thanks for the comment, Linda.

Iris Black said...

First real driving has been in an automatic minivan (due to left ankle issues). Mom actually had me drive it into a bush!

Granted, it was slow, and she wanted me to find the edge of the hood... Still, it made for a great story at school the next day!


Ophelia Julien said...

Great post! My drivers' ed teacher only had automatics, but he still had about as much patience as your Mr. Cato. What was it about jock teachers and drivers' ed, anyhow? Maybe because I didn't have to learn on it, I prefer a stick shift to this day.

Mary Cunningham said...

Funny story, Iris. I've never driven into a bush (on purpose!)

Thanks for the comment, Ophelia. It just seems that coaches and drivers ed go together. They're all alike, aren't they.