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Opinion

Stunt driving begins by learning to drive manually

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April 21, 2011

Once or twice a year I have a fantastic idea. In 2006, that fantastic idea was to buy the cheapest, but still functioning car I could and run it into the ground. The plan: do everything I have ever seen a stunt driver do in the movies. I’m talking driving it off jumps, driving it on two wheels, and maybe roll it multiple times. After a couple weeks of searching I saw that a man in New Richmond, Wis., had a 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier for $250. It was a greenish color. I must admit that my car fixing skills only extend to changing the oil or repairing a flat tire, definitely not grease monkey material. I called the man and less then 12 hours later that night I was test driving the car with my friend Will. Here’s the rub, it was a manual, which was the overriding desire in purchasing the car. Alas, I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, but my friend Will did. I clearly remember him boasting about his skills in driving a manual through some back roads in Colorado or some junk like that.

I had this whole routine set out where I was going to haggle this guy out of some money off the asking price. I put on a sour frown when I looked at the car, spit on it, rubbed my finger over a scratch and offered a puzzling look of incredulity that there would be a scratch on it. I fiddled with the knobs and asked if something was off. I pointed out all the flaws, and then claimed I could never buy such a car. I gave a pathetic low-ball offer, acted indignant and walked away all in hopes of getting $25. This glorious daydream gave a hypnotic jerk when I arrived, for I was not as good of an actor as I thought I was. However, I did rub my finger on a superficial scratch and immediately asked for $25 off. He didn’t buy that ploy; he could have gotten a better write-off on his taxes if he had given it to the Salvation Army.

Will and I went for a test drive to make sure the car was legit. He drove around ten miles per hour, but it didn’t seem odd to me at the time because of the excitement that was building. All things were functioning so I forked over the wad of cash and the car was mine. All we had to do was drive it back to my friend Will’s parent’s back forty where him, Bernadotte (a friend)and myself had dreams of turning it into a rally car for its destruction purposes. We’re talking new paint job, wielded roll cage, and a gutted interior devoid of any cloth.

I followed Will in my 1993 Chevrolet S-10, but the green car was still only going 10 miles per hour. I pulled him over and asked him what was the deal. “I’ve only driven manual in first gear,” he said. Once or twice a year, my jaw drops at something so surprising; this was one of those times in 2006. I was at a total loss.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “I knew the concept of driving stick well enough so I’ll make this work.” It was over a thirty-mile drive on my virgin attempt at a stick shift, with no guidance whatsoever. The car stalled twice before I even moved. It stalled another time by the end of the block waiting for the light to change. The key in driving manually is the smooth transition in the shift; pressing the clutch and the brake in a magical combination, but to me a dull thud kept occurring when the engine stopped working.

Will was following me the entire time watching my hasty, but steady movement toward his property. We’re using back-roads so we can spare some people of my amateur driving skills and I turned into what I thought was a county road, but turned out to be a dead end. Upon rounding the cul-de-sac my car lurches into the ditch at a 35 degree angle. I’m stalling every time I try to shift the car, and the Cavalier plunges into the ditch even further and then a dog starts barking. At any moment I expected some landowners to run outside and give me a look. After some rocking, I slammed the car in reverse and jumped out of the ditch like a jack-in-the-box. We were back on the road going so slow (40 mph) that I thought we would get pulled over for drunk driving. With more luck then Bilbo Baggins we made it to Will’s back forty.

As much fun as my friends and I had driving the car on my uncle’s dirt track, it didn’t rival with the misadventure in trying to get the vehicle from point A to point B. Besides the day after, Will finally learned how to drive a stick shift in all gears, from me.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.