Monday, August 19, 2013

Shifting Gears

There's no experience quite as simple and gratifying than that of driving down the Pacific Coast Highway along the Southern California coastline in a standard shift sports car.  For a cool hour or so, and just a short stretch of blacktop from the Venice Beach boardwalk up to the dramatic cliffs of Malibu, the salty wind blows against your cheeks sending chills down the back of your neck.  As you head North, the afternoon sun casts a golden hugh across the windshield as it sinks into the vast expanse of the ocean, directly to your left. The road curves and the pace accelerates; it is truly a joy ride.  

This was the picture I had locked in my mind as I stood before my dream car: a hot little royal blue Mini Cooper.  With tricolor leather interior, a jamming sound system, and a huge sunroof, I could honestly say it was perfect.  I sat in the front seat, and for just a moment, I felt like a true road warrior.  I glanced up into the rear view mirror and adjusted it to my liking.  Bond, James Bond.  

I gracefully sank deeper into the driver's seat and imagined the drive.  Then something occurred to me that nearly drove my little imaginary joy ride off the cliff... I don't know how to drive a stick!

The car salesman didn't seem to be overly concerned about my lack of experience. "I'll teach you.  We'll take it for a test drive,"he volunteered. 

Is he delusional? No way am I going to take a brand new car off the lot without knowing how to shift gears!! He must have had a big plate of crazy for breakfast!

But somehow, with the subconscious image of James Bond as my alter-ego, I agreed to the challenge.  

It was horrifying.  I am pretty sure I stalled the car three times before even making it out of the lot.  First gear to second, push the clutch, shift, and release. The jarring forward motion was far from the vision I had initially fantasized: heading effortlessly down the highway.

The salesman seemed to take some twisted satisfaction from his temporary role of Driver's Ed teacher because no matter how many times I stalled that Mini, he patiently coached me through the process of getting all of us back to the dealership in one piece. 

The second time around the block was a little smoother.  By the third turn around the block, I was hooked.  This switching gears thing is actually kind of fun! Woo hoo!!  I'm taking it to third now... I'm such a bad-ass! 

As we pulled into the lot, I had experienced a type of bonding I hadn't ever known possible to share with an innate object.  And probably at the same moment, the salesman and I both realized something that made us both very happy: there was no way I was leaving without that car. 

Though barely broken in, I was ready to ride.  

Slowly, with the passing of time and a few hundred miles, switching gears was a process that felt like second nature to me.  From behind the wheel, anything was possible. The curve of the road, the peddles, the wheel, the gears, the pavement all felt natural: like we were one.  And I knew it was finally time to take the drive down the Coast Highway. 

It's funny how some fantasies really can come to life. 

Today, I set out on the open road yet again as a novice.  The process of shifting gears in life, is one that takes years of practice to perform with grace and ease.  It is an awkward experience to stall out, just when you thought you were about to kick it into high gear.  

But I believe that it's true what they say about this road we call life, 'It's a journey, not a destination' (or something like that anyway). 

Getting out of the passenger's seat to behind the wheel, I've learned a thing or two about switching gears: roadblocks, detours, fast lanes, slow lanes, turnouts, U-turns, and yes, even a few unfortunate accidents all led to the intersection I am at today. 

Though I'm not exactly stalled out, I have pulled over for a minute to study the map.  Which road should I take?  How much will it cost to get there? How much time will it take?  What if I get lost along the way?  

I realize, oftentimes it's perfectly okay to take the long way around.  The scenic route offers a perspective that short cuts may not.  And if switching gears is too awkward, remember to be patient with yourself when you are trying to master something new. 

One way or another, you'll get there.  And when you do,  you'll smile because you'll remember that first awkward moment when you first began shifting gears, upon hitting the road and never turning back.  

Just don't be too proud to ask for directions if you feel little lost.  That's how people end up right where they start: stalled in neutral gear. 



2 oz Vodka
3/4 Highball glass full of 7 Up
Splash of Orange Juice
Serve over ice. 



  1. Starting out and shifting gears is especially difficult on an uphill slant! Defy Gravity :)

  2. Your Mom tends to be fixated on "planning" the route. I tend to just start driving. There is something to be said for both approaches in life. The main thing is to enjoy the journey and take in as much as you can. I know you will!

  3. Congratulations on mastering the 'clutch' car, may all your gear changes be smooth. :)

    1. Thank you +MichaelAu You always say just the perfect comment to keep me motivated!!!!