3 min read

Learning to Drive Stick

My wife and I travel abroad frequently and when we do we always have to rent vehicles with automatic transmissions. This summer, we are cycling through the Dolomites and then driving across Italy.

Renting an automatic in Europe can be challenging due to limited availability, and even when available, they are generally more expensive. This seemed like the perfect excuse to finally learn how to drive a manual transmission.

Today, my buddy Steve gave me a lesson in the only manual car available for rent by the hour in San Francisco. It's been awhile since I pursued something that truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. Mastering hill starts in San Francisco without stalling or rolling backwards was a thrill, particularly when a postal worker in Pacific Heights stopped to watch and commented that something was wrong with my gears. With the windows down, Steve humorously assured him that the issue was with the driver, not the car. 🤣

After several hours, numerous stalls, and an overheating clutch, I was surprised by how much I had progressed, although my left foot did need some relief from all the tension I had been putting on it! I believe a tiny bit more practice alone will prepare me to drive a manual car abroad. I'm grateful for having a friend—and former co-founder—willing to join me on this journey.

This experience reminded me of when I bought a manual 2-stroke scooter on Craigslist 20 years ago and taught myself to ride it in Manhattan. I pushed it over to a protected car lane that circles Stuyvesant town where I sought advice from a UPS truck driver about operating the clutch and choke. This led to a challenging but rewarding hour of learning to drive it.

I recently recounted this story to my regular UPS delivery driver, who mentioned that most UPS trucks are now automatic to prevent repetitive strain injuries.

When it came time to get my motorcycle license, the New York DMV had a six-month wait for a behind-the-wheel drive test. On the day of the test, a friend with a car met me at the DMV where the instructor outlined the procedure. I would lead on my scooter, with the car following, signaling turns with honks: one for left, two for right, and three to stop. The test began confusingly with mixed signals from the car’s horn, leading me to make an incorrect turn. This pattern repeated, and after a triple honk caused us to stop, I learned the horn was faulty and a third malfunction would cancel the test. Sure enough, it malfunctioned again, resulting in my instant disqualification.

I managed to get another appointment with a different vehicle and this time, I passed the test. I experienced many unforgettable adventures riding around NYC; on one occasion, I drove a friend's father over the Brooklyn Bridge. Their tight embrace, a result of their nervousness, briefly made it hard for me to breathe. Upon arriving at our destination, we discovered that their glasses had been swept away during the ride.

Some of the most memorable dates with my wife were driving around NYC exploring the diverse food scene, eating at restaurants featured in The Food Lover's Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City.