On December 11th, 2006, my mother totaled her forest green Honda Accord on the way home from a doctor’s appointment, crashing it into an electricity post. Luckily, she escaped without much more than a headache and a bit of a shock. After hearing the news and having my initial anxiety quashed, I began to realize the other implications of the situation. At the time, I was sixteen, in the middle of my Driver’s Ed course, and looking forward to driving the Accord when I finally obtained my license. After all, the Accord sported a V-6 engine, which, compared to the inline 4 that powered my father’s Toyota Camry, seemed like a monstrous amount of power. I was actually a bit saddened, for I had developed a sort of psychological bond with the Accord.
Little did I know, my mother’s accident would allow me to discover one of my greatest passions. After the accident, my parents found it in their hearts (and in the family’s budget) to buy cars for both my mother and me. On January 3, 2007, the title to a white Volkswagen Jetta was transferred to my father’s name, and I instantly fell in love with it. In addition to the fact that it matched my white cello case—both were tagged with Houston Rockets bumper stickers—the Jetta was peppy when throttled, growled beautifully under the hood, and was relatively eco-friendly, averaging a 29.3 miles per gallon. But most importantly, being able to drive the Jetta meant knowing how to drive a stick shift. While frustrating at first—I often stalled the car and was terrified of making turns—I persevered and eventually grasped the subtle nuances involved in driving a stick shift.
I have come to believe that properly driving a car with a manual transmission is more than just fun, more than a simple skill; rather, it requires the driver to be engaged. Like music, it involves proper timing, coordination, and synchronization, all of which demand concentration. When perfectly executed, shifting gears smoothly—engaging the clutch and accelerating at the right time—can be as satisfying as nailing a shift to high note on the cello. And like any art, driving a stick shift involves practice. It involves dedication. There are days when I accelerate at the wrong time and feel the excruciating rattle in the gear shifter caused by the mismatched gears, an experience as heart-wrenching as missing, by a half step, a note that I had played perfectly before. When this misalignment happens—both on the cello and while driving—I tell myself to focus, to be more involved in what I’m doing. On the other hand, I love the days when everything falls into place perfectly, when even the slightest jerking motion of the meshing gears ceases to exist. On these days, I know that I’m in the zone, that I’m engaged, and I feel as if my car and I have become a single entity, for I am able to sense the slightest vibration from the clutch, to interpret the feedback sent from the engine through the gear shifter and into my hand and arm. After driving my Jetta, I will never go back to driving an automatic, for not only do I believe in practicing the art of shifting gears manually, but in a larger sense, I believe firmly in the value of dedication, of pursuing and being involved in what you love, of pouring your energy into something simply because you find it immensely enjoyable.
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