S – Stick Shift


“Always focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror.”   Colin Powell

“Keep your eyes open, especially if you’re wearing a blindfold while driving.  Closing your eyes in that situation could be dangerous.”   Jarod Kintz

Steep Street






“LOOOOOK OUT BELOW!”  Here she comes!  I think that was my mother who screamed.

My parents owned a 1960 tomato soup orange, Volkswagen Bug… stick shift.  Looking forward to learning to drive I pestered my mom as to when the lessons would start.

Now, here I am on 19th street in Hermosa Beach headed up this VERTICAL incline for the first time in my lesson on how to drive a stick shift.  One problem — in those days the cars were not built with any form of braking system to prevent your car from rolling down the hill backwards before you depressed the clutch, put the stick shift into gear, and hit the gas. I ONLY had to be fast enough in coordinating my actions.

Oh yes, the ‘other’ problem is that there is a STOP sign at the crest of the hill. So here I am stopped at the top of the hill sweat budding on my forehead as I’m stressed.  My brain imagines…what happens if I can’t coordinate my actions fast enough?  I’ll roll backwards down the enormous hill at warp speed, roll through the major intersection at the bottom of the incline smashing the cars going past 19th street along Hermosa Avenue.  If this happens, I’ll bet mom won’t let me get my driver’s license! Rolling2

Ok… I CAN do this!  I hit the clutch, put the car into first gear and attempt to depress the gas pedal enough to prevent rolling backwards.  Except… I AM rolling backwards and I’m halfway down the incline before I successfully stop us.  Now, I have to manage to put the car in gear just so I can reach the stop sign yet again. I pop the clutch and hit the gas pedal, climbing the hill, but there is that awful stop sign again.  I roll down the hill backward about three times in my attempt to drive past that stop sign.

FINALLY, here I am in the middle of that DANG hill again. I start to go through my steps of clutch, gear, and gas yet again, as a car appears in my rearview mirror.  OHHHH, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?  So I stop the car, roll my window down and motion for the car to pass me.  As the car is parallel to mine I see there are two CUTE boys in the car.  The guys call through their open window, “Are you having problems?” “ Do you need help?”  I try to nonchalantly shake my head to indicate I don’t need help when my mother shouts “She is just learning to drive!”

I am now thoroughly humiliated as the guys laugh, punch the gas pedal and head up the hill.  The good news is that I was SO angry at mother that this time I actually not only made it up to that stop sign, but I actually managed to stop, AND successfully drive past the sign to our garage where I could hide!

rolling3 Rolling

About Gwynn Rogers

After 20 years of sales and marketing experience in the fields of real estate, high tech, and corporate travel, Gwynn has moved on to the career of “Grandma.” When not teaching her granddaughters an extensive vocabulary of “alley-oop-boop, ups-a-daisy, cowabunga or bummer”, Gwynn can be found hunting for mentors for the Kitsap Youth Mentoring Consortium, or chasing her fantasies on her treadmill. Gwynn currently freelances for magazines.
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24 Responses to S – Stick Shift

  1. Oh, Hermosa Beach. You took me way back. Love Hermosa. And your humor has no equal. I did my fair share of motioning cars to pass me while sweating up a storm in those early days.
    I still have trouble driving stick to this day. 🙂

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Oh man, Silvia, I lived on the corner… then, as there WAS a sandy lot on the corner of Bayview Drive and Hermosa. So I backed out of the garage to a stop sign too. Driving up 19th for a beginner was terrifying. Also, 19th was the street I had to walk up after the surgery on my heels… a BEAR!!!!!

      Once I learned a stick shift, I drove them until about 14 years ago when driving to work in the stop and go traffic drove me NUTS! I now drive a manual transmission… Ahhhh. All I can say is that learning to shift on 19th prepared me for the steep hills in downtown Seattle, as with the traffic I didn’t have the option of rolling half-way back down the hill! 😉 Although, I suppose the car behind me would have prevented my rolling. 😉

      Do you know or remember the theme song for Rawhide? Rollin’, Rollin’ keep them doggies rollin…rawhide… I think of that song every time I thing of 19th street.

  2. pat garcia says:

    Gwynn, I love driving sticks. That is one of the advantages living here on the European Continent. Most people drive sticks. In fact, I learned on a stick, but my father taught me.
    I laughed through your humorous description of your driving lesson.
    Great post.

  3. Susan Scott says:

    Hello Your Majesty! Another post full of schtick! You got me laughing again! I learned my life on schtick and got schtuck many times.

    Stick it to you dear Gwynn – for a humorous post as always.. thank you!

    Your humble servant.


    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      I bow to you, my humble servant… as I’ll bet you had some fun experiences with a stick shift too! As I told Silvia and Pat, I too drove a stick all of my life until the traffic became to unbearable. Hey, wait until I tell you about learning to drive a stick shift in the UK… a left-hand stick… OMG!! I should have added that to my story… RATS, I forgot!!!

      Thank you my dear for laughing along with me. I do so appreciate you!

  4. Val Rainey says:

    Oh Gwynn!
    Sounds like you had as much fun trying to learn how to drive as I did learning how to ‘drive’ a bicycle.
    Putting a stop sign at the top of a hill is something only ya’ll in the States would do.
    Love and Hugs,
    P.S. I expect that we have the same kind of crazies up here!

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Yes, since Hermosa is a California beach town there were many city blocks and unfortunately the blocks were designed perpendicular and parallel to 19th street. Since I lived on the corner of 19th and Bayview, we backed out of the garage to a stop sign before we progressed any further. At least the garage wasn’t off 19th street!

      I drove a stick shift for the rest of the time until about 14 years ago when the stop and go traffic was too unbearable. I now drive an automatic. Oh yes, I drove a left-hand stick shift in the UK… NOW that was ANOTHER experience!! 😉 I’m not sure I ever found 1st gear!!!

  5. Val Rainey says:

    I was just learning how to drive a stick shift in 1994 or ’95 when my husband back then and I were whalloped straight on in the rear left wheel…..whomp!
    You should’ve seen our poor little buggy. We had no idea that an accident was imminent only that someone had hit us.
    I took that as God’s opinion that I should definitely stick to automatic.
    Fortunately neither of us was badly injured. Poor Alvin was white as a sheet for about 4 days afterwards.

  6. Oh, dear. I think I wouldn’t be driving if I had to learn on a stick. As it was I learned on a station wagon (you remember, the kind with the third row that faced the other way and half-way suffocated you with CO2?) and on a high top conversion van.

    Good times.

  7. suzanne says:

    Living in England nearly everybody learns to drive with the gear stick, I drive my mums automatic occasionally and find it really difficult because my feet and hand want to change gears 🙂 x

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Oh Suzanne, I came to visit England, Scotland, and Wales, as my dad’s family originally was from Conwy, Wales. I was supposed to have received an automatic, but ended up with a stick shift! OH MY!! Learning to drive on the left AND a left hand stick was quite an experience… I’m not sure I ever found 1st gear! 😉 I drove a stick shift the majority of my life and I became quite comfortable with them. Like you trying to drive an automatic again was frustrating as I was constantly trying to hit the clutch. I LOVED my time visiting in the UK! You have such a wealth of history that we don’t have here in the states. Thanks for commenting.

  8. I can so relate to that. Everything was uphill from where we lived when I first learned to drive a stick in my teens. I used to cheat and put the parking brake on when stopping on hills so I wouldn’t roll.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      I had a tough time preventing rolling even with the parking brake, but mom wouldn’t let me get into the habit of using it, so I didn’t. Learning to drive can be entertaining, that is for sure!

      • I already had my license before I got the stick shift car so I didn’t have to deal with anyone else in the car telling me what I could or couldn’t do – and using the parking brake sure beat rolling back into the car behind me!

  9. You took me back! This is a hilarious post, especially because I know what you were going through. My dad taught me to drive a stick shift on a 1974 Ford Pinto. Fortunately for me, we lived in Illinois with some nice flat roads. My first encounter with hills wasn’t pretty!

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      The good news is that DARN hill was excellent training for driving in Seattle and the vertical hills downtown. Until about 14 years ago I always drove a stick shift. But eventually, with the terrible stop and go traffic trying to get to work I gave up shifting. But I still do laugh as our house was RIGHT on the corner. I backed out of the garage to a stop sign and THEN the steep hill went down from there. The good news is that we had a fabulous 180 view of the ocean from up there! 😉 I just didn’t want to roll backwards INTO the ocean! 😉

  10. The first car I owned (not the first car I had driven) was a VW convertible stick shift, Gwynn. I learned driving it around Washington, D.C., where it was fairly easy to avoid hills. I mastered it though, and two subsequent VWs were sticks, then the Austin Healey 3000 and then, yes, the big, square Mercedes sedan that my boss at Mattel said all I needed to do was put flags on the front fenders and it would look like a Nazi staff car.

    I drove the Nazi staff car all around Hermosa and Manhattan, and yes, parked it. I was just thinking the other day, in fact, how I managed to park that car on Manhattan Beach Blvd., the beach block, where the hill was especially steep and parking spaces tight; plus you had to turn your front wheel to or away from the curb so your car didn’t roll down the hill when parked. All while coordinating the clutch and gas pedal. I managed it facilely then. Wonder if I could now. I guess if I move back to SoCal I’ll have to get an automatic shift.

    Well, what am I thinking? Most new cars drive themselves nowadays.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      My question is… “How intelligent are these self-driving cars?” Can they shift going up a steep hill without rolling backwards, I wonder? After dealing with all the Seattle stop and go traffic, I don’t miss driving a stick-shift. I’m very happy with my automatic! But the VW, my Volvo, and my Jetta were stick shift. I had automatics in between cars.

      Yes, I do remember Manhattan Beach Blvd… vaguely! Do you realize I left California 40 years ago. I only went to the beach with the kids once in all of these years as we took them to Disneyland. It is amazing at how much I have forgotten.

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