Make Mine Manual

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I’m here to talk about this item:

For those new to the planet, this is the stick shift to a manual transmission. And, until my recent trip to French Polynesia, I never realized how much I missed it.

See, I learned to drive on a stick. My first car was a new Honda Accord (bought with my own money, naturally), and I was immensely proud of it. Sanctimonious chap that I am, I considered anyone driving an automatic to be a baboon. The REAL way to drive was old-school, with your left foot on the clutch and your right hand on the knob of the shifter.

The next car I bought (a new Porsche 944, again, with my own earned funds) likewise had a stick. So did the next several cars. There came a time, however, that manuals weren’t really a “thing” anymore, and I had to step down to the level of apes and, like everyone else, have an automatic transmission. I thus spend the next several decades touching neither clutch nor stick.

However, when I rented a car to get around Moorea last week, they only had manuals, and part of me was excited about getting back into the driving style of my youth, and another part was apprehensive that after about a third of a century if I’d instantly crash the thing.

My anxiety evaporated when I got behind the wheel and eased the car into traffic. It’s true what they say: you never forget. Within just a few minutes, I felt utterly at ease, and I spent the entire week zipping from place to place, looking forward to each drive. It was like I hadn’t danced since the 1990s, and here I was dancing again, as if I’d never left the floor.

Once I returned home, however, and got back behind the wheel of my Tesla, I began to realize something awful: I really, really hate driving anything EXCEPT a manual. I had to constantly steady my left foot from hunting around for a clutch. I had to train my right hand to stop grasping thin air, since there was no stick shift to the right of the driver’s seat. I wasn’t DRIVING a car anymore. I was just being DRIVEN. And it sucked.

I’ve always been this way. It’s the same ready that, to this day, I will much sooner fire up an MS-DOS command window than I will try to dick around with dragging and dropping. I can type XCOPY ** /S in about a fifth of a second, and I daresay 99.9% of computer users would have no idea how to even get to a prompt. Simply stated, I want to feel close to the technology (be it car or laptop) instead of some nanny-state arms-length distance.

Apple’s entire design philosophy is to keep the user far, far away from the guts of anything they build and assume all their users are, shall we say, simple. Most people are, so that works, but I’m honestly glad I’m able to crack open a tower PC and do just about anything that needs doing instead of being at the mercy of a repair center. (or, God forbid, a Genius Bar).

Perhaps the day will come that I force myself to get a used sports car with a manual transmission and just enjoy the pleasure of driving again. I do think that the biggest revolution of the next 30 years is going to be self-driving vehicles, but the generation of humans who actually understand the visceral pleasure of driving – – actually, truly, driving – – will all have died off before we know it.