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Pictures in the Rear View Mirror
Who's in Second : Page 2 of 2

Who's in Second?

continued from page 1

After a few minutes, the canny salesman guided my Dad over to the place where I stood transfixed. After giving it a once over, and checking under the hood and the undercarriage, Dad slipped in behind the wheel. He frowned. The car had a manual transmission. Though I had seen many gifted hands whip through the gears on dozens of cars in which I was a passenger, I had never actually driven a stick.

He looked at me, I looked at him, the salesperson looked at both of us and in unison we all gave a collective shrug. So I didn't know how to shift gears, big deal, so I lacked the delicate feel needed to work the clutch, so what…. Wait a minute, just one minute. As much as I hated to admit it, I didn't make sense to buy a car that I couldn't drive. But I wanted it and this was my moment. Taking a deep breath I decided to go for it.

My Dad climbed into the passenger seat, the salesman slid into the back while I stood by the driver's door hesitating. I offered up the suggestion that Dad test drive it and teach me to drive stick when we got home. He shook his head. This was to be a test, a rite of passage and refusal was not an option; not if I wanted this car.

So I was going to have to get in, start it up, depress the clutch and shift into first. I noticed a small diagram of the gears on the knob but it was just mumbo jumbo to me. With alarm I felt a hysterical giggle working its way up to my lips. I ruthlessly tamped it back down, knowing that it would sound like the cry of an injured gazelle trapped in the car with a pride of lions. So, deep breath, I turn the key and nothing happens.

"The clutch, depress the clutch," said my Dad and salesman in one highly exasperated voice.

Oh, yeah. I concentrated and depressed the clutch, grabbed the stick, ground some gears and got it into second. The car hitched and jerked but by keeping the gas on and letting the clutch out slowly it evened out a bit. I was getting it. After just a moment of control, the engine pitched itself higher and I knew there was something I needed to do about that. Speaking out loud I intoned, "Depress the clutch, grab the stick, throw it into third, and let the clutch up." It caught and we were in business. Now if only I didn't need to slow down at all, I could slide right back into the used car lot without having to shift again. Sure, but what really happened was that I hit a red light, stalled the car out, tried to start it without depressing the clutch, again, wrenched it into second when the light changed and bucked and jerked my way back to the lot.

Once safely landed my Dad looked at me, nodded his head and said, "We'll take it." I was stuttering on the word "but" even as the salesman leaped out of the car and produced an agreement and a pen from his rear pocket. Flattening it on the top of the car, my Dad signed on the dotted line. Slipping out from behind the wheel I surrendered my seat and my hammering heart started to slow as I realized that Dad was driving home. The last thing the salesman said as he handed over the title to my Dad was, "Well she's gonna' start out in second a lot, but I think it will be okay."

The Golden Years (Year)

After my boyfriend taught me how to drive my new-to-me car, I took my Mustang back to school for the last semester. On my first trip up I was gliding through the gears like a pro, radio booming from the speakers and hair whipping around my head. All the way up the Garden State Parkway I flew with the wind at my back. I was feeling pretty confident when I slid down the ramp onto the familiar boulevard through Montclair.

Too late I realized that the hilly surface streets into Upper Montclair presented a new shifting challenge. More than one red light found me on the crest of a hill transferring weight from the break to the clutch to the gas in a heart thumping panic. Somehow I made it to the parking lot outside of my dorm. When I switched off the engine and waited for my heart to reposition from my throat to my chest, the car gave one last lurch When my Dad called that night, I knew he had spent the day thinking about all of the things that might go wrong. I reassured him by sharing that although I did start out in second a few times, I had arrived alive. I could tell he was relieved, because if I had died, my Mom would have seen to it that he went down with me.

During the next year, I bought an eight track tape of Mustang Sally, slid on my mirrored aviators, racked up the maximum number of points on my license, and motored my way through life. But after that one short year, broken beyond repair, my Mustang died a glorious death, leaving me to the second hand cars our families gave us.

The Mustang Rides Again

I have had many cars between then and now; all of them practical cars with good gas mileage and manual transmissions. The latter is to ensure that I'm not rusty on the day I buy my next and last car, a Mustang convertible. It will be a CANDY-APPLE RED, FIVE-SPEED, MUSTANG CONVERTIBLE, WITH EXTRA CHROME, STEALTH BOX SOUND, A REAR SPOILER AND A BLACK LEATHER INTERIOR. As you can see I have thought about this a lot.

And once that Mustang is mine, on every day thereafter, I will pull on my driving gloves, slide on my mirrored aviators, power the top down, and cruise the highways, while belting out the Boss's Born to be Wild and Springsteen riding shotgun. •

Next: I'm With the Band »

© 2012 Susan Hornfeld. All rights reserved.

Susan Hornfeld lives in Michigan with her husband Roy and Baylee, the dog. More »