Well, this is an all too familiar site for Ian and me. Just more than a year ago, my little blue car was on the back of a AAA tow truck. That New Year’s Eve adventure included breaking down in the middle of nowhere, a 90-mile tow to the “big city” of Scranton, an entertaining cab ride to an airport and finally a rental car to our NYE party. If you didn’t catch my post on that one, get all the details here.
Ian and I did the long distance thing for quite awhile, so I couldn’t be more excited that he moved here just after Christmas. Two people in a junior one-bedroom apartment is a tight squeeze, but we’re making it work and enjoying every minute of it. A fringe benefit of having him here is having a car again! I flew out to Minneapolis before Christmas to make the trek back with him. I figured he’d made that drive on his own enough times…he figures I was coming to get him and making sure he actually came! Either way you look at it, we managed to avoid all the snow storms and made a successful trip back in his Volkswagen Golf.
Getting to drive the Golf though means relearning how to drive standard. My first attempts at driving standard were back during my freshman year of college. I used to occasionally work at my cousin’s bookstore in Rochester and over the summer when I was back home, he would drive me down for the day to help out. He put in a long day though, so he’d let me take his car and get out of there for a bit during the day.
One such day I went to Nazareth College to use their pool. I parked facing in on a slight downhill with another car parked facing me in the lot. Starting in reverse was not something I had tried yet, and as I inched closer and closer to the car in front of me with each try I started full on panicking. I finally got out of the car ready to give up and saw an older couple walking by. I sheepishly explained my predicament and asked if they could drive standard. The man laughed and said no problem he’d be happy to back the car out for me, so I handed my cousin’s keys over to a complete stranger. His wife joked with me about remembering when her husband first learned on a stick shift, and said he wasn’t very good back then either, so not to worry, I would get better. Thankfully he backed the car out in a flash without any problem. I’m not sure I ever told my cousin as I was a bit embarrassed, but if anyone sends this on to him, well, sorry Dave! I still think handing it over to a stranger was better than me hitting the other parked car though!
Flash forward to this past summer, Ian made the trip by car rather than flying since he was staying for the whole summer, not just a quick visit. I didn’t drive standard all that many times freshman year and hadn’t done it since then, so I really needed to start over. After one lesson around our parking lot, we had a weekend wedding in Annapolis coming up that Ian was in. I didn’t have enough vacation time, so we planned that he would catch a ride up earlier and I would take his car up after work to meet everyone after the rehearsal dinner.
One piece of advice if you’re learning to drive stick…driving through D.C. and Maryland in rush hour traffic is not recommended! I stalled 15 times just getting out of our parking lot. I wish I was exaggerating. Amazingly I didn’t stall the rest of the trip, but I was still a nervous wreck. Somehow I managed to turn the back windshield wiper on on a sunny, 95 degree day and couldn’t turn it off, so I think the other drivers knew to just give me some space. I made it to the restaurant, handed Ian his keys while still shaking and informed him that he was now the DD for the rest of the night.
The next few practice runs were in a much more manageable empty Target parking lot. I felt like I’d gotten the hang of it and would be ready to drive on my own this winter. I was doing OK, or so I thought, until I stalled on a hill on the way to an early morning spin class last week. I struggled to get it started for a minute and noticed a burning smell. We thought everything was OK, and Ian was able to keep driving the car for the rest of the week.
I gave it another shot Monday morning since I had agreed to sub for an early morning boot camp class. I was so proud that I was able to get it started each time without revving the engine or squealing the tires. The trip is all uphill with a lot of stop lights, so this was a big accomplishment for me. As I got closer though, the gears seemed to have trouble catching and the smell was back… and it didn’t take me long to realize I’d burned out the clutch, ugh!
I tried pushing the car to a side street, but it kept rolling back down onto the main road. I’m sure it was quite a sight! Thankfully some kind soul stopped and helped me push it up onto the side street – unfortunately in a no parking zone though. Of course, I’d just grabbed my licence that morning leaving my wallet with my AAA card at home, so panic mode set in again. I first left a panicked voicemail for the CEO of the boot camp company saying I didn’t know if I’d be able to get there. Then I called my Mom – because of course calling Mom in a panic before 7 a.m. won’t cause any panic on her end either.
I told her I broke Ian’s car, couldn’t get to boot camp, couldn’t call AAA, didn’t know what to do… pretty much all in one breath and not in the calmest of voices! She told me to take a breath, leave a note on the car, go to boot camp, she’d text me the AAA number and I could have Ian meet me at the car with my AAA card after class. I might be 28, but sometimes calling Mom still makes everything better!
After leaving a note on the car in hopes of not getting a ticket, (this is Arlington, so I was lucky and just got a warning ticket even with my note) I took off running and made it to boot camp just in time. Ian, who is much calmer in these situations than I am, met me at the car after class and we were able to have the car towed to a dealer in Fairfax who replaced the clutch for us. Ian tells me it’ll be easier to learn on a new clutch, but I’m not so sure I want to drive it again. My car luck is not exactly that great, but I also don’t like giving up on things, so we’ll see.