My daughter just got her first car. It’s a 2003 VW Jetta GLS. Navy blue. Stick shift. She graduated from college in June, and started her job a couple weeks ago, which set in motion the need for her own set of wheels. She found the car through family and bought it herself. Thankfully, dad gets to help her learn to drive it. There’s something about learning to drive a stick.
She’d spent the week living with family friends closer to work, so I picked up the car from its owner, and got it registered and inspected. She came home last night and we took it for a spin. She’d practiced a little already on her aunt’s car.
As we drove together, I found myself thinking about metaphors and the ideas of energy, momentum, autonomy, and the shifting of gears.
There’s something beautiful about a manual transmission. Something raw and basic and powerful. It connects the driver to the car, to the street and to the journey in a way that an automatic transmission just can’t. Like so many technological advances, an automatic transmission may make things easier, but not necessarily better. Definitely not more enjoyable. Not as rich.
“Clutch in, neutral.” “OK, first gear, gas, gas – GAS!” “No problem, back to neutral, start it up again.” “Great. Now second gear – straight down.” “Third now, when the tach gets closer to 4000 rpm.” “5th is your highway gear.” “Awesome.”
Different gears allow for travel at different speeds, and allow us to adapt to different circumstances – hills, curves, traffic. Gas provides the energy, and is never more important than when we need to just get moving. Energy gets us going. And once moving, it’s just a question of choosing the right gear. The clutch enables the transition. A physical embodiment of initiative, and sometimes, an instrument of indecision. But when we master the clutch, when we learn to move smoothly up and down through the gears, when we just allow ourselves to feel the car and let our arms and legs and eyes work as they should, the driving becomes effortless and the sights and sounds of the drive are fully realized. We lose our “self” in the process.
And when the moment of insight hits, when we realize something transcendent about an experience, it’s usually because we get past the mechanics of it all, and allow ourselves to just be with what it is, whatever that IS – be it sailboat racing, exercise, reading or just breathing. When we relax into what it is, the space deepens, it gets simple; we’re in the process.
“Out in the woods
Or in the city
It’s all the same to me
When I’m drivin’ free
The world’s my home
When I’m mobile”
~ The Who
At one point last night Brett realized that if she wasn’t anticipating changing speeds soon – that is, not expecting to go faster or slower, she could just take her foot off the clutch, relax and enjoy the spaciousness of the drive at night, with her dad, sunroof open through the Point Road woods on a Friday night. From the passenger seat I watched her in profile. I felt her ease with which she began to find mastery, and the mystery in the driving. The satisfaction in a new set of wheels and all that it represents. Side by side, a dad and his daughter. Driving around on a summer night enjoying the ride.