Journal entry: June 1, 1988 (age 19)
The honks were getting louder. I yanked the emergency brake and got out of the car. I hustled back toward the coupe idling behind me. As its bewildered and annoyed driver unrolled his window, I sputtered, “Really sorry! I’m just learning how to drive standard, and I can’t get the car started on this incline.” I ran on to the next car in a growing line to repeat the same and lame apology. Soon, nearly a dozen travelers unlucky enough to be trying to cross Main Street in Binghamton via Glenwood Avenue were now regretting their choice of routes.
I should have foreseen this predicament as soon as I returned to my summer job. With my freshman year at SUNY Oswego behind me, I was back to drive deliveries for Crone’s Supe-Rx Drug Store in the lovable but hiccupping heap I referred to as “the Cronesmobile.” But during my time away at school, the owner of Crone’s, Dave Goodwin, had decided to replace the company car with a slightly less-used one. The replacement was an improvement in all ways but one – it lacked an automatic transmission.
I needed the job, so I told Dave, “Of course I know how to drive stick!” That weekend, my dad gave me a literal crash course in a parking lot. But most of the learning has been done on-the-job. Over the past week, I’ve gotten the hang of most of the intricate, clutch-pumping dance moves, but going into first on an incline has proven a difficult gear to grind. I can usually do it, but not without rolling backwards about 5 feet. This becomes a problem when those 5 feet are occupied by, say, a Lincoln Continental. Our store is located on Riverside Drive, and many of the streets off the drive intersect it at a steep angle. On two occasions, I have had to ask a car behind me to back up, so that I wouldn’t destroy his grill.
But today was the first time I’d “run into” this problem with more than one car behind me. As I climbed back into the Cronesmobile II on Glenwood Avenue, I started to panic. I had explained the situation to the snaking line of cars behind me, but I had no way of resolving it. On the car radio, Eric Carmen was mocking me with his omnipresent hit “Make Me Lose Control.” Finally, a benevolent trucker strode up to my window. After a few minutes of trying to talk me through a gear shift I had no intention of making, he made a brilliant suggestion. “Why don’t you let me drive the car half a block, and get you past the incline?”
In a matter of milliseconds, I had leapt out of my employer’s car and handed the keys to a complete stranger. Then I stood on the side of the road and waved weakly at the now unbottled traffic. I mouthed the word “sorry” and pointed to my small brain as each car passed. As the Samaritan trucker trotted past on his way back to his truck, he threw me the keys and yelled “Stick to the non-sticks!”
Tim Mollen is a nationally syndicated writer and actor. To contact him or read more of his work, visit www.timmollen.com.