Cabin Confessions: Chicks with Sticks (and How They Learned to Command Them!)

A Girls Guide To Cars | Cabin Confessions: Chicks With Sticks (And How They Learned To Command Them!) - Img 2660

Not long ago, Kim-Marie Evans discovered a little-known parking valet secret: girls who drive stick shifts walk away from the valet with the fellows watching and nodding their heads. In respect. That she can drive a stick.

She found this out recently when she valet parked her Jeep Wrangler at a Ritz Carlton. When she returned for her car, the valets were so impressed they high-fived her. Nothing sends you off on a cloud of ego-boost like a valet staff that is impressed with your choice and mastery of a car.

When you drive into a valet with a manual car, it gets babied, treated gently, parked up front, and you’re remmbered not for your skirt length but for your car. When you return, you’re greeted warmly, like you’re one of the club. Because you are. (And in my case, they know it’s not my husband’s car: the pink umbrella and pink phone charger cord give it away.)

We wondered how many other women have memorable experiences with driving a stick. So we asked. Here are some funny and wonderful stories, and some memories of how we got over the humbling experience of learning to drive a stick, which even for the mechanically inclined, is a challenge. If you’d like to add your story, please leave it in the comment box below!

Judy Antell: 
In my family, I am referred to as ‘how did she ever get her license?’ even though, by the way, I have a clean driving record. I learned to drive a stick when my husband taught me how to drive his Toyota Supra. Soon after, we went on vacation to Tortola with his family. To get around, we rented Jeeps, which came with manual transmissions. My three brothers-in-law all drive cars with automatic transmission, and had trouble with the Jeeps; they were sliding down the mountain. We had to take turns driving their cars up the road for them; they were quite impressed that I could drive the Jeep.

I kept my opinion of their driving skills to myself.

Heather Bassett Barnard:
My dad knew how to raise a strong girl. I learned how to sand wood, fill nail holes, paint, hammer a nail, build a doghouse, wash a car and tell time on an analogue watch. Another thing he taught me was how to drive a manual transmission.

Every 16-year-old dreams of getting his or her drivers license, jumping in the car and exploring newfound independence.  For some, it’s easy– taking Drivers Ed and heading to the Department of Motor Vehicles for the test.  Mom and/or dad hop in the car with their eager teenager and off they go. But my dad had other plans.

When I turned 16 and had my learner’s permit in hand, I was able to by my car. But I didn’t choose a car, I chose a truck. And I didn’t choose an automatic, I chose a manual, because let’s face it, at the time, it was way cool for a chick to be able to drive a stick. So there I was, my new truck and me. Now what? We’d head to the DMV in an automatic car so I could at least get my license, and then we’d figure out this whole manual thing, right?  Nope. My dad made it very clear that I would take my driving test IN the truck I would be driving. Sigh. Little did I know how freaking hard it was going to be to learn to drive my new pride and joy. Hop in and drive away like an automatic? Nope, not so much.

But what an amazing amount of patience my father had. He spent hours with me, driving around our neighborhood in my truck. I stalled at what seemed like every stop, failed at every hill (oh yeah, did I mentioned we lived on a hill?), waved to the poor drivers stuck behind me while I tried to ease into gear and through it all, my dad kept cool and determined…he knew I’d learn this, too.

Eventually, I did learn, as we all do who attempt it. And yes, it always shocked guys over the next nine years of owning that truck, that I knew how to drive a stick and that I was a truck girl at that.
Img 2668Two hands and feet: Manual transmission demands multitasking
Fadra Nally:
In the summer of 1990, I had two choices: stay on campus for another summer with no means of transportation, or take possession of my brother’s new Mazda 323 hatchback while he spent the summer in Russia. Seemed like a no-brainer, but there was a catch. His car had a manual transmission.

Luckily, I had a boyfriend who was well-versed in driving a stick shift and helped me practice just enough to get me going. While the summer was a little stop and go (literally – I panicked at a traffic light while stopped on a hill, shed a few tears, and let my boyfriend take over the driving), it’s a skill I’ve never forgotten that has come in handy more times that I can count. Plus, guys think it’s cool when a chick can drive a stick.

Amanda Topinka:
Growing up, I lived with my Dad. I was his only child (and a girl) so he was INCREDIBLY strict. But he also wanted me to learn the obvious necessities of owning a vehicle: check the oil, change a tire, jump start a car, etc. But he also felt I should know how to drive a stick shift. So a few months after my 16th birthday, my dad decided it was time I take my first lesson. He put the truck in reverse, told me which pedals to use, and told me to go. I barely made it 15 feet before I ran into the garage in tears.

We took a break for a few weeks before we tried one last time. This time he drove to a dirt road and we switched places. I managed to get about a quarter of a block when I just couldn’t take him nagging at me anymore. I freaked out, threw my hands up in the air and started screaming like a banshee. I yelled that “I was done and NEVER want to learn to drive a stick shift again!” He grabbed the keys out of the ignition and that was it. He never tried to teach me again. And I have yet to know how to drive a stick shift. Which, now that I think about it, that may be the reason my husband bought a manual truck. He knows I won’t be able to borrow it…

Megy Karydes: 
My boyfriend, on a Wednesday, quit his job and called me mid-day to ask me to take the next week off so we could go skiing in Vail. He had just purchased a new Volkswagen Golf and wanted to take it for a long drive (we were in Chicago). It was a stick shift and up until that moment, I had never d
riven a stick shift. We were in our early 20s, no responsibilities other than our jobs (well, at that point just one of us had a job, I guess). My boss looked at me strangely when I asked if I could take the next week off but she allowed it so I ran home, packed our bags and were ready to leave bright and early the next morning–no hotel reservations or idea what we were going to do.

Since the drive was long, and we were passing some dull terrain, my boyfriend thought this was the perfect time to teach me how to drive stick shift—on the highway. We exited the expressway so I could get my bearings, I killed it a few times on the entrance ramp but we got moving and, sure enough, I begin driving a stick shift on the highway through Nebraska. All was well, so my boyfriend decided we were in good hands so he took a nap while I drove. Then I started screaming. The car in front of us had a mattress on the roof, and it began to fly up in the air in front of us!

Not knowing how to properly change gears, I swerved out of the lane so as not to get nailed by the flying mattress. My boyfriend woke up and directed me to the emergency lane where I promptly killed the engine again. But at least we were safe.

But not to be undone, I started the car, slowly put the gear into place and drove back on the highway. Because that’s how we roll.

We made it into Vail where I took my first ski lesson–it was a week of many firsts. Oh and the boyfriend? He must have liked my driving. He married me.

Deb Steenhagen:
When I was growing up, my mom’s car was a stick shift. My brother and I learned how to shift gears by sitting in the front passenger seat and shifting for her if she had something in her right hand (such as an ice cream cone!). Maybe not exactly the safest situation, but back in the 1970’s and early 80’s, we didn’t think anything of it!

When it came time for me to take driver’s training, I knew I’d have to learn to drive a stick shift since that was still the only car we had at home for me to practice with. Knowing that, once I’d started the training class, my mom let me drive her car down our street to park at home one day. I knew how to shift from those previous ice cream cone days, and she explained how the clutch worked and that you had to push down on it whenever shifting from one gear to the next. However, she forgot to mention that the clutch would also have to be pressed when using the brake to stop the car. I proudly shifted from first to second gear – to third gear, and drove down our street. I even downshifted as I turned into the driveway and came to what I thought would be a beautiful stop in front of the garage. The car had other ideas though, and bucked forward when I failed to push the clutch along with the brake – putting a very large dent into our garage door.

I did successfully learn how to drive a stick shift – and drove solely manual transmission cars for many years afterward. However, I never did live down the dent in the garage door!

Jenny Lin:
I learned to drive on a stick shift and have always been proud of that. In fact, I prefer stick because of the feeling of control it gives me. When I moved to China I discovered that driving a stick gives you more than pride: It gives you the option to choose the type of car you drive. Drivers licenses there are specific about the transmission you can drive. If you learned on automatic your license says you cannot drive stick. Of course, if you learned on a stick you can drive both.

Elizabeth Rogers:
When I was 16 years old we lived in Los Angeles, CA. I needed a car, so my dad offered me my brother’s old car, a fairly new Honda Accord with a stick shift.  Once I knew how to drive it, it would be mine.

I struggled. Couldn’t get the timing right. Stalled and jerked a lot. I suffered with the car in the driveway.

Then, one night I had a dream  I dreamed that I was driving the Honda perfectly, fluidly — like I was born to drive.

Upon awakening, I ran out of the house, barefoot and in my pajamas and got into the car and sure enough, I could drive as well as I did in my dream.

Pre-cognition? Perhaps. A priceless skill? Positively!

Scotty Reiss
When I was a teenager my parents had two cars: an ice-blue Pontiac Catalina station wagon, and an MG Midget sports car (also blue). I learned to drive the Pontiac, and like most teens, the moment I got my license I wanted nothing more than to be behind the wheel, free and in control of my destiny, even if it was just a trip to the corner store for a Slurpee with my two younger brothers.

But I had to compete with my mom for the Pontiac. Then came that beautiful summer Saturday when my friends invited me to a pool party, but I had to get myself there. And mom had the car. Dad was home that day, with a schedule full of things he wanted to do around the house, so he could’t drive me, he said. Looking out at his cute little car in the driveway, he made an offer that stung: You can take my car if you can drive it.

I don’t think he thought I’d take the bait. But I did.

I asked him to show me again how to drive it. So he stopped what he was doing, we hopped into the MG and sped off for the closest church parking lot, where we switched places. He let me lurch and jerk the poor car around the parking lot until I got the hang of it; he taught me how to downshift, to pop the shifter into neutral when approaching a stop, and how listen to the car’s engine (or watch the tachometer) to know when to shift to the next gear. When he thought I had it down, he let me drive him home. Satisfied, he hopped out, I turned the car around, and tentatively lurched out into traffic on my own. There might have been another lurch or two, but soon I was zipping along, sun on my face and the wind whipping my hair, feeling truly free and in charge of my own destiny.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss