Small Talk

Hands at 10 and 2

Driving.  Rather like the word “snow,” in the Eskimo language, driving takes on a host of meanings over a lifetime. And takes on yet another with the advent of the driverless car.

For many, the earliest memories define it as your half of the back seat where you are stuck with a full bladder for hours, driving from one vacation spot to another. As one’s 16th birthday approaches, it means freedom.

At the time, I assumed it meant freedom forever. Ha! After dropping off one child, picking up another, driving their friends home and running a dozen errands, I realized that freedom flows uphill.

At first, however, I was too busy happily cruising the local Taco Bell in my Rambler station wagon.  Oh yeah.

I was so far from cool, and didn’t care. I had wheels and realized that if you’re behind the wheel, you are too busy to get carsick.  Now that was freedom.

I next graduated to a smaller, and by default, sportier car.

It had to be small enough to park in the tiniest spot on campus, cheap enough to get 40 mpg and must possess the ability to be started by two fraternity guys and a slightly sloping hill.  It meant a stick shift, baby, four-on-the-floor. Ah, to be 20-something and have a manual shift.  We could have papered the bathroom with our speeding tickets, but we had fahrvergnugen ‘till heck wouldn’t have it.

Unless you live in Maine or Montana, however, that thrill doesn’t last.  Once you hit the commute-to-work-on-a-crowded-freeway stage of life, driving takes on yet another meaning. The stick shift swiftly turned into a thrash and for many of us, remains ever thus. Before you unloaded your manual transmission, every traffic jam left you with a sore arm, a burned-out clutch and the feeling that you had pedaled the whole way.

From that moment on, driving meant work.  I still want power everything and automatic everything.  As I idly tuned in to a radio car talk show recently, I heard a young stock-car racer remark with fervor, “With a stick, you drive the car.  With an automatic, the car drives you.”  Well, I wish!

Oh sure, it’s coming, but darling, until they work out all the bugs, I’m still stuck behind that wheel. But at least I’m not driving a stick uphill in traffic. Perspective is everything.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who is very fond of her keyless, shiftless, personality-free car. Contact her at