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bella just bought her first car.

where to begin?

i guess with the obvious. it is a 95 volvo sedan.

now for the less obvious. it is a 5-speed manual transmission. yes, bella can drive a stick. i taught her when she was thirteen. i taught alex when he turned thirteen too. and when anthony turns, thirteen, i will teach him as well.

i truly wanted a volvo wagon, 2-series ideally, but finding late-model stick-shifts for reasonably coveted, run-forever volvos is a frenetic business. most advice suggests you be ready to travel to other states if you seriously want one. people with freshly turned sixteen year olds (and younger siblings) tend to not have that kind of time on their hands. further, i couldn't really pin down why i was so fixated on this car. i suspected that it was connected to the fact that my first car was a volvo wagon, a beige 76 that had seen some action by the time it came my way. but it wasn't just that. the few times i've had station-wagons i liked them for their ever-ready versatility.

and, bella's car popped up on craigslist less than two miles from our house. i sent the guy an email and he called back within the hour. he had parked the car near an auto show, hoping to get some attention, and offered to drive over there with me for a test drive. i picked him up at his house and we drove to the car together. on the way over i learned he bought the car about seven years prior for his daughter who drove it all through high school and college. his daughter just graduated college and was moving east for her first job, teaching high school english. obviously i liked the history of the car immediately.

as you'd imagine the car has its bumps and stains. i'd want nothing more for my child's first car. i've always marveled at kids who get these brand new sports cars out of the gate. my feelings on it were mixed but i liked what marty said on it once after seeing a high school kid shoot by in a $60k mercedes, "what will that boy aspire or look forward to?". marty always knows just what to say.

and marty and i come from families that definitely believed in leaving room to upgrade. i'm not sure which of us had it worse but since marty drove a car with an 8-track and am-only radio, i'm thinking she wins. the kids in her family later got a car that most people were surprised would even start but she was the happiest girl in the zip code because the car had a working tape deck. life's riches.

let's swing back to the stick-shift. as i said, i taught bella to drive a stick, my car, when she was thirteen. i taught her how to do it in less than ten minutes. i also taught alex when he was thirteen. he was driving laps in the parking lot in less than ten minutes as well. the trick is to start them in reverse and then move to going forward--for the gearing in reverse is far more forgiving than first or even second gear. i've always enjoyed stick shifts and thought them to provide a richer driving experience than automatics. i have never owned an automatic as my personal car (marty has had them but knows how to drive a stick too).

when people learned that i was pushing for a manual for bella, many asked why, and many folks asked in a somewhat derisive manner. as an obsessive over-thinker of all things, i had my reasons.

they were, in order of importance to me:
  • it is harder to text or dick around with a phone when you have to mess with switching gears.
  • new drivers tend to be hard on automatic transmissions. to be clear, lots of seasoned drivers are hard on automatic transmissions. fact is, if you haven't had to repair or pay to replace one, odds are you are not kind to them. a clutch is a far less severe thing to replace than a car's transmission. in example, when switching from reverse to drive or drive to reverse, it is kind to let the car come to a complete stop before forcing the the change in direction. if you watch how lots of drivers handle that manuever though, they tend to make the switch while the car is still in motion.
  • your car is less likely to get stolen because most people don't know how to drive a stick.
  • akin to the above, you can't rely on someone else driving your car, say home from a party, because they can't drive your car so you best keep your wits about you when you're out.
  • when you are away at college, people won't be able to borrow your car. (the man i bought bella's car from said his daughter had reported this as a great advantage when she was away at school as lots of kids don't have cars and are always looking to borrow one from someone who does).
  • manuals offer better handling in bad weather, namely snow and ice.
as the saying goes, some people live to eat and some eat to live. i think our relationship with cars is similar. some people drive their cars to go places and some go places so they can drive their car. as a guy who could go a month without touching his car out of need, i kinda fall into that second camp. but even when i did routinely need my car i held the middle-ground belief that if you gotta drive, you might as well make the most out of the experience.

MAY2017

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