Ross gave me his old truck while he was home during his leave between finishing his two years of nuclear power school and reporting to his submarine in Norfolk. There were several things wrong with it, notably faulty steering (needed a new gear box), no rear brakes (uhhhh!!!), and a radiator in need of replacement. I turned the truck over to my cousin and his mighty mechanic, Peewee, who does all the work on my vehicles, while I worked on the registration, insurance, and license plate. Yesterday, it was done–all fixed, all legal, all inspection stickered up, so Weston and I went to pick it up. He drove my Explorer home while I drove the truck.
I anticipated that the most dangerous part of this operation would be that I was letting Weston drive my Explorer. I had temporarily forgotten that the truck is a manual. My first car was a stick shift. It was a Toyota Tercel. Blue. Little. Brand new. It looked so cute on the car lot in Orange, California. I was 17 years old. My dad bought the car for me. We (or mostly he) picked it out, he wrote a fat check, then he told the car salesman to show me how to operate a stick shift and he went home.
HE WENT HOME.
You didn’t miss the part about Orange, California, did you? As in, Orange County, California. In case you don’t know, this is a highly congested area with wide avenues of six or seven lanes, complex interstates, and fast drivers.
The car salesman put me at the wheel, took me around the lot, instructed me on shifting gears, and said, bye, moving on to his next customer.
Getting home that day was one of the most terrifying drives of my life.
I kept that car for six or seven years. My next car was an automatic transmission and I’ve never looked back. Of course, I became quite adept and accustomed to driving a stick shift while I had that car, but that was a long time ago. Yesterday, I got behind the wheel of Ross’s old pickup and remembered that it was a stick shift. I knew there was some “trick” to starting it, but I couldn’t quite put the whole picture together and finally had to go get my cousin. Like my dad abandoning me at the car lot, he’d simply handed over the keys and gone back to his easy chair.
After he re-taught me how to start a vehicle with a manual transmission, I was ready to roll. There are two ways to get home from my cousin’s house–one involves getting on the two-lane state highway for most of the way and the other way is a shorter but slower back roads route. I decided I should really take me and my rusty stick shift skills in the less-trafficked direction, and besides, did I really want Weston driving my Explorer on the two-lane highway? So we set off, Weston driving behind me. I was feeling it. I was driving a truck! With “REDNECK” emblazoned on the back window! I’m a farmer now! I was shifting gears, drawing out my long-lost manual transmission skills. This was fun! I could hardly wait to go to the little store to pick up feed or fencing supplies IN MY TRUCK!
Then, oh yes, THEN I got to this funky intersection about halfway to my farm. It’s a four-way intersection of two very rural one-lane roads. This would all be perfectly fine except that the four directions of the intersection are not evenly spaced. The turn I have to make here is very tight, like doing a jack knife. I’m accustomed to making this turn in my Explorer, but the truck is a little bigger, a little longer, and handles differently. I didn’t make the turn tight enough. If you don’t make the turn tight enough, you have to go for a three-point turn. This requires going in reverse.
Did I mention that on one side of this four-way intersection, there is a steep drop-off with no guard rails? And on the other side, there is a steep cliff going up, with a ditch between the road and the cliff? I was in the middle of the intersecton facing the cliff going up and the ditch. Behind me was the steep drop-off. I tried to shift into reverse.
The truck moved forward.
I tried to shift into reverse again.
The truck moved forward.
I was so close to the ditch at this point, I knew that if I made one more mistake shifting into reverse, the truck was going to nose straight into the ditch, or the cliff, or both.
I knew where reverse was, I just couldn’t shift into it for some reason and by this time, I’d lost confidence and was scared of going into the ditch, from which I would have to be pulled out.
Weston pulled over and parked. “You should call Ross,” he said. “Ross would know if there’s something weird about shifting into reverse. It was his truck.”
Me: “ROSS IS EIGHT HOURS AWAY. I DON’T CARE WHAT HE HAS TO SAY ABOUT SHIFTING INTO REVERSE.” I was in a slight panic. “I NEED A PERSON!!!! RIGHT HERE!!!!” I called my cousin on my cell phone.
I sat in the intersection with my foot on the brake, not sure how to safely turn off the truck because every time I tried to take my foot off the brake, it inched forward even though I was in neutral and had engaged the emergency brake. I worked on finding my favorite radio station, learning how to turn on the lights, and finding the window washers. It took me five minutes to figure out how to turn off the window washers once I got them on.
My cousin arrived, told me how to turn it off properly, told me to get in his car, and drove the truck on to my farm.
Whereupon it shall not move again EVER.