I think I've mentioned a few times before what my opinions are on driving and cars. I have never much liked either. I mean, OK, I can appreciate a fine vehicle, a classic car, a great piece of engineering, a true example of high quality workmanship. I can get romantically nostalgic when I see an original Mini or an Austin Healey Sprite, or even a Morris Minor convertible, with visions of the open road, summer holidays, picnics and such like. But the reality is that cars and driving are seldom, if ever, like that. They are an expensive yet somehow necessary evil. The way society is designed these days means that a person more or less needs a car right off the bat. Having a car gives you flexibility, options. It means you can travel further afield which widens the scope of your job possibilities. Never mind the fact that cars pollute the atmosphere, need constant upkeep and fuel, and have turned us all into lazy fat bastards that never exercise.
So here I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. Because as I think you can probably tell, if I could go the rest of my life without having to get behind the wheel, I would. But the reality is that since nobody else in my house drives, I am pretty much going to have to. It'd be nice to be able to drive somewhere from time to time without having to look at bus schedules or to cadge a lift off someone. So I am resigned to it.
I drove in the States, of course, but that didn't mean I enjoyed it. I probably would have enjoyed it if it hadn't been for all those factors I mentioned above, plus the other added annoyances like other road users, and the cops, who seemed to swarm onto previously empty roads as soon as I pulled out. Talk about feeling paranoid.
My American licence expired a short while before I moved here to the UK. If it had still been current, I probably would have been able to get a British licence without having to do very much. However, I am going to have to take the entire test... theory and all. Gah.
So it was that I found myself behind the wheel of a driving instructor's Peugeot the other night, remembering just what it was that really pissed me off about driving.
I learned on a stick. I know how to change gears, but I would just as soon not do it, thank you. I drove automatics for the last ten or eleven years, and got used to it, and quite frankly, I don't even know why car manufacturers decided to keep making manuals as soon as they invented an automatic. What exactly is so appealing about having to move your left foot up and down on a pedal and wiggle a metal stick with a knob on the end of it, might I ask?
It seems there are a large proportion of people (guys, mostly, but some women too) that are fiercely pro-manual, anti-auto. I had a woman say to me the other day that she preferred her manual tranny car for going round little back roads. I am sorry, but I've driven automatic transmissions on several cars, ranging from a Corolla to a RAV4 to a fucking great bastard Suburban and a Chrysler minivan and I've driven them on all kinds of terrain, from freeways and back roads to four-lane highways and dirt tracks, in all kinds of traffic, from stop-and-go traffic to bombing along the freeway, and never once thought to myself, "Man... I sure wish I was changing gear right now." Surely the whole idea behind a car that changes gear automatically is so the driver does not have to? Or am I way off base here? Surely having the ability to keep both hands on the wheel at all times makes the car safer?
While driving the other night, I found that while changing gear is something that I fell right back into, I was told by the instructor that I used the clutch too much, that I should only step on it when I absolutely needed to, and not to coast, because apparently the UK's Driving Standards Authority, the guys that do the testing, say that when you've got the foot on the clutch, that means the car is not in control. Even if you have both hands on the wheel, even if you are braking, if your foot is on the clutch, you are out of control. So I said "That's why I like automatics!"
All I really want to do is to be able to drive safely on the road, but I have no intention of driving a manual car after I pass my test. I'd far rather drive around for a few hours in an automatic just to get the feel of driving on the wrong side of the road than relearn driving a manual tranny. Apparently if I took my test in an automatic and passed, that would mean I could only ever drive automatics. To that I say - what's the problem? Just put it in Drive and go, buddy, go.