SterlingN's Midnight Driving. The Adventures Continue...

SterlingN’s Midnight Driving
Episode 2: Herky-Jerky at the Shopping Center

Someone --I believe kellibelli– asked how do I get laied without knowing how to drive. Well, it takes a bit of deception, a good humble self-deprecating personality, and lots of money to lavish gifts. Well, that’s back in high school where I didn’t know any better. And when I had money.

Well, that’s beside the point. It’s been high time that I’ve learned to drive an actual car. That way, if I were to move to a school away from home, I wouldn’t need to worry about three days on a Greyhound. So, I’ve gone and put my life in harms way…my dad is teaching me how to drive the car. And it is a stick shift.

I’m not a complete greenhorn when it comes to driving a car. I had to drive my grandmom to the hospital in an emergency a few years back, and I am comfortable driving a normal automatic car. However since I can’t afford to rent a automatic car, and none of my friends trust me with their insurance premiums should I drive off a cliff, I must take the test with my father’s (actually my) stick shift. The state of Virginia doesn’t provide a car for DMV tests.

So this is my second lesson (let’s not talk about the first. That was an ugly, ugly day.)

Anyway, we went to this parking lot at the CrossRoads Shopping Center around 1:30am. It’s pretty expansive. Actually I think the parking lot is excessively expansive for the shopping center, but it make for a good beginners training course. Behind the stores there are long straightaways and in the parking area is pretty hilly. You can use the parking stripes as a makeshift course and there are enough actual barriers to make the course challenging. However one drawback was the fact that since they are trying to open a new store there, some construction equipment was left in the parking lot. Of course today’s lesson was how NOT to stall the car four-hundred time in the course and how to shift to 2nd gear, without crunching the gears. Today I only managed to stall 326 times so I guess that bit was sucessful. I’m still wary of the concept of simultaneously releasing the clutch and applying the gas. I either apply too much gas and speed off like a monkey on meth, or I gass too slowly and stall out.

Of course my dad became a better instructor over time. He gave me the directions before I was to perform them, unlike last time. (“I meant to tell you to go left.”) Afterwards, I managed to drive home using 2nd gear (it involves driving down Columbia Pike a four lane divided highway, and makeing a left turn over a a slight hill.) without getting us killed. All and all it was a good lesson.

You will be thankful later that you started off on a stickshift. Its a nice skill to have when there isn’t many options on what kind of car to drive. Plus, stick shift cars,in general, get better gas mileage.

I don’t know why you would want to drive away from the DC area for school, there is so many great schools there. (Mini plug for my alma mater. :))

One trick I used to help me out learning to drive stick. (I think I have mentioned this in other threads.) Engage the emergency brake while switching from clutch to gas. Doing this a few times will give you a good feel on how much pressure to give the accelerator. This is also a good beginners trick when you are stopped at a red light on an incline. It helps avoid sliding backwards.

Good Luck. I remember the first days of driving stick very well, lots of cursing and gnashing of teeth. But, once you learn you can’t understand how it could have ever been so difficult.


A minor quibble:

It’s not just the ‘emergency brake’. It’s the handbrake. It serves many purposes (okay, I can’t really recommend handbrake turns as a way of life,) hill-holding and poor-man’s limited-slip come immediately to mind. It’s certainly not just a parking brake. A parking brake is that ratcheting pedal next to the brake in my minivan. That’s not an emergency brake either - ever try to modulate braking force with a pedal that locks down?

I must also dispute hill-holding with the handbrake as a ‘beginner’s trick’. I’ve had people stop so close behind me that any rollback would have meant a scratched bumber fascia, and we just don’t do that to the Mustang. (Hi, Anthracite!)


This helped me figure out clutch vs. gas - if it clicks for you too, so much the better. Think of the clutch as the opposite of the gas - like a seesaw. When clutch goes in, gas goes off; when you ease off clutch, ease in gas. Hope that helps. (Oh, and accelerating up a hill from a dead stop - I practiced this on a deserted hill for about 4 hours to get a feel for it.)

[European Bastard] Normal cars are stick shifts, you Imperialist Pig! [/ European Bastard] :smiley:

Sissy! :wink:

Sterling, I’ll echo pricciar here. It’s a lot harder to drive a stick when you only know an auto, then the other way around. Hang in there pal, you’ll get the feel of it. One day, you’ll be a real man that drives a car.
[sub]That was a bit of sarcasm, for those who couldn’t tell.[/sub]

It’s about 25[sup]o[/sup]F outside. I’d wager that with the 5-10MPH winds the wind chill should be around 10[sup]o[/sup]F. Doesn’t that make a quarter mile job home all the more enjoyable.

This is the fifth time around the shopping center, so my father feels I’m coasting along on the memorized track. So he decides to trip me up. Practice starting up from a complete stop from a steep hill. Which means that nothing behind our car is safe. That is the one thing I hate about the stick-shift. Starting from stop while facing up on a steep hill requires a deft manuvering of three petals (clutch, accelerator, and brake) nearly simultaneously. Add to the fact that this is a “T” intersection, meaning I have to check for traffic as I turn right, and keep myself from pressing down the gas so hard I crash into a apartment building (yes the building is in the middle of a shopping center. It was there before the center was built.). Which means, that more often than not, I stalled out on the hill, and started to drift down it backwards. There’s nothing scarier than hving the engine die, and then the car start moving!

No, strike that. There is nothing scarier than losing control on your right hand side for no reason. In addition to the hill, we added the old shopping center to our course. The shopping center with the incredibly crappy pavement, and the construction crews destroying whatever smooth pavement left. There were partially removed speedbumps, ruts where underground wires used to be, stumps where light poles used to be. Removed barriers, new barriers, and newspapers strewn about. One of these things punctured my right front tire, thereby ending my lesson. Thus, I got my required exercise for the day, in the frigid night. My hands are still frozen, and this is after I spent 10 minutes starting up the computer and composing this post for the MBs.
I’m going to sleep.

You know, I completely forgot about the handbrake, dammit. I finlly got the hang of the T hill intersection as soon as my dad shut up about doing this and that and the like, which was 10 tries later.

Anyway, despite all that, I’m supposed to be doing real street tomorrow, after we retrieve the car and repair the flat. But, I’m still going to be on hill patrol.

Good luck, Sterling! This sounds like quite an adventure.

FWIW, with something like a car, I’m a big fan of mastering one set of skills at a time, rather than learning everything at once. I’d been driving an automatic for fifteen years before I learned to drive a stick - by buying one. So I wasn’t learning to drive; I was just learning shifting and clutching.

And I was doing this in Newport News, where it’s nice and flat; I was able to get the feeling of how to shift gears smoothly on the level, before having to deal with inclines. And, believe me, it’s a lot easier to get the car into first on a hill for the first time when shifting has already become second nature.

My wife learned to drive a stick by buying one too, after she’d been driving for about 10 years. She also was living in a flat place, and also she was learning on a very forgiving car, a 1986 Accord. (We’ve still got the '86, and it still shifts more sweetly than our new Accord.)

The car can make a big difference; some cars’ clutches are much more forgiving than others. My older sister tried to teach me to shift on a TR-4 many years before I bought my first stick shift; that was the wrong car to learn on. Once you know how to shift, you can drive a car with a finicky clutch, just with a little more care. But it’s damned hard to learn on one.

My only advice would be to take your driver’s test on an automatic. You should be able to rent a car for the day for $30-35 at the airport. (You can check prices online.) Then you can take your time learning to drive properly on the standard, without the fear of screwing up the driver’s license test.

Another old trick that requires a little dexterity is the heel-and-toe maneuver.

Instead of using the handbrake on a hill, which can get intimidating when you’re trying to maintain control of the vehicle, place your right foot’s heel on the brake pedal and use your toe to depress the accelerator. Although a bit tricky at first, it allows you to keep both hands on the wheel.

As a beginner, learn to feather the clutch. You’ll eat up a bit of the clutch face (replaceable), but you’ll avoid stalling the engine (very damaging). A light touch when engaging the clutch will give you a good feel for when it digs in and starts to transfer power to the drive line. If you are having trouble shifting between gears, try releasing the clutch and then depressing it again before attempting to shift into the next gear. The stick should be in neutral while clutching in and out. Sometimes it helps the synchromesh to line up for the next gear.

To echo many of the other posters here. Learn to drive a stick. You never know when you may be faced with a situation that demands it of you. A life may depend upon your ability to do so, possibly even your own.

And in a final bit of shameless mod-sucking-up-to-like activity. I agree Coldie, real cars have a full complement of pedals on the floor.

I’d advise against the heel-and-toe manoeuver, unless you’re really experienced. I have trouble executing a steep hill start that way, and usually revert to the handbrake manoeuver because I consider it safer. Just let the clutch come up at a decent amount of revs (say, 2500), and when it grips (the trunk of the car will “drop” if you see what I mean), release the handbrake. The car will pull away controlled. Unless it has heaps of horsepower, 2500 RPM seems like a good engine speed to do this. What type of car is it, Sterling?

I’m not going to go out tonight and drive; I’m too tired and it’s too cold. Higher education sucks! Tomorrow is another day.

Coldie, It’s a '93 Saturn sedan that I was happy to be able to get for just over a grand three years ago. It doesn’t suck as much as I’d expect a eight year old Saturn. The only problem I have with it is that the automatic seatbelts stopped being automatic.
But it was one of the few cars in my price range that had both power steering and brakes.

I went out driving today on actual roads (still in the middle of the night, though). I’m just amazed on how nothing happened. No flat tires. No crashes into stationary objects. Not even being pulled over for DWB.

All I can do is describe my course. Using Columbia Pike and Seminary Road as thoughofares, and driving in the neighborhood streets of Lacy Blvd., North Chambliss Street, Dawes Avenue, Fillmore, Stevens, and Echols Streets as my course we drove around a few times. I had to deal with the occasional car coming from behind and to my side, but that was it.

In fact my biggest mistake was probably forgetting to check my blind spot when changing lanes, a mistake many real drivers do every single day in this city.
I got the vehicle up into 4th gear (of 5).

That’s all I have.

Sterling, I’d recommend going somewhere deserted, alone, and just sit, engine running, working the clutch. Acquire a feel, through ONLY the pad of your foot, where the clutch face touches the flywheel. A slight tug, tiny dip in RPM of the engine, you can feel it. Memorize that spot. Get to feeling that spot, so you know where it is. It’ll help with disengagement if you know where the clutch will engage.

And do steep hill practice. Not just starting out, but also sitting without using the brake. Stop on the hill using your brakes, ease the clutch out until you feel the point I talked about earlier. When you hit that point, slide out until you feel the clutch start to grab, and right then, slide from the brake to the gas pedal and give it just enough that it doesn’t stall, but not so much that you move. It’ll take practice, but a good driver can sit on a steep hill without using his brakes.

Handbrake spins are fun, fun, fun, but wear the shoe, and you don’t want to get under that car and tighten the cable, nor do you want bald spots on the tires, so go easy. Also, keep your handbrake in good shape for parking. ALWAYS use it to park! This brings us to the steep hill practice. Let’s say that you do lots of handbrake turns, or the shoe is bad, or the cable is slack, or whatever. What to do? Well, if you’re trained to use the hbrake for steep hills, you’re screwed. Practice sitting on hills just using clutch-gas. It’s worth it.

Parking on hills: Remember, 1st makes it easy to go forward, R makes it easy to go back. Put the gear in the direction you don’t want to go. Downhill? Put it in R. Uphill? Put it in 1st.

Rabbit jumps: This’ll be short. These are funny as hell on an old, beat up, FWD, underpowered 5 speed. Gun it, dump clutch. Gun it, dump clutch. Very harmful, but very funny. Don’t do it. :wink: Dad’s Geo Metro died a quick death from me doin this constantly. “But it’s FUNNY!” is not a good argument against a fuming dad.



None of my business, but by DWB do you mean “Driving While Black”? If so, then I am in awe of your humor in the choosing of your screen name. “Rascal” is one of my all time favorite childhood books. I have a copy of it on my shelf in the next room. You realize, of course, that I had to ask this?


I second this.

Maybe if you’re in a warm climate. Ever since the night I came back to my pickup on US 50 near the Blue Ridge and found that the handbrake was frozen in the braked position, in cold weather I’m careful to not use the handbrake.

Leaving it in gear when you turn off the engine should suffice, anyway.