Changing gears

I drove a bus when I was 16 years old. That’s right – a school bus.

Mind you, I wasn’t the bus driver who picked kids up along a 10-mile route every morning and drove them home every afternoon. I was the kid who drove the French class over to the high school in the next county because our school no longer had a foreign language teacher. (And yes, we took French, not Spanish … I have no idea.)

Anyway, that’s one of several proofs that I learned very early to do things that most kids these days don’t have a chance to learn. I knew how to change gears manually right away as a new driver. And, by the way, if you’ve never been a gear-changer, you don’t know what you’re missing! (This really is off-topic, but I also learned how to parallel park – and do it well. My dad installed two poles in our yard and I practiced parallel parking between them with his Ford F-150. Like a champ. And I can still whip it in there in one smooth move.)

There’s a certain art to changing gears manually. You have to learn to catch all the cues your car gives that it’s time to change – the readings, the sounds, the feel … Then there’s the coordination of your hand and foot. Your right hand and both feet, really. In those moments, you are in sync with your machine. Automatic gears bypass all that visceral connection. Shame, isn’t it? gears

(Another off-topic comment: the only time I drove a manual car and wished desperately for an automatic was when, at the tender age of 21, I spent three weeks in England with my cousin during which time we rented a car for a Saturday night outing in London. Shifting with my left hand and operating both feet and a steering wheel from what I knew as the passenger side was a real challenge. I managed it, but wow …)

Sometimes, I think having learned to pick up sensory clues about the right time to change gears in driving may help us know how to tune in to the cues for timing changes in life. [Disclaimer: this has not always been evident. I have demonstrated rotten timing in my life. Burned out a few proverbial clutches, if you know what I mean.] But, if we really tune in, I think we can see, hear, and feel the signs that it’s time.

Three signs that you are changing gears at the wrong time:
1. You move ahead before finishing what you started
You immediately notice that the vehicle is not moving forward and may actually shut down. This means you may have thrown things into high gear way too soon. Go back into the lower gear and regroup. Spend some more time at each level. Be more thorough and less anxious.

2. You aren’t living up to your potential
Your engine is screaming and other drivers are shaking their heads as they drive past you. Please, go into the next gear. There are at least five of them, you know. You’re really missing out if you never open up past third gear. You don’t necessarily have to move fast to get somewhere. But don’t put yourself in a position to always be passed, either.

3. You sabotage the process
Hear that terrible sound of stripping gears? That’s you, forgetting to push in the clutch while you change gears. The clutch protects your transmission while the gears are changing – if you engage it. If you choose to change gears without it, then you’ll ruin your transmission. That means you won’t be able to move. Think of prayer as your clutch during those times when you sense it’s time to change gears.

Come on, let’s go for a ride! Bon voyage!