On Traffic and Driving Stick


When I’m asked how I drive a stick shift in congested, traffic-laden Los Angeles, I respond with the fact that having a manual is actually the only way I could deal with that traffic effectively. I don’t think it’s ironic; I just think people don’t really know what they’re talking about. Probably 90% of the cars in Europe are manual – you don’t think they have bigger traffic problems in even smaller streets than we do?

If you just stay in the proper gear and coast, you press the brake pedal a lot less times than in an automatic because the gear just slows you down. So it saves you brakepad wear and it’s more fuel efficient – plus, you have more control over your accelerations. To me, nothing is more frustrating in traffic than a slushbox. I don’t really care that I have a clutch to depress with my other foot – it’s as much a part of accelerating and decelerating as the gas pedal. It makes me feel as if driving were an activity, a skill to improve upon. Though I was tempted by the new technology that is, for instance, DSG or other transmissions that shift faster than a human ever could, I am not excited by paddle shifters. I get excited actually rowing through the gears. After all, if I can avoid being a robot inside my metal pod, I’ll take my chances.

I was on Facebook chat with an old friend from grade-to-high school and she asked me how I could fit anything in my Mini. See, there is plenty of room in Wisconsin and far less parallel parking to worry about (Can I just brag about the number of times I’ve fit into spots no one else could? It’s awesome.). The city is my context. And I don’t need a lot of carrying space as long as – *ahem* – I’m mooching rides from fellow snowboarding friends with their 4×4 vehicles to Mammoth during the winter. The Mini is great. Plus, I’ll pick any of them up and drive them around with the top down, any time they ask. Commuting in all forms is a team effort.

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The Amalfi Coast Was Toast

Our Fiat Panda

 By the time we picked up our little Fiat Panda from the rental car place in Naples, I had heard about the fabled drive along the Amalfi Coast. A week prior in fact, a client had tried to convince me not to drive. After telling me of a couple horror stories of his own (from his tour bus), he finished with, “If I scared you, then I’ve sufficiently got my point across.” One lane wide streets shared with tour buses, hanging cliffs dropping off to the sea, hairpin turns opposite locals on scooters, blind tunnels with drivers paying no mind to the lane paint. He told me, “Stop signs are ignored and stop lights are merely a suggestion to Italians, e*star.”

I thanked him politely for the warnings–and made no cancellations to the car reservation. The beautiful views of the sea and having the leisure of our own timeline and itinerary made me stubborn. I was determined.

Besides, I knew my days dabbling in canyon carving hadn’t gone completely to waste. If one knew the basics of driving physics, how could she go wrong?

The Amalfi Coast was toast.

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