Life Lessons from Driving a Manual Transmission

As a New Yorker, there are certain things I know a lot about:  where to get the best Pastrami Sandwich (Katz’s Deli), what little known museum is worth a visit (The Museum of the Moving Image), how to tell who is on their Bluetooth, and who is a crazy person, talking to themselves as they walk down the street. (Lifelong New Yorker’s instinct.)  There are also things – things which most Americans take for granted, that I know virtually nothing about: Wal Mart (we don’t have one in Manhattan), sweatsuits (We don’t wear them), and cars (we don’t drive them.)  So imagine my surprise when the kind folks at Toyota invited me to the lovely Ponte Vedra Inn and Club in Jacksonville, Florida for their press preview of the newly designed 2015 Camry, Sienna and Yaris.

2015 toyota

I did not fit in.  Most of the attendees were serious gear heads, extolling the virtues of the Camry’s brilliant move of the HVAC controls 3.5 inches to the left, debating 4 vs 6 cylinder engines, and generally sounding to  me like they were saying “Mumbo Jumbo torque, Mumbo Jumbo welding point, mumbo mumbo mumbo.”  I’m sure they were thrilled to see my blank, uncomprehending face In the crowd. Perhaps they’d read about how I just recently bought a car for the first time.  Or about how I realized that I was actually attached to my old car – who knew?  Or maybe they just thought “Hey, let’s invite a car neophyte and see what happens!”  Well, this is what happens:  I decide to eschew all the information about 1900 change points and 22 new spot welds in the Camry, 20% more acoustic padding  and 8 standard airbags in the Sienna, the  1.5 liter, 16 valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine equipped with variable valve time with intelligence  in the cute, affordable little Yaris, and instead, write about my glee at repeating  to any Toyota exec I could get to listen – just so I could see the looks on their faces –  that I had just bought a car for the first time. Oh, and also about using Toyota’s pristine, brand-spanking new press-fleet Yaris to learn how to drive a stick. (You really have to watch this to believe it.  I am incredibly inept, and he is unbelievably patient.) It wasn’t my intention to so egregiously take advantage of my hosts’ trust and good will, but who could resist the urge, against the beautiful backdrop of the Jacksonville coastline, the plethora of brand, spanking new cars, and the assistance of a knowledgeable, patient,  almost stranger and acknowledged car guru Javier Mota from Autos 0-60, to do a little gear grinding?

I don’t know what possessed me to allow him to film my embarrassment.  Maybe it all the car talk I’d been listening to (and not the NPR kind) had addled my brain. Maybe it was Javier, who seemed both bemused and charmed by the fact that I had gotten this far in life without learning to drive a stick shift.  Or maybe it was the 2015 Yaris itself, a super-cutie of a first-car image(8)stylistically reminiscent of the Volkswagen Rabbits popular when I was in High School. (Starting at under $15,000) Or maybe it was Javier Mota, who seemed to find it both astonishing and endearing that I had gotten his far in life never having driven a car with a manual transmission.  Whatever.  Enjoy my humiliation — it’s all for your enjoyment.

In my defense, I would like to point out that I started the car on my fifth try the first time.  And yes, it did take me 18 tries the second time. But who’s counting.  Oh, right, Javier!!

Mercifully (for him, especially), by the time he took back the controls and drove us back to Toyota Family Reunion headquarters, cocktail hour had begun. I was not in need of a cocktail.  I was flying.  See, a funny happened during those few moments when I had gotten the car started:  I got the car bug.  I liked the challenge of driving the manual.  I liked feeling like I was controlling the car.  The next morning, when Javier and I drove the automatic Yaris, with its higher-end soft touch interiors, sporty bright red paint job, and electronic extras to beat the band, I kinda missed having a third pedal to push.  And when we drove the surprisingly quiet, image(2)smooth 2015 Camry XSE, with its 18” wheels, suspension tuning, leather wrapped steering wheel, and color animation screen, I could understand why Camry has been the best-selling car 12 years in a row, but I missed the sporty little Yaris that made me feel, if only for two out of 23 tries, that I could maybe talk a little car talk myself one of these days.   That maybe, if I really learned how to drive a stick shift, I’d know something all the gear heads I’d spent two days with knew already, something lots of New Yorkers don’t know anything about: that knowing where to get the best Pastrami Sandwich in NYC is great, but driving there to get it in a well-engineered car is even better.


  1. says

    Congratulations!!! Such a milestone and I can honestly say that I was afraid to try my hand at the manual Yaris when asked if I wanted to drive it. It’s been so long that I don’t think I would have done any better! Loved spending time with you in JAX!

  2. Katy Kampa says

    Nicely done, Nancy! As a personal friend of Javier’s, I can assure you that patience is not his best known virtue. However, this little experiment, as painstaking as it may have been, has rendered a great article and a great clip. Bravo!

    • nancyjrab says

      I find that hard to believe! He was incredibly patient and lovely the whole two days!! (Always different with a stranger, right? Just like your kids!)

  3. says

    I agree about not wanting to pay extra for that rcliiudous work, but I’d go with the blue because the interior is a big improvement. Then I’d get a new set of alloy wheels, a clear-coat spray job, and dark dark tints so nobody recognizes me driving a tricked out Camry.

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