A Night of Absolute Terror

There’s a question on Facebook, asking all to respond regarding how they learned to drive a stick shift. Here is my account:

I’ve explained, before, that my dating life in high school was anemic. I wasn’t like other girls who had boys maneuvering to get to know them, for a possible romantic relationship. I attributed the desert of my admirers to the fact my father was the strict, authoritarian principal of our high school and no young man sought to overleap that hurdle.

I hoped that was the reason.

It took me another 3 years in college before I got my “dating legs” (are those like “sea legs”)? I simply had no idea how to relate to men. In speaking to any, I usually used my biting sarcasm to gain attention—never a good plan in eliciting interest by another. So my first 3 years at URI were dateless.

In my senior year, I was Resident Assistant at a women’s dorm and this allowed me opportunity to engage with nervous young men, arriving to pick up their dates. We’d chat amiably as they awaited the girl coming down from her room (I buzzed them on the intercom; men were not allowed in girls’ rooms). Because there was no pressure on me, I could be charming, funny, interesting. Often, the next time these young men came to the dorm, they were coming to pick me up for our date.

That semester, I had many dates, making up for the years of dating drought. But then my situation changed and I had to go home to live and student teach at a neighboring town.

But I now knew how to interact with young men. While out with friends, at dance clubs, I parlayed my newfound skills.

One young man I met was a blonde Adonis—a sailor assigned to Quonset Point Naval Station (it was an important base then). Mike was an Ohioan, 6 feet tall and muscular (I thought he looked like the Norse god Thor.) For dates, he’d pick me up in his little green MG convertible, with the luggage tan seats.

I loved that car….probably more than Mike.

One night, following our date, he asked me to drive his MG to my house, to store it for him, while he’d be aboard ship, for 3 months. Now, to be clear: I had no experience in driving a stick shift car but I thought: “How hard can it be?”

In retrospect, it seems improbable that Mike wouldn’t have ascertained my skill level before leaving me his treasure.

Anyway, we kissed goodbye and I pretended to fix my hair, get comfortable, while he walked away, beyond the main gate, into the night.

I then depressed the clutch and pressed the accelerator, lurching forward, bucking all the way for several minutes. Now, I was in a terrible bind. I considered all the hills…all the stop signs… on my way home and decided to try to avoid them all.

Luckily, it was 1:30 AM and there weren’t a lot of cars about.

Each traffic light (there were many) on my 20 miles home saw me bucking, stalling out…but I persisted because I had no other choice.

Finally, after the longest ride home ever, from North Kingstown to West Warwick, I pulled into my driveway and sat, exhausted… both physically and mentally.

That night in June of 1968 was the night I learned how to drive a stick shift.

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