March 1, 2015

Manual transmission blues

So far, my experience driving a stick shift (manual transmission) in Turkey has seen ups, downs, and a few more stalls than I'd like to admit.

I mean, I've never driven stick shift in America before, and Turkey is not exactly a country of rule-following drivers, so as a learning ground, it's not that friendly.

Yesterday, I was living the good life, fifth gear cruising. I drove on the highway all the way to Cappadocia with no incidents. Alan and I laughed about the Turkish "bogeys" that pop up about every five minutes. Such blips on the radar include drivers cruising down the middle of a two lanes going half the speed limit, random pedestrians streaking across the road, giant tumbleweeds, etc. I successfully navigated all the bogeys and didn't stall once.  Alan praised my successful attempt and encouraged me a lot. I did make the car roll backwards down a hill when Alan and I were switching places. Lesson learned: our parking break has two levels "not quite engaged" and "engaged."

Today, I was not living the good life. Picture this: we've just finished grocery shopping after a long hike. I'm trying to back out of my parking space into one of the exits of a poorly regulated roundabout intersection (a major bogey in itself). My parking space is on a hill, and there is traffic. I coasted out of the space fine, but thanks to a little too much adrenaline, I pulled my foot off the clutch too soon and stalled it out. Right there in the middle of the street. put put put.

I started it up again, and made it to the stop light. At a complete stop, I coached myself of what I would do at the green light. Of course as my light changed, some cute Turkish girls (total bogeys) stepped into the crosswalk, inciting a chorus of honks behind me. I waited for the girls, and as my path cleared, the honking continued. Flustered, I again didn't get the gas-clutch timing right. Damn. put put put. stall.

Alan wasn't pleased. The honking continued.

I got us going again, made it into second and third gear before approaching an intersection that doesn't make any sense, and I hate crossing even as a pedestrian. It's a Turkish psuedo-roundabout that causes a lot of accidents. As I was really focused on the foot coordination coming from my complete stop in the roundabout, I pretty much forgot to look for cars coming. Luckily Alan alerted me, and I stopped just in time. After that, I successfully got into first gear and made it to our parking lot, which involved small hills and sharp turns. I stalled getting into a tight parking space, which was a self-esteem-crushing last blow. I guess I had forgotten the number one rule: don't come to a full stop while in gear. Alan reminded me of the rule with a disapproving tone. I felt really embarrassed.

For me, driving a stick shift is like playing a new sport. I have the right moves to play volleyball without even thinking, but when you had me a basketball, even though I kind of know what I'm supposed to do, it's not fluid or confident. I have to think about every movement, and then I forget to do basic things and someone steals the ball. Driving in a foreign country is sometimes like playing blindfolded, or at least playing on a topsy-turvy court, so I'm trying to cut myself some slack. Getting the foot coordination for a manual is my new challenge. I'm not allowed (self-imposed rule) to drive in Kayseri yet. Talas, maybe, if there are none of the big hills involved.

Eventually I'll be able to drive this car without stalling or doing other problematic things to the engine. Until then I need to be patient with myself.

By the way, Alan says I'm really good at racing sticks in creeks. That was our mini adventure today. Unfortunately our creek was really close to a private shooting range and we decided we were too close to unregulated weapons. Back to the car!