03 June 2008

Adventures in Alaska, Part 1: Driving Standard

Among the many exciting aspects of living in Alaska (amazing views, bear-safe trash cans everywhere, night only existing for about 4 hours...) the most terrifying facet in the prism of Alaskan life is the fact that I now have to drive a stick shift car.  No, it's not the bears that could lumber out of the woods at any moment and eat me whole that scare me.  It's not the unusually high population of oversized birds of prey (more on that in a later post).  It's The Box.

Meet The Box.  Born in 1997 wherever Jeeps are made, its sole purpose in life is to scare the crap out of me every time I slip behind the wheel.  When I tried to learn how to drive standard last summer, it ended in about 70% competency and a complete and utter fear of anything with a clutch.  This summer, however, I'm stuck.  I have no other choice but to drive The Box or be condemned to bumming rides or hoofing it old school in my flip flops.  Given, I have walked the two miles to and from downtown Juneau a few times in a valiant attempt to stick it to the Man, but after less than a week of that I gave in to the rainy weather and the callouses on my feet.  

Although I drove all the way to the Douglas Island library today to post, I was not always the fabulous stick driver that I am today...a week later.  My first day solo, I dropped Kip off at work and found that it was just me, a full tank of gas, and the open road...until you hit the water at least (Juneau is only accessible by sea or air, no roads go in or out of it).  High on this newfound freedom, I took off to the Glacier, thinking it would be a nice trip to boost my standard-driving self esteem.  It started out well.  It ended, however, with me stalling in the parking lot after stopping to let a gaggle of Japanese tourists cross the road.  "No problem," I told myself, "I'll just restart the car and go.  Stalling happens to everyone, right?"  But then it happened again.  And again.  By the fifth stall, a nice old man from one of the cruise ships knocked on my window and asked if I needed help.  I took my bruised ego, thanked him, and puttered my way into a parking spot, where I broke down in tears and called my college roommate, Mari, for reinforcement.   

Almost a week later, I haven't had another episode quite that bad, but I still need to give myself a pep talk every time I get behind the wheel, and sometimes even in transit.  So if you ever find yourself in Juneau and see a 21 year-old in a green Jeep Wrangler yelling something to the effect of "You can do this!  You are bigger than the car!" to herself at a stoplight, smile in the knowledge that you were once where I am now, and maybe stall when the light turns green to make me feel better.   


Anonymous said...

Don't worry, it's a good skill to learn. After all, you never know when you may need to pull the skill out of your bag of tricks. And, even the most experienced drivers stall occasionally. I myself did last week - honestly. gilmorelady

Anne said...

Now that you know how to drive a stick shift, hold your head high (or at least until the car stalls) for you are a cut above those who only drive automatics!
When you come to visit, we'll rent a Wrangler for you so that you feel more at home !!! :)