Perspective: Stick Shifts And Swear Words

Oct 8, 2019

Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, there was only one time I recall using a serious swear word in front of my parents: learning to drive a stick shift in our white 1972 VW Beetle. 


There I was, on a practice drive with my Dad in the town of Luzerne, a few miles from our house in Trucksville -- yes, that’s a place. We were sitting at a stoplight, the light turned green and I popped the clutch and stalled. Tried it again. Nothing. A third time. Zip. 


Then came the expletive. It wasn’t the Queen Mother of Swear Words that Ralphie uttered in A Christmas Story but it was definitely one of George Carlin’s Seven you can’t say on TV. 


My dad didn’t even flinch. Instead, he calmly said, “Put it in gear. It’ll be fine.” Finally, it took, and we lurched forward through the intersection and went on with the drive. 


Getting a license was different back in the 80s in Pennsylvania. You had to be 16 and pass a written test to get a learner’s permit. Once you felt comfortable enough, you headed to the local State Police Barracks for an on-the-road test with a Pennsylvania State Trooper. 


My first attempt? Epic. Fail. Popped the clutch and stalled it at least a couple times. Was too nervous to even think about swearing in front of a Trooper. 


However, I waited about two weeks, practiced more and passed my second attempt with flying colors. 


Now, here I am a seasoned parent teaching my son to drive my bland but reliable 5-speed Honda. He’s doing well but he’s still frustrated that it’s quite a bit more involved than the automatic my wife drives. 


That’s good, I secretly think to myself. Better to pay more attention to driving and less to all the superfluous nonsense that competes with a driver’s attention these days. 


His training will continue. And if he drops a few choice expletives while he’s learning? Well, that’s a sign he’s taking this seriously. As he should. 


I’m Wester Wuori and that’s my five-speed Perspective, no expletives needed.