The rumors are true – the hardest part really is not falling down hills when you take your foot off the brake from a dead stop.
By lesson #3, you’ve come to realize that “hill” has a more expansive definition than you knew before. Start from even the most gentle downslope, and you can use gravity to your advantage, letting the clutch out as the car acquires modest but natural momentum and practically starts on its own. But from the slightest upslope, it’s an awkward dance of brake-foot-to-gas on the right, clutch-out-at-a-controlled-rate on the left. To err one way risks falling backwards, to err the other risks peeling out, and to split the difference inartfully is to stall out. Suddenly streets whose topography you’ve driven without observing for decades are the greens at Augusta, subject to similar slope-based risk analysis.
It’s sort of an outdated and constantly busy mode of driving, but that’s the point of learning it, you suppose; to be an empowered user of a technology is to understand its underlying principles, which you usually try to do. But here you are realizing that you’ve spent almost nineteen years now letting the machine do this somewhat difficult work while you play with the radio, and it’s humbling and even a bit embarrassing to be a grown man feeling like an unsure teenager again. You venture out from your school parking lot practice course toward the Virginia-Highland gas station, only to be defeated by a stoplight with a slight uphill gradient and a panic-inducing crowd of horn-honkers behind you.
The Instructor has an upbeat attitude, though, which is good, because it’s her car you’re going to tear up if this lesson goes sideways. Back in the day, she passed the downtime in high school teaching her classmates this form of driving, so she’s convinced that despite your obvious struggles, you grade out pretty high on her curve.
Nonetheless, that’s a curve pitting you, modern grown man, against her memories of a bunch of turn-of-the-millennium teenagers. Small comfort. It occurs to you that you have no real business writing about or criticizing the performance of any major league baseball player, given that just fouling off a 95 mph fastball is a miracle of human timing and here you are, struggling to use three foot pedals to competently move a Honda Civic forward. By those lights, maybe you should spend your summer sitting down to watch the likes of Chase d’Arnaud, Gordon Beckham, and Tyler Flowers. They are nobodies within their context, and yet they are miraculous talents when viewed from a broader perspective.
But it’s not them you’re put off by. It’s the suits who brought them to you while insisting out loud you’d not see the difference, as to huck a couple extra tickets to those who might believe it. It’s the brass who laid on the table every non-sports-fan’s critique of how a pro team’s affection for its fans and its host city runs as deep as a stripper’s, and bet you’d still come back anyway. Deep down you always knew the critique was true, but all you needed was a little kayfabe, you know?
There are a lot of interesting things to do on a warm summer night. Back in the parking lot, you start and you stop, and start and stop some more, because that’s the part in need of most immediate practice. To retain momentum is relatively simple; to obtain it from nothing, that’s the hard part, especially if your metaphorical ball is about to roll down the false front of the 14th hole once you take your foot off the brake.
You shake off the memory of the earlier disaster on the way to the gas station and attempt the drive home, this time on less crowded streets. It’s a downhill start heading out of the school grounds, and you’re off, shifting conservatively, first to second to first to stop. The stop is at the crest of a hill because of course it is, but fortunately there’s no one behind you. You steel yourself against the inevitable roll backwards, roll a bit, catch it with the clutch, give it some gas – how much gas? Whoa. The Instructor’s car sounds like it’s running from the police now, but it’s going forward! And she’s laughing, saying good job, and you make it back to her place and park the car, feeling like a dork, but a dork who learned something and made progress tonight.
The Braves beat the Giants in extra innings tonight, 5 to 4. From what y’all say, it was pretty well-managed and Freddie Freeman hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th. The Instructor’s car has a broken radio, though.