Languishing is bringing you a new series, inspired by colleges putting their courses online for free, from my college classroom to your computer/smartphone/iPad: "Stories I Tell My Students." I have several personal stories that I bring out to teach certain points, and as I was leaving campus today, I thought, "Hey, I should blog those." They're not really my courses, per se, but I do tell these to my students at various times throughout my teaching. I hope you like them.
Years ago, just before I started grad school, my boyfriend and I needed a different car. I found a used Mazda pick-up in Alexandria that looked promising, at a dealership, so one Saturday while he was working I drove over in our only car to do a little test-drive. I had a sizable deposit and I knew the Consumer Reports thoughts on this truck. I was kind of excited.
I walked into the dealership (a very large one, with probably 300 cars on their lots) with the newspaper in hand, and showed the ad to some guy in a dark green sports coat. "Sure," he said, "That's a nice little truck. I'll bring it up front for us." He grabbed keys and was back in less than 2 minutes. "It's got a flashy spare set of extra rims," he said. "We could put those on for you, if you like."
He seemed to be assuming that I'd just take the truck NOW, and that bothered me just a bit. "I'd like to look under the hood first," I said. I'm not really a mechanic but I read somewhere once that checking for things that obviously look wrong under the hood is a good thing to do before buying a car.
"Well it's just the engine and stuff under there, honey," he said. He really said that. I don't know what he thought I thought was under there, but he clearly didn't think I would know what to do with an engine. I was starting to dislike this man.
"I know. Pop the hood, please," I said, sweetly. I looked around, checked for rust, signs of damage. I poked at the oil stick, ran my hand over something that wasn't too hot, and nodded.
"It's very clean," he said, and it was. Even my novice eyes noticed that. Not that he had any way to know I was a novice, except that I was obviously female.
"Can we take it out?" I asked. I didn't have much experience test driving cars at this time, and I didn't really want to spend any more time with this guy, but I really liked this little truck. It had a topper, and flashy rims.
He smiled and said, "Well, honey, it's a five-speed. Do you know how to drive a stick shift?" He said this slowly, with that smile on his face, as if he were talking to a six year old, or a dog. I was in my mid-twenties, college educated, and had never seen such obvious condescension before. He was lucky I did know how to drive a manual, or I would've probably slapped his face.
I assured him I had known for years how to drive stick, and as he buckled in next to me I could tell he was bracing for a terrible ride.
(I had only actually learned a year earlier, and only on one car, which anyone who drives a stick shift will tell you is not exactly knowing how to drive stick. Every clutch is a little different, every stick a little different, and anytime you go to drive a new stick, you should expect to kill it a few times as you get the feel of the thing. I knew all this as I started to back out, and he kept his hands on the dash. He was still smiling, but I don't think he really meant it.)
Somehow I made it out of that parking lot, onto the highway, and up to 55 mph, all the way into 5th gear, without so much as a soft jerk. The truck drove like a dream, and I was acutely aware that if I screwed up, this guy would feel vindicated, so I was extra careful. Plus the cab had an old-school bench seat and a really good stereo. I turned around after a mile or two, again shifting effortlessly. I swear it was smoother than an automatic, me driving that Mazda. He even eventually let go of the dash.
When we got back to the dealership, I parked and eased the parking brake up. As we stepped out of the truck, he said "Well, I'll be. I've been trying to teach my wife to drive stick for years and she just can't seem to get it." He was honestly incredulous, impressed by this woman driver. I knew I couldn't buy anything from him.
"Maybe," I said, "she just needs a better teacher." Then I tossed him the keys and walked away.