At the ripe age of 30, I learned how to drive a manual automobile.
Applause rings in my ears every time I say that to myself.
My good friend Greg Locker had been in Castle Hill for two months when we arrived. He had bought the first cheap car he saw at the backpackers car lot in Christchurch and had lived next to it in his tent for his entire stay. When we rolled in, Greg was more than ready to end his trip abroad and wanted the fastest departure he could manage. So, he gave us his car.
I tried to pay for it on multiple occasions.
"I don't make money exchanges with friends." He replied with an air of: Just take it. Please.
The car is a mid-eighties Toyota Corona. I'd never even heard of it. Maybe it's the Corolla of the rest of the world. Who knows? In any case, it was a durable beater with at least three different paint colors and a license plate that would scare any respectable church goer. This rig was to be mine.
With a hearty thanks I remarked to Greg that I finally had a reason to learn how to drive stick. Before, knowing how to operate a manual car would have been just another trick under my sleeve and so I felt no pressing urge to learn. But now, this was my only way to get from our home base in Christchurch up to the boulders. I simply had to learn or not climb, often.
Knowing that this was the case, I made a trade with Greg: If I cut his hair, he'd teach me to drive a manual transmission.
And so it was. With my left hand on the joy stick and the pedals in their usual place, I looked right before left and shifted my way to a bachelors from the Greg School of Driving. I could now drive myself through the city, and into the mountains. I was a step ahead of Miss Daisy.
My self portrait driving home from Castle Hill. I got stopped not by the cops but by 200 cows walking up the road followed by men on horseback, and dogs nipping at their heels.
It wasn't until I had to park in my friend Christina's driveway that I achieved my Masters. I had to use the parking brake as a catapult lever so that I wouldn't reverse into her house at a 45 degree angle. (I was so nervous.)
The New Jersey Devil is now for sale for $300. A scream'in deal for a sturdy car that Ava still refers to as, "Greg's car." I can't say though, that I'll be sad to see it go.