It all started when I told my Dad how much I wanted to learn to drive in France but that it would cost me around 1000 euros (yes, read it and weep!) to pay for lessons. I would have to learn The Code and how to drive the dreaded stick shift. My Dad, the pension-conscious human that he is, the man who said "you take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves," started to flip at the thought of my hard earned centimes being spent on lessons to learn how to drive a French voiture.
"1000 EUROS??????" he said incredulously. Yes, 1000 euros - if I pass it the first time. Just read my friend Sunny Life's blog for proof! It's dramatic and traumatizing for both French and Americans alike and will cost me an arm and a leg to pass it...which is why I haven't done it yet and I've been living in France for over five years now. I am a 27 year old license-less American in France. How. embarassing. I am a sans-permis.
And then, with all of this information circling around in his LAPD-trained detective head my Dad told me I was nuts to pay such a sum and we can teach you to drive a stick today and you'll be driving one in ten minutes and I'm calling my friends right now to find an available one so get dressed and put on your driving face!
Only nobody had one except for Dale... and all he could offer was a convertible 350 HP Ford Mustang that would have sent me rocketing down Bouquet Canyon with my terrified driving face on.
My Dad the detective searched and searched for a stick shift car in a sea of automatics "for his daughter home from France" to no avail - Rent a Wreck, Avis, Hertz, Budget - until Bestway Auto Rental and Sales pulled through for us with a silver manual P.T. Cruiser.
"Isn't that a piece of shit car?" my Dad asked the sales rep. "We'll take it."
We decided it was best NOT to tell Bestway why I specifically needed a stick shift (to completely destroy the clutch in all of my novice glory) and when Bob the sales rep asked me if this was the kind of car I drive in France I didn't miss a beat - Yes, Bob, why yes it is!
Detective Dad - who has mastered the art of acting by fooling robbers on the streets of LA - shouted, "I get to drive it first!" and hopped in the front seat as to not give away my ulterior motive. I played along and gave in with a defeated, "Ok Dad, I guess you can drive it first." And away we drove in our PT Cruiser to the local high school parking lot for my first stick shift driving lesson - terrifying.
My Dad forgot to tell me important things like how you have to push in the clutch before you come to a complete stop or else you will stall. He forgot to tell me that I had to lift my foot off the gas when changing gears. BUT the man was ruthless and effective - go into first and start again - ok now do it again. Again. Start over. Stop, turn here, start over. I broke into a full sweat complete with heart palpatations a few times (mainly when really cool high schoolers rolled into the parking lot in their new Sweet 16 birthday presents). I had to remember that I was over 10 years older and shouldn't be affected by the embarassment of stalling out in front of the jocks, but it was rough. I stalled, I started over, I tried turning but forgot my blinkers, I tried to back out of parking spots and stalled out again. I'm pretty sure my cool factor went down by like One Hundred.
And after 30 minutes of this stop and go dance, by George! - I had me some fancy footwork going on and I was driving. I ventured into the industrial center (no cars thank god!), then into another neighborhood (no children thank god!) and then my dad tricked me onto Bouqet Canyon Road where I had a minor panic attack but survived the intersection and managed not to kill anyone! I went through the entire valley and even made it onto the 5 freeway AND I only got honked at twice on the way home which I feel can only be categorized as a success.
By nightfall I was parallel parking between my mom (2 glasses of chardonnay deep) and another car on the block! I got honked at one more time that night but 3 honks in one day - that's not that bad right? The next day I took my first solo flight to return my beloved PT Cruiser - who will always have a place in my heart.
And so, my friends, I am a drivin fool on the streets of Santa Clarita! Watch out France, here I come - I'll be