Us: Shift to Neutral

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One year into our marriage, Hope and I bought a brand new Datsun pick up. Actually, it was the first year they were called Nissan, which was really weird at the time but also a small way of looking like I was on the cusp of some new movement. The truck cost $6000 and we financed it at 5.5% interest for a whopping monthly payment of $150 per month. And I drove it for 18 years and a little under 200,000 miles. To the kids, it was “dad's truck” and, even though it only sat three across a bench seat, they enjoyed riding with me, running errands or getting picked up and dropped off at events.

I was driving with William one afternoon and he started quizzing me about shifting gears and why I did it when I did it. The truck was a four speed, the gearshift centered on the floorboard, right in front of the radio and air vents. As I tried to explain to him about acceleration and shifting the gears at certain speeds, I got an idea. When we stopped, I grabbed a small notebook of blank paper out of the glove compartment and drew the pattern of the gears with a Sharpie using lines, letters and numbers. The original illustration had long been rubbed off the top of the gearshift so I wanted him to get a visual of what I was doing. Eventually I took it a step further. I strapped him into the center of the bench seat and let him hold the knob on top of the gearshift and “help me” as I pulled and pushed, driving through town. He was thrilled and it helped him understand the process better.

After a few trips “helping me drive,” I decided it was time to let him take things into his own hands. I began calling out what gear to switch to and, using the hand drawn reference in the small notebook, he would pull and push and shift the gears to their correct spots. At first he was nervous but he soon gained the confidence of experience and we had a lot of fun tooling around town, driving together.

Then Laura discovered our game and insisted on getting involved. I held her off for a while, trying to let William enjoy his older brother privilege before having little sister crash the party, but she eventually got her chance. I made her go through the same learning process, holding her hand before cutting her loose to shift alone. Laura was not as calm and methodical as William, not even close, and she tended to show her excitement at the thrill of “driving” by laughing hysterically whenever she got the shift correct the first time. I have no recollection of Jordan sitting next to me, shifting and grinning, but that is probably because, by the time he was old enough to handle it, the air had broken in the truck and no one wanted to ride with me anymore. Even back then the kids had standards.


Lisa said...

I learned to shift in my Dad's Datsun truck. Those trucks were awesome and lasted forever. Great story Jay.

Steve Andrews said...

Oh yeah, the old orange one.

Didn't you flip that thing once? I want to hear that story.

Steve Andrews said...

Oh yeah, the old orange one.

Didn't you flip that once? I want to hear that story.