Dad retires from teaching stick shift to teenagers

Amazing. Both my daughters drive stick-shift cars competently.

Such a wonderful sense of fatherly accomplishment.

Now, I will not fear if either daughter is on a cross-country trip with some future boyfriend suddenly incapacitated by bad Mexican food in his old, rusty, red Chevy Camaro with a manual transmission. They will be able to slide behind the wheel before the zombies emerge at night in some creepy abandoned town off the main highway.

What a relief!

Bianka, 16, is the latest skilled motorist in the family. Her big sister, Kalia, 20, drives a 2015 Subaru Forester with a manual transmission. So Bianka, naturally, also wanted a stick-shift car. Unexpectedly, I inherited a 2007 Chevy Cobalt with manual transmission last year. And when I showed her a photo of the sporty two-door coupe collecting dust in California, she had to have it.

First, though, I had to teach her to drive on my little black 2013 Honda Fit, with automatic transmission. When I offered to give her the Honda, she said, “No way. It’s ugly.” But the older, grayish blue Cobalt spoke to her. So I had to clean it out, replace the brakes, and drive it to Fort Collins from San Diego. Fortunately, it didn’t break down going across the sizzling Mojave Desert or over the precarious Vail Pass.

Once Bianka passed the driving test for her license in an automatic, it was time to teach her all the mysteries of a manual transmission.

Anyone who has ever trained someone on stick-shift knows that it is not a pleasant experience. I warned both daughters that whatever I shouted at them would not be personal. “Yelling is a requirement to teach stick-shift,” I reassured them.

I must have taught Kalia well, because when it was time to get her a car, she fell in love with the red Forester with manual transmission. We later discovered it also had a nifty feature called hill assist, which helps hold the car in place when getting it started on a hill.

For Bianka, the Colbalt has no such fancy gizmo. Heck, it doesn’t even have power windows or door locks. So, besides the usual teaching of the shifting process in an empty school parking lot on evenings and weekends, I had to work up the courage to let Bianka drive up a few small hills in a nearby neighborhood. At stops, the car would start to roll back, I would scream, Bianka would get scared, and pedestrians would stare. “She’s learning to drive stick-shift,” I’d shout out the window with a strained smile. The hills got a little larger until finally Bianka said the lessons were too stressful.

“I’m going to avoid all hills, forever,” she said, firmly. And after months of regularly driving solo to school and around town, Bianka still avoids hills. When she wants to go to Horsetooth Reservoir with her friends, she bums a ride with someone else.

I wonder how many thousands it would cost to add the hill assist feature to the old Cobalt.

Kris Kodrich teaches journalism at Colorado State University. He is no longer available to teach stick shift to teenagers.