Get Their Confessions First

You’ve been dying to hear about my 3 a.m., post-skinny dipping, post-wedding-reception, post-after-party shenanigans.

I know.

Here goes:

Remember my Portugal  wedding venue arrival issues?   Come the end of the evening, I was keen to walk home.   However, my hotel-mates were not.

Jema Patterson - Gemma Patterson Jemma Patterson Half the Clothes author with friends at a wedding in Portugal

To be fair, walking a few kilometers along countryside roads – even with these two amazing faces – wouldn’t have been that awesome.

Lucky for them, a lovely, baby-faced gentleman 1with whom I once patronized a goth bar in Philadelphia possessed keys to a rental car.   Given my dancing-fueled sobriety, he was willing to lend the wheels.   Unluckily, he was nervous about leaving his hired hunk of iron parked overnight in a location unfamiliar to him.

Enter a whip-smart and fascinating man with whom I’d been chatting during almost every non-dancing moment of the evening.   Said fellow had a room at the same B&B as baby-face and a BAC of .00.     His tee-totaling rendered him theoretically able to satisfy all parties – giving rides, then safely bedding down the rental car.

The catch?   He never learned to drive manual vehicles — aka stick shift.   Or he hadn’t at 3:15 a.m. GMT on May 31, 2015.

Solution?   A late-night lesson, of course.

european rental car

At least European rental cars are tiny, hey?

After dropping off our cargo, we began a crash course in How-Not-To-Crash-Rented-Manual-Vehicle.

Thanks to earlier intel regarding best local running routes, I knew of a dependably car-free backroad in the otherwise foreign vicinity.

I stopped at a flat spot on the quiet, narrow lane and turned to my passenger.   Drawing on all the previous stick-shift tutorials I’ve given, I explained the concepts behind what New-Driver was about to do.   As I finished my speech and reached for the door handle, Murphy’s Law presented a pair of headlights in the rearview.   Argh!

False start #1.

Our classroom was a one-lane road, pressing us into a two mile trip back to the starting line.

Finally we swapped seats.   I reviewed.   Would New-Driver sink or swim?

Well, I’d call it floating, at least.

As I talked him through several stops and starts, I couldn’t get his takeoff and deceleration to smooth out.   Bewildered, I racked my brain.   I’m used to being good at explaining things.   I’ve taught myriad subjects, enjoy helping people understand, and have coached several new drivers.   To myself, I said,  “How am I failing so miserably?!   Am I that tired?   Well, yes, exhausted.   But still”¦”


Teaching while running on fumes.  Pun intended.

I could tell New-Driver was concentrating fiercely, both from his far-away look and from the slightly worrisome way the car serpentined about the road as his brain crunched all the new data and patterns.

He was clearly busting ass, so, like any good teacher, I combed through new ways of explaining. — Still no luck.

And then came the confession.

Most individuals learning to operate a clutch have to take a formally passive left foot and teach it to operate in concert with the right foot. 2It’s the far more dangerous equivalent of trying to pat your head while rubbing your belly.

Our hero, however, had to take a formally active left foot and teach it to do something new.   That’s right.   He was a two-foot driver.

Things most people  have to think about when learning manual:

  • how to depress and release the clutch at the right time
  • the right speed to release the clutch
  • how to accelerate at the right time
  • which acceleration pressure to use

Additional things two-foot drivers have to think about when learning manual:

  • how to stop using the left foot for braking
  • how to start using the left foot to depress and release the clutch at the right time
  • how to start using the right foot to stop the vehicle, since the former braking appendage is now otherwise engaged

The latter made for some heart-stopping moments.

You’d think a place with horse poo on the sidewalks would be deserted at nearly 4 a.m.   Our motor echoed off the cobblestones as New-Driver made his way between two-story buildings on an avenue sized for donkey carts.   As his brain reviewed dozens of new inputs, worked to erase old habits, and strived to keep several hundred pounds of borrowed metal in mint condition, we made an interesting discovery.

We were on a one-way street.

The local driver coming down the hill toward our front bumper seemed to have no intention of slowing down.   Overloaded New-Driver could do nothing but stop.   When our vehicle failed to move, the incoming car began honking instead of braking.   Our lesson hadn’t even reached the milestone of a lurch-free start and stop, much less reversing.

"Uhh... that car isn't stopping!!!"

“Uhh… that car isn’t stopping!!!”

So I did what any good instructor would do.   I jumped out of the car!

Not to abandon ship, mind you.   New-Driver and I hot-seated, I whipped the car into a little side street, and I navigated to a spot with slightly lower performance pressure.

As the night wore on, the too-busy-thinking-about-feet-to-steer moments happened less and less.   As did the how-do-I-stop-when-my-left-foot-isn’t-available occurrences.   Except for the time we ended up on the main highway — which had been deserted for the hour before and the hour after our five minutes of usage — the rest of the late-night lesson progressed without incident.

Baby-Face did not regret his alcohol-fueled decision to do his friend’s friends a favor by lending his rented beast to a brand new driver.   And rehabbed-two-foot driver successfully navigated the manual car several hundred kilometers to an airport the next day!

So, my advice to you, should you find yourself at 4 a.m. in an unfamiliar locale giving a stick-shift driving lesson for the bazillionth time 3particularly if your stomach is punishing you for all the irresistible gluten you chose to eat at a wedding reception:

Get their confessions first.  â™£


1 with whom I once patronized a goth bar in Philadelphia
2 It’s the far more dangerous equivalent of trying to pat your head while rubbing your belly.
3 particularly if your stomach is punishing you for all the irresistible gluten you chose to eat at a wedding reception

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