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What gear are you wearing?

I learned to drive when there were three pedals underneath the steering column.


If you’re of a certain age, you can recall scraping gears and jerky starts when a novice driver was learning how to coordinate the clutch with the accelerator.


It was called a manual transmission, but we used the terms straight gear, three-on-the-column or four-in-the-floor. I didn’t have much choice in the late ’50s and early ’60s when I was experimenting with the family cars in the driveway.


Much of the mileage we put on our cars was from me driving laps around the circle in our rear driveway. That’s when I had all but retired my J.C. Higgins.


I can’t recall if I had any formal lessons in how to manipulate the clutch while gently giving it the gas. But I had plenty of time to practice the procedure.


So ingrained was the straight shift that when Daddy finally bought a station wagon with automatic transmission, Mama had trouble learning to drive it without the benefit of a clutch pedal. It wasn’t long, though, until she realized that straight gears were too much trouble.


Back in those days, teens could get their driver’s license before taking drivers ed. I turned 16 in March and went ahead and got my license, then took the course when it was offered that summer.


I did the driving portion in the mornings with my friends Robert and Eddie. Mr. Kirkman was the instructor and we used a Dodge or Plymouth with straight gear.


We practiced starting on an incline, the goal being to coordinate clutch and gas to get going without knocking over a drink bottle that was sitting upright on the floor. Not to brag but, by the time of our final driving exam, I aced both that and parallel parking.


Nowadays if you want to teach a young driver to shift gears, you’ll be hard pressed to find a vehicle with a straight (or manual) transmission. A little research on the web shows that only about 3 percent of new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. today have gear shifts and clutches.


Personally, I think more young people should drive vehicles with straight gears. That would keep them too occupied to do other things.


“Can I call you back? I have to shift gears.”


Apparently, manual transmissions have gone the way of, uh, well, spare tires. Car companies first went to temporary “donut” tires to replace full-size spares. Now they’ve eaten the donut and are equipping new cars with repair kits.


I found that out a few years ago when my daughter Laura bought a late-model car and realized there was no spare in the trunk. Instead, there was a kit that pumps some sort of sealant into the flat tire.


Car companies say they ditched the spare to decrease weight in order to increase gas mileage. Could that have anything to do with the extra weight of average Americans?

Nevertheless, I can remember having a flat tire years ago when our three girls were small. We were on vacation, traveling to a beach locale, when a tire went down.


I stopped beside the busy road, looked at the flat and opened the trunk. The spare was underneath enough luggage, coolers and other bags to dress, entertain and snack feed our girls for more than a week.


After unloading the carefully packed luggage, I pulled out the spare, the jack and lug wrench and went to work. Loosen the lug nuts, jack up the car, remove the flat and replace it with the spare, tighten the lug nuts and lower the jack. Not necessarily that quickly.


Then I loaded the flat and the tire tools into the wheel well, packed the car for the second time and proceeded to the beach, all the way worrying how long the spare would last.


These days people just call Triple A for a tow.


When Ginny was still working in home health, she had to call me twice to come change a flat tire. One was in a client’s driveway and the other was on an interstate exit ramp.


Changing tires now is the same process as years ago. The only difference is the tire changer.


It’s hard to change a tire when you can barely get down to the ground. But the hardest part is getting back on your feet.


Now that car companies are making self-driving vehicles, why can’t they equip them with robots to change flat tires?


Oh, I forgot. The added weight.


Anyway, I'd rather change gears than tires.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.