My left leg is tired. It’s 10PM on the 4th of July and I’m stuck in traffic on Interstate 80 heading towards San Francisco. I glance at my Waze app and it’s a sea of red.
I slowly inch off the clutch, add a tiny bit of gas and repeat. Clutch out, gas, clutch in. Clutch out, gas, clutch in. My BRZ shudders, protesting the slow creep forward. The engine sounds like an old diesel truck in contrast to of the high-pitched wail at redline the BRZ is known for.
I’m exhausted but not once do I look down at the stick under my right hand and ask myself, “Why?” I choose to drive a manual transmission and even while stuck in traffic, I have no regrets.
Driving a manual transmission has always been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Watching race car drivers rowing through the gears looked so cool. My uncle was one of the few people I knew who drove a manual transmission and it left an impression on me. He would eventually teach me how to drive stick at the age of 20. With that one lesson under my belt, I found myself in Colorado five years later driving my brand new BRZ off the lot. I stalled a lot but I got the hang of it fairly quickly.
There’s no question about it; a manual transmission is much less practical than an automatic. But practicality isn’t the point. While many people buy cars as an appliance to get to point A to point B, I bought the BRZ to have fun. Like Mazda’s marketing says, driving matters.
Having a manual transmission gives driving another layer of complexity and another skill for me to master. Slowly, I learned to do hill starts, rev match and heel and toe downshifting. I like a challenge and a manual transmission gives me that.
I will admit, driving a manual is a compromise. There are situations I avoid because I drive a manual. Hill starts aren’t a problem for me any more, even on San Francisco’s more notorious hills like Divisidero Street. But I won’t attempt to park on a hill because I’d rather not smoke my clutch.
The main reason I choose to drive a manual is because it’s a dying art. Automatic transmissions are so good nowadays that Porsche only offer flappy paddles on its high performance GT3 model, to the chagrin of enthusiasts like me. Ferrari doesn’t even offer a stick shift any more. Automatics shift faster than any human with a stick ever can.
I guess I drive a manual for the same reason I grind my own coffee beans, play records and listen to music through vacuum tube amplifiers. There’s just something about doing things the old fashioned way. It’s less convenient but it makes me appreciate driving, coffee and music that much more.
Back on Interstate 80, traffic has opened up. I gun it, shifting through the gears, listening to the BRAAPPP of the engine as I lift off the accelerator between each shift. I smile and my left leg is no longer tired.