Friday, March 6, 2015

The Saga of the Toyota Starlight

I get excited about some very strange things, something made very apparent to me by the expressions of others around me when I share said excitement. Okay, I suppose I understand when others don't share in my exuberance over things like kale, going to bed at 9, reading the newspaper, and anything involving Ed Sheeran. Just like those things, I thought my enthusiasm about my new found ability to drive on the left side of the road in a car with a manual transmission was something I could share with others. I was wrong.

First, some background information. I was pretty anxious about the idea of driving a stick-shift, since I hadn't in about a year, and even more so about driving one on the left side of the road in New Zealand. However, my desire to have personal transportation trumped my anxieties, so I mercilessly obliterated them, repeated the Nike motto, "just do it," and got in the driver's seat of my friend's 1986 Toyota Starlet. It is truly a marvel to behold; tiny and blue, dents and dings throughout including a gash in the door that looks like it hit the iceberg from Titanic. Yet, in all honesty, I'd never want it looking any different. Every scratch or mark gives the metal box that much more character. I certainly respect it- it is quite a bit older than I am, after all.

The same model as the car I've been using here

I was nervous for my first lesson. The only time I have ever driven on the left side of the road was in a fancy, automatic vehicle many years the Toyota Starlet's junior. So, when Jim (my friend in New Zealand lending me the car) told me it was time, I began to clam up. I imagined we would just be driving in circles around the block. At least, I figured we would have a couple of gos at me starting and stopping since it was my first time in a long time using a manual transmission. However, driving stick came back to me much like riding a bike, as the saying goes. Shifting gears, even with my left hand, felt completely natural- the only thing it took a bit to adjust to was the lack of a 5th gear. I also had to learn about a mysterious new addition to the car- the choke. I still am not completely sure what it is, but I do know how to use it now. Pull it out to start the car, push it in once the car has been running for a bit.

Anyways, after just one lesson, I felt relatively comfortable driving the New Zealand roads in the wee car (as they would say here). Of course, I did make some mistakes- I often hit the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal, and I often drove too close to the left side of the road. The next day, I was still a bit nervous about taking roundabouts in a different direction and taking right turns, but I decided there was no better way than to just practice. So, I ventured out on my own and drove to the gym.

When I made it there without incident, I was beaming with pride, just like the mother of an honors student as she slaps a bumper sticker letting the whole world know of her child's academic achievements onto her car. I felt the need to share this excitement with someone, ANYONE. Yet as I went there alone, I decided to tell a stranger- the receptionist at the gym. As I told her how proud I was of my left-hand driving success, her eyes glazed over with complete disinterest, as if my voice were the same as the PA system lady from Charlie Brown.

Gym Lady: Huh. You don't say. Do you want to visit the sauna or thy gym?
Me (feeling slightly crushed): oh... both, I guess...
Gym Lady (without an ounce of expression whatsoever): Yeah, treat yourself...

Ugh! I was so frustrated! How dare she not share in the enthusiasm of a complete stranger who just mastered her country's bizarre driving differences to which the aforementioned stranger is not accustomed!

Whatever, I sweated out my anger which she instilled in me while "treating myself" in the sauna.

I hope you all have enough stamina to read this next story about the Starlet. I was going to make it a separate post, but then I decided to just go ahead and include it.

One of the most exciting aspects of driving such an old and well-loved car is that I never really know if it is going to start, or just rumble a bit and totally crap out. This morning as we were about to head into town, it was the latter. As I heard the devastating sound that goes with a dead battery as the car tried, tried and failed, I felt crushed. Well, it looked like I'd be spending the day at home.

However, Jim's son, Nic, was thankfully home and came outside right as we were going to give up. "Has it gone flat?" he asked. I assumed that was an expression for "has the battery died" (a post to come later about strange New Zealand terminology,) and nodded, looking defeated. "Let's try a push start!" he offered. Well, I was basically up for anything. Whatever that was, I was willing to give it a shot. He gave us instructions- he and Alex would push the car, and as I was rolling down the hill, I would quickly take my foot off the clutch and simultaneously push on the accelerator which would, theoretically, start the car and enable me to put it in gear and head on my merry way.

I was nervous, but ready. The guys gave me a push, and I was off. The car sped up, and then came the moment of truth- I needed to time it perfectly. I took a deep breath, dropped the clutch, and pushed the accelerator and lo and behold, she started! Woo!

It's only been a week since I began driving that lovely car, and I've already learned more about vehicles than I probably ever have in my life. I can only imagine how this next week will go!

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