Keep the Chariot Rolling

by | Mar 26, 2018

This is my open Thank You letter, the early 2018 edition. To the Club, to Barb, to The Ben-ness, to Jackie, to Steve R, to Becky for understanding that some things we can’t talk about so we laugh to not cry, and to Jason. To Jason for making me cry in the best possible way.

I recently came home in a mood more quick to growl than grin, with another dusting of snow, and my bloody winter tires going down AGAIN (even without a working tire pressure gauge it was obvious, but I’d been too lazy to fill them up before I left) to find two boxes on the front steps, the telltale Amazon wry half-smile on the side.

I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon and Christmas was done, so what then were these boxes? The question perked my mood a little bit.

And it only got better when I opened them. In response to my last column on the resolutions I would make if I made resolutions, Jason Milostan sent me several items – including a tire pressure gauge – to get me started on my resolutions. Those two boxes turned my sourpuss sulk into a blubbering mess in a beautiful way. And I keep those items on my kitchen counter (and the gift notes that came with them) to make me smile if I’m starting to slip. I’ve used the tire pressure gauge several times on my winter tires; I hate my winter tires less than last year, but more than my summer set up. Which I can’t wait to get back onto once I buy new tires. But that’s another adventure.

Jason clearly is interested in the long-term health of my car, which is good because I need my car to run forever. This isn’t just because I’m unemployed and scared I won’t be able to afford a new car, or because it was Angus’ car as much as mine and it would kill me to part with his chariot, but on a more practical level I need it to last forever: I don’t think there’s a car that I’ll want to drive.

I am now a stick shift driver. I’ve been converted and I don’t want to go back. What would I do with my left foot or my right hand? Oh, wait, I’d be futzing (yes, that’s a word, even if only because I just used it) with all the gauges and controls that are on a screen instead of user-friendly and tactile buttons or dials. I’m not a fan of having to look at a screen when I should be looking at the road.

I drove an M2 recently, an automatic, and I generally liked it. It’s the size I like (I’m not a fan of the ever-expanding 3-series) and it was fun once I was able to get it into the fake manual mode, which still isn’t the same, but does show the potential driving experience. I have contact lenses, though, and all the dash screens make halos in my vision that are not only distracting, but legitimately dangerous. I’m sure that if I bought the car, I would learn to adjust the screen lighting level, but I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to scroll through menus to find the radio or navigation to shut it off. (I never got the navigation to stop yammering away on my test drive because I was trying to DRIVE the car.)

Tactile controls, like buttons, switches, and dials, mean my eyes stay on the road while my fingers feel their way to what I want to do. And if I have to give up some of the tech to get buttons back, I’m fine with it. What scares me is that there are other drivers with these new cars who are watching a screen when they should be looking at the road beyond their headlights; it’s as dangerous as driving while checking the email on your phone.

A friend of mine – himself a 3-pedal aficionado – recently sent me a link to an article on carbuzz.com titled “Get Ready Because BMW Will Be Killing the Manual Fairly Soon,” which essentially says that beginning with the next generation 2-series a traditional manual transmission will not be an option, with full phase-out by 2027. BMW did not comment on the article and – as far as I can tell – was not asked to, so I can’t speak to its validity, but it wouldn’t surprise me. BMW is not the only manufacturer turning away from traditional manuals in favor of automatics or flappy paddles. I understand why they’re doing it, the efficiency and cost savings makes sense since the market is moving toward automatics.

I find the demise of manuals depressing but also inevitable, though I hope it will also be temporary. If there is a backlash against this, a rise of enthusiasts looking for a more physical driving experience – dare I say “tactile” again? – perhaps the manufacturers will come back around. After all, in the music industry, records (now called “vinyl”) were phased out long ago by cassette tapes, then CDs, and lately by streaming services. But records are now back and gaining popularity for audiophiles and connoisseurs.

Could this happen with stick shifts? Yes. Will they rise again like a phoenix from the ashes? Not likely, which is why I need to take good care of my car. And I will. With a little help and support from my friends.

MERI JOHNSTON

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