Driving with Gigi


Two weeks ago, my shame reached an upper limit. I’ve been driving since 16 and still never learned a manual transmission. Later this month, we’re planning a road trip of Romania,and I needed to learn for two reasons:

1. Renting an automatic is double the price
2. I’m tired of feeling like a pitiful wimp. The dialogues go like this:

Me: Do you have automatic transmission?
Rental Guy: No, why?
Me: I don’t know how to drive manual
Rental Guy: Oh… (said while squinting, and wondering if I am in fact, a man)

With two weeks in my wife’s hometown, Braila, I went looking for a Scoala de Soferi (Driving School). But I didn’t want just any driving school. I wanted to learn on the most difficult car possible: a Dacia.

The Dacia brand is one of the few remaining Communist-era auto-makers. New ones have gotten a make-over, but old ones still putter along highways, slowing down everyone but the horse carts. It took a week to find a Scoala that hadn’t yet upgraded to a new model. I saw Gigi’s blue Dacia stalled at an intersection: “That’s the one”, I thought. I ran up to his car and wrote the phone number on my hand.

Driving with Gigi only had one major issue, and that was the non-stop instructions. A new one came every quarter of a second, and in Romanian: “Signal. Make a left. Clutch down, change in second…” on and on for two hours. I wanted a difficult car, not a difficult teacher.

The other problems were common to driving in Romania: pot holes, horse carts, livestock, farm equipment and a general lawlessness. When we got out into the countryside, I drove with my arm out the window. Gigi said I drive like Americans on TV. He thought we drive that way because our roads have no pot holes.

After four lessons, I feel comfortable enough to drive like a grandma on the highways. The real test will be our two week road trip. Lets hope Gigi prepared me well.

Aug 05, 2010

Braila, Romania

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