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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: New car necessitates a shift for teen driver

Cody Pinkerton learns how to shift a six-speed truck on a simulator at Interstate Driving School on Aug. 30, 2018, in South St. Paul, Minnesota. (Jerry Holt / TNS)
Cody Pinkerton learns how to shift a six-speed truck on a simulator at Interstate Driving School on Aug. 30, 2018, in South St. Paul, Minnesota. (Jerry Holt / TNS)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

I recently wrote about my oldest daughter, Lucy, getting her driver’s license. It has been truly life-changing to have another driver around, but having another driver necessitates having another car – and buying a car for teenager-level use is a tricky business.

You want it to be safe but not fancy; comfortable but in no way luxurious; used but not so old that it won’t last through every sibling that follows over the next 10 years. In our case, we basically wanted a teenager car that was an extremely reliable piece of garbage.

Logan and I added in an extra twist to our car search: It had to be a stick shift. Lucy didn’t learn to drive on a stick shift; she learned on her dad’s Camry and my Suburban, both automatics. But, for some reason, Logan and I decided that a stick shift was an absolute must.

We both learned how to drive on a stick, and passing down the agony (and skill!) to our children just seemed like a good idea. Add to that the fact that it’s basically impossible to text and drive while operating a stick shift, and it was a done deal.

There are a surprising number of manual transmission cars on the used-car market, and, after weeks of searching, we found The One: a red, all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback manufactured the same year Lucy was born.

It is not fancy. It has a cassette player, a few dents and dings and more than 200,000 miles. But it seems reliable and sturdy, and the woman we bought it from loved it so much that she gave it a name: Zillah. When we brought it home, Lucy was terrified.

“There’s no way I’ll be able to drive a stick shift,” she insisted, bona-fide 16-year-old tears welling up in her eyes. “Lucy, if I can learn how to do it,” I responded. “Then literally anyone can do it.”

That’s an absolute fact. I am not what one would call “the most proficient driver,” but I drove a stick shift most of my life until I was forced to buy a minivan in my 30s because three car seats wouldn’t fit in a Volkswagen Jetta. Lucy would be getting no sympathy from me.

And so her lessons began. I deemed myself emotionally unfit to teach my teenage daughter how to drive a stick, so Logan was the lucky one to take Lucy out on drive after drive. Upon their return, I would get the blow-by-blow from father and daughter alike.

“I killed it like 90 million times,” Lucy would say, slamming down the car keys on the kitchen counter. “She did not,” Logan would say. “Maybe more like nine million.”

One practice drive was rough enough that Logan and Lucy came back to the house with a new name for the car: Satan’s Chariot.

Becoming proficient with a manual transmission was slow going for Lucy. She had to drive her dad’s car (an automatic) for the first two months of her license-hood while her dad drove the Outback to work each day.

Finally Logan had had enough. “I want my car back,” he said. “This coming Monday, you’re driving your car to school.”

And so we pushed her into the deep end. That weekend, we told her to drive to an empty church parking lot near our house and not come back for at least an hour.

“Drive around the parking lot until you get the hang of it,” I told her. “Start, stop, go around corners, and practice starting on a hill. This is it. It’s go time.”

She came back an hour later, by no means an expert, but not crying, either. “At least I didn’t die,” she said – and that was good enough for us. She’s been driving Satan’s Chariot ever since.

She might not want to admit it, but she’s pretty proud of herself for learning to do something that the majority of people don’t know how to do. It’s an accomplishment, no doubt about it. The devil himself would be proud.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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