Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drive Slow! Life is Not a Race.

One of the things I wanted to do when I purchased my new car was to drive myself to school in the mornings.

When I bought my cute white car, which still remains nameless, it came with manual transmission. In most countries outside the US, manual transmissions are cheaper and a lot more common than automatic.

Until I bought the car 3 weeks ago, I'd never driven manual. Not in Drivers Ed. Not in some ancient or enormous car my dad made me drive. Not in a one of the countries I've lived in. Nope. Never.

In Mumbai, you have to remember, we don't have grocery store parking lots. We don't have school parking lots. We don't have open roads. We have 20+ million people living in a city whose roads include cars and trucks. There are double decker buses and motorcycles.  Rickshaws and bicycles carrying deliveries. There are men carrying baskets on their heads filled with yummy food and fruit vendors pushing their carts. Oh yeah, I didn't even mention all the pedestrians.

I also haven't mentioned the quantity of speed bumps, pot holes and other potential road obstacles.

I knew I'd need to practice driving stick to reach my goal.  I asked if my friend Martin, who's been my car guide along the way, would give me some driving lessons. He agreed and my good friend Shannon asked if she could crash the lesson (figuratively).

Today's lessons would be in Bandra along Carter Road which stretches around the Arabian Sea in Bandra and other suburbs. Our focus would be to practice manual by driving in real Mumbai. Okay, I should be honest. It's more like semi-realistic because Sunday mornings in Mumbai are quiet and a small percentage of the 20+ million are out in the streets.

Martin pulled the car over to the side of Carter Road. I was up first. Before today's lesson, I'd done a bit of a little blended learning about driving stick (which really means watching YouTube videos and reading a few online tutorials) just to make sure I was up to speed since lesson #1 was about 3 weeks ago.

I didn't kill the car the first time I pulled away. I just almost hit a rickshaw. As I was busy watching for traffic from behind and concentrating on making sure I had the clutch pushed down, the transmission in first gear and was working on the finding the balance between the gas and clutch, I hadn't thought about the left side of my car one bit.

One of the things that adds an extra challenge as an American learning to drive anything in Mumbai is you're driving on the opposite side of the car and road. Oops. Forgot about that. Luckily my Driver's Ed teacher (Martin) pushed the steering wheel away from the rickshaw so we didn't get off to a crashing start on driving lesson #2.

Other lesson highlights:

  • My Driver's Ed teacher only had to push the wheel a couple more times to make sure I didn't hit any people and vehicles.
  • I drove like a grandma or my first driver here who let everyone/thing else have the right away. Luckily my teacher knew I'd be annoyed at the comparison so I'm definitely more (read that as a little) aggressive than I first was.
  • Being in the backseat you realize just how challenging the other side of the road driving is.
Driving range #1 in Bandra (two blocks of open road)
    • Our driving instructor gives lots of positive reinforcement. 
    • My fellow student is also really encouraging even when you almost hit something. She only made one noise for a close call.
    • Having your Driver's Ed teacher drive you to Starbucks in Juhu for completing lesson #2 is the perfect reward.
    I did have a few minutes where I felt like maybe I had it. Maybe I could really drive in Bombay. I drove into a very crowded fishing village area. I had to pass through narrow lanes. I had to navigate lots of people, trucks and rickshaws. This meant lots of slowing down which when you're learning to drive manual can be one of the hardest parts. I don't think I stalled the car once.  If I did, I can't remember because I was so worried avoiding people or other things. Shannon and Martin, please don't tell me if I did stall because I just wanna remember my awesomeness.

    I'm getting better. It's about learning to find the friction point and the place where the engine wants to bite without causing the car to shake, stall or lurch to a stop so much. I also need to work on the added layer of being a little more aggressive like my fellow Mumbaikers. And I need to work on that final layer of sharing the road with all my Mumbai "friends" (which I refer to as anything else on the road). So, really, I need to work on everything.

    Shannon and I have plans for Sunday Driver's Ed to continue. We figure if we can make it on our own to the Juhu Starbucks, then we've passed.

    For now, I'm embracing the sign on the left.
    Go Granny go!

    1 comment:

    1. Glad to see you were able to make it driving! It's shocking at first, but you are probably used to it by now!