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A Grin at the End: No shiftless teens at our house

Carl SampsonBy Carl Sampson

The clutch is the Rodney Dangerfield of auto parts. No one really wants one, unless it is attached to a means of transportation. Teenagers — mine in particular — hold a high level of contempt for clutches.

In my house, I have a rule. Before you can get a driver’s license, you need to take driver’s education — and learn how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

This rule originated with my dad. He said that no one could be a good driver without knowing how to change a tire and drive a car with a manual transmission.

I agree. Too many drivers are cruising around who have no clue about how a car works. They seem more concerned with the CD player or their cell phone — yep, they ignore that law the legislature recently passed — and wouldn’t know a transmission from a radiator.

Having had that drilled into my head, I have been drilling it into my kids’ heads as soon as they get the itch to learn how to drive.

That is why I am sitting in a 1987 Honda that is shuddering and bouncing up a down like it is doing the Macarena.

It’s manual transmission night at the Sampson household. Our 15-year-old recently got his learner’s permit. I’ve been driving with him several times a week, and he’s done fine with the car that has an automatic transmission.

I decided that it was time for him to advance to the Big Time — a manual transmission.

This is not an easy thing for some folks. Two of his older brothers managed to learn how to use a clutch.

The oldest had a terrible time. I thought the clutch and the transmission were both going to explode before he got the hang of it.

Thank goodness, the other brother bonded with the clutch almost immediately.

Now it’s our third son’s turn to learn the art of the clutch. Our classroom is the Stayton Business Park, which after hours is quiet and has little traffic.

“Rev up the engine and slowly let out the clutch.”

The engine stalls.

“That’s OK. Start the engine and let’s try it again.”

The engine keeps going, but the whole car starts to shake as though it is possessed.

“Give it some more gas. … Not that much.”

We lurch forward in three giant leaps. The engine dies again.

“You’re doing fine.”

Encouragement is in order. I explain how a clutch works.

He tries it again.

The car starts smoothly from a standstill, and before you can say Lady Gaga needs a fashion consultant, he’s got it second gear.

You can see the look of relief on his face. Mine, too.

We do a few laps around the business park and head for home, mission accomplished.

As we pull into the driveway, only one thought lingers. We still have one more kid. He’s 13, and I know he’ll eventually learn to drive.

Using a clutch.

I think I can handle it. I just don’t know if the car can.

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