Counterprogramming . . .

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There is a saying credited to the founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius Loyola, about the impressionability of children. “Give me a child till he is seven years old and I will show you the man,” he said.

I have been saying for many years that the Loyolas of our times have sought to sever the strong association that once existed between kids and cars, in order to arrive at a time when a whole generation of young people are indifferent to cars. In order to prevent them from ever realizing how freeing it is to drive a car.

They have worked on this subtly – and very effectively.

One method, hugely successful, was to use the pretext of “concern” for the “safety” of kids – other people’s kids, mind you – to wheedle into the law child safety seat requirements for all kids.

All the way through early adolescence.

What impression do you suppose has been made on kids who grew up strapped in whenever they were taken for a ride in a car? Do you think it felt liberating for them to be restrained? But they might have been hurt otherwise! The same might used to urge people to “mask.” Even more restraining – and humiliating.

Livestock are restrained – and “masked.”

The lesson was imparted that cars are dangerous rather than liberating. Things to be feared rather than loved. A lesson repeated, over and over, each time they saw their parents “buckling up” for “safety.”

Not that seatbelt-wearing is a bad thing, as such. It is not. But the religious wearing of – the nimbus of almost-sinfulness for not wearing – is. It was also a psychological predicate for “masking” – which probably never would have taken hold so almost-universally if so many people had not already been conditioned to religious seatbelt wearing (and safety seat using) by the same forces whose goal has never been “safety” but rather to use that coy catch-call as the means to inculcate a dreary (and religious) deference to their relentless controlling of us.

Cars, themselves, have become – in the main – as exciting as washing machines. Also because of them – and also in the name of “safety,” which has resulted in their having become homogenous – and expensive – appliances. There is nothing to them, most of them, in terms of emotional appeal.

They are too “safe.” Too easy.

Can you push a button, move a lever and push down on a pedal? Then you can “drive.” You can also probably take an elevator up three floors. Per Franklin – that which we obtain to cheap we esteem too little.

But there is a way to make another impression. One that will last a lifetime. It can undo all of the impressions made by years of child safety seat restraining and buckle-up religious programming.

You teach a kid how to drive a car that has a manual transmission. Do that and I will show you the man (or woman) who will always feel something liberating about cars.

My sister’s kid – my niece – proved to be wonderfully impressionable. Thirty minutes of behind the wheel – of a Mazda Miata, six speed stick, top down in a church parking lot – undid the impressions made by the previous 17 years of child seat restraining and buckle-up pieties. She may continue to buckle up, but that is beside the point. The buckling-up is now incidental to the point, which is that she has discovered she likes to drive. That a car like the Miata is a lot of fun to drive.

I sat beside her and explained the relationship between spinning flywheel, left foot and right hand. But understanding didn’t happen until she felt it, herself – that same feeling all of us probably felt the first time we walked upright, wobbly at first perhaps, but with growing confidence. Some trepidation, always present when a challenge is. Not quite right, just yet. Clutch out, too slow – accelerator pedal down, too fast. That strange smell, never smelt before but never to be forgotten now.

Next try, clutch released too fast, not enough revs. A stall. Take a breath. Let’s try that again. This time, I’ll use the Miata’s emergency brake to keep the car from rolling backward, so don’t worry about that. Let the clutch out gradually, until you feel it grabbing, can hear the change in pitch of the engine. Okay. Now give it some gas. Now some more – but not too much.

I let off the emergency brake a bit, she can feel the car moving forward.

It’s rolling now. Let off the clutch, but gradually! Yes!  Eureka! I could see her understanding dawn. The huge smile one her face telegraphed it. She got it. A thing she would never forget, for the rest of her life. We stopped and started again, many times. Each time, she got smoother, better.

Reverse was easy.

In no time at all, she was upshifting to second. By this time, she was almost autocrossing the Miata, figure-eighting it around the empty lot. This was more than just driving. It was having fun driving. The thing those things who understand how dangerous it is – to the things – for people to have fun driving have been working so hard to stamp out. Chiefly by making sure it never happens in the first place.

Then it’s easy for the things.

It is why so many young people my niece’s age haven’t got licenses yet, even after they are eligible to get them. It is why so many don’t care about cars – not comprehending what cars mean.

Never having learned.

I made it a point to teach my niece what they mean. And now, she knows. The first thing she did when we got home was get online to begin the process of getting her license. But she’s already gotten something much more than that.

. . .

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  1. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I just wanted to congratulate you on saving a Gen-Z’er from the anti-car cult. That smile says it all! 😃

    • Hi Anon,

      The crazy thing – well, one of the crazy things – is that this car, while “mint,” is a nothing special ’77 TA with the base 400/auto combo. The only thing “special” about it is the Special Edition black and gold appearance package. Pontiac made tens of thousands of these things. Gof only knows how much a ’73-’74 SD-455 would sell for now…. especially with the four speed.

  2. Here’s another plus of having your kid be able to drive stick shift: No one will be able to borrow their car! I sent my daughter off to college with the old 95 Subaru Legacy beater. Cars on campus are highly prized. However, she gladly told me nobody ever asked to borrow it, since no one could drive it! Thankfully, she did not turn into a campus taxi driver, either!

  3. Great article Eric. I put my 99 tacoma in 4lo a couple weeks ago and hopped out and had my 9 year old boy drive. He was nervous, but now begs to drive all the time.

    If he learns to drive a manual Tacoma at 9, he will be able to drive anything when he hits 15 years old.

  4. I taught my wife’s kid to drive, and since I was ponying up the cash for the car, it was going to be a manual. Started him on a compact tractor, manual transmission, up and down the drive. Moved to the old Land Rover diesel, difficult engine to kill and not many problems if he put it in the ditch; the only computer in that thing is in the radio – no ABS, no traction control, no air bags, no AC. After that was an ’03 Jetta wagon 5 speed and lots of in-town driving. He took his test in the Jetta, which ended up begin his car; of all his cousins, he’s the only one who passed on the first attempt.

  5. My sister and the nephews were out last week. They brought nephew 1’s Jeep Wrangler. 2 dr ragtop, Willy’s package. Completely unsitable back seat, nearly impossible for anyone over the age of 20 to feel remotely comfortable. No way I’d drive half-way across the country in one for sure. He put the after-market front bumper and wench on himself and is obsessed with off-roader YouTube channels. Not a stick, but he knew how to use low range and didn’t get worked up on the washboard hairpin turns. I took them up JQS trail just west of Rifle and we cruised around Anvil Points for a few hours. Even found a few mud puddles. I think he felt pretty good when he looked down into the valley (about 5000 feet down) and saw the little brown ribbon that was the trail he drove up on.

    Last time they were out was 2018. We went out to Canyonlands National Park, and I made everyone pile into my Cherokee instead of their minivan because I wanted to drive out the rim road. I’d like to think that might have influenced him a little, but who knows? Either way I think he’ll be all right.

    Nephew 2 on the other hand…

  6. Exquisite work, Eric!

    I’ll bet your niece comes back with all manner of stories when she visits you. How could you have a cooler uncle than Eric Peters?

  7. Today I went to my cousin’s funeral. He was about 7 years my junior and grew up on the farm down the road. I like to brag that I was driving tractors when I was 5, but I think he started even earlier. Both of us were sitting on our dads’ laps “helping” to steer when we could barely walk.
    A diesel farm tractor with an old-fashioned gearbox – say four or five gear positions and two ranges – is a great way to learn. Because of the low gearing and excellent torque, it’s almost impossible to stall it, and the hand throttle lets you devote your right foot to the brakes exclusively as you get a feel for the clutch. It’s how I learned to drive a “stick,” and to double-clutch as well, way before my parents let me near the driver’s side of any car or pickup.
    When I was pulling a silage wagon on the county road, in my mind I was whistling down the San Bernardino Freeway. I got to do that in reality later on, with big Cats and 13-speeds. Life on the road sucked, but boy were those things fun to drive.

  8. Best comments so far, JK and former BIL, ChrisIN and daughter’s boyfriend–priceless, Helot and the 25 year old that can’t do anything.
    Some males are neutered the day they are born. My late husband could fix anything, he was a mechanical engineer, but even if he hadn’t of been he was born with grease under his fingernails. I have a friend who’s husband can hardly wipe his butt. If it wasn’t for her daddy they would be out a lot of money on getting things fixed, etc. The only things he knows is guitars and computers. He has been going through a midlife crisis now for at least fifteen years, grew his hair out, thinks he’s cool. Used to teach fifth grade of all things, decided this year he didn’t want to anymore, had ‘anxiety’ when he went back to the classroom. Luckily, she is an RN, but instead of working part-time, she had to start full- time. He is teaching guitar lessons (been doing it for a while prior) and giving tours at Talladega, part-time. Thinks he’s a car guy. I haven’t told her, but if she would keep her legs crossed real tight, she would solve all of those problems.
    Mike Rowe is right, young men need to learn the trades. They need to get shop back in schools. Mama needs to stay married. Daddy needs to get and keep a job and be a man.
    I am telling all of you, women have messed the world up—I really believe that. God made woman to be the help mate—and no not a slave, almost his equal. I’m not talking about all that crazy stuff some people talk about either, concerning marriage. But God did make man first and he is supposed to be the head of the house—because He knew women would be crazy people.
    Now, I need to stay off of here.

    • “Now, I need to stay off of here.”

      I say that to myself, too, from time to time.

      You wrote good stuff, esp this, “—because He knew women would be crazy people.”

    • Elaine,
      “Mike Rowe is right, young men need to learn the trades”
      Indeed, there is a great deal of satisfaction in working with your hands. Making things, or making things work again. A sense of victory that never happens in the make believe world of the internet and computers. My son, who has been working in computers for a few decades is enthralled by such hand work. He spends too much time and money on the latest tool or gadget to do so. I have to constantly remind him that the victory does not involve use of the latest tool, it involves making do with what you have. “We the willing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

  9. Hear, hear! Tried to teach daughter to drive manual when she was 16ish. She wasn’t that interested. This doesn’t speak to her willingness to experience other things in life – such as wild amusement park rides (think slingshot), skydiving, etc. But she didn’t perhaps see the point of the manual…

    Son (now 17) has been driving a manual for almost 2 years. The part that appealed to him the most is that if one can drive a manual, one can go anywhere, in anything. Including motorcycles (his next interest).

  10. The smiles in that last photo were nice to see. A thousand words & all that.

    Also, I never thought about using the emergency brake to help teach someone, we were always in vehicles where the emergency brake was on the floor.
    Perhaps, someday, I’ll get the chance to try that method out.

    Hopefully, not with someone afraid/fearful, like Elaine described, or someone ready to have a panic attack, like John Kable mentioned. People like that, and those with strange unawares bewilderment like ChrisIN experienced,… those kind of people kind of freak me out a little bit, is it because they act like ~ 5yr. olds? Idk. … It’s like, they’re missing something important inside. Purposely done to them?

    ‘What Really Matters’

    “… “I’m 25 years old, I’ve lived a quarter of a century, and I don’t know how to do anything except pass tests. If the fan belt on my car broke on a lonely road in a snowstorm I’d freeze to death. Why have you done this to me?”

    He was right. I was the one who did it just as much as any other teacher who takes up the time young people need to find out what really matters.” …

    • helot,
      Using a parking brake to take off on an uphill grade is a simple solution. One not easily learned. It involves coordination of the throttle, the clutch and your hand on the parking brake, all at the same time. But a solution I far prefer to some “manual” transmission car with an “uphill assist” that locks your brakes until you force the over ride with the throttle while burning the clutch.

  11. Everyone eventually stands up and then can walk. Don’t even have to be two years old, before then, you can walk good enough. You might trip and fall, but you get up again.

    Nobody crawls for the rest of their lives, doesn’t make any sense.

    You might even learn how to ride a bicycle. The bicycle was invented during the Little Ice Age, horses were too expensive to own. Crop failures meant it was expensive to feed and ride a horse or have a buckboard. Mt. Tambora caused the Year of No Summer back in 1816 CE. 1815 CE, Tambora erupted.

    Farmers in New England moved to Kansas.

    The end of the LIA ca. 1858 CE and the invention of the ICE changed everything.

    1859 the Carrington Event happened, Edwin Drake drilled and struck oil, it’s Ed’s fault. Good thing oil was developed commercially, otherwise, we’d still be hunting whales and no car for you.

    Whales are friends out on the oceans, not prey so much anymore.

    There is an old road grader on the farm that has a buckboard, it was a horse-drawn machine. Lots of iron to pull for a team of horses. Mules were maybe used also.

    I am going to drive 100 miles today and I won’t feel guilty.

    I don’t have shit for brains, that I know.

    Idiots like Turdeau and Klaus definitely do.

    • “we’d still be hunting whales”
      One of the very few good things Carnegie did was invent the rail tanker car to move petrol. He saved the whales by making petrol oils much cheaper than hunting whales for whale oil.

  12. Amen, to this article and the one on the Mitsubishi! You make me want a Miata so bad. They are so good looking. You are a good uncle and brother Eric. Our young men have been neutered by society, mostly by bitter (single) women and if there is a father, he’s not doing his job. I see neutered, spineless men of every age all the time, but it is worse in the younger men. One example, back in 2019 when I was sick and had to have medicine delivered, the young delivery man, college age, was scared of a bee. You know the big black bees that are all over the place in the spring–that kind. He slapped at it like a girl would and I could see terror in his face–I was standing on the porch watching him. I guess that might seem like a small thing, but it spoke volumes to me. I used to catch those bees in jars when I was a kid.
    Of course real men don’t have hair colored all different colors, piercings everywhere, tattoos
    everywhere, wear nail polish, etc., that you see in public wherever you go.

  13. good stuff Eric.
    I think I’ve said it before but it warrants repeating: My brother was driving his daughters boyfriend somewhere and the young adult said “what are you doing?” what am I doing with what? “with that thing in the middle that you keep moving?”
    OMG, not kidding.

    I am teaching my wife about clutches right now as she is trying to learn how to ride a motorcycle. It’s been harder than I expected. And she’s ridden one before, way back in our pre-kid days and she did pretty good then. But she’s struggling right now. I think it’s because the new bike has very little torque at idle and low revs (most do today due to EPA tuning) and her memory or muscle memory is not jiving with the new bike. Working on it.

  14. Last fall I saved a 96 ford Ranger 4×2 5 sp from the crusher because I would be dammed if my Wife`s grandson would learn to drive a auto box. The kid took to if pretty good been driving it for almost a year. Of course I got a soft spot for Ranger`s …and Kids..

  15. ‘That strange smell, never smelt before but never to be forgotten now.’
    When I taught my daughter to drive a 5 speed she smelled that and wanted to stop. She was afraid she was going to ruin the car. Had to force her to keep trying until she got it. At which point she began to enjoy going from one gear to the next.

    • Dang laptop not working well today. Meant to add, You may have just set her on the path to becoming a life long independent thinker.

  16. Your niece looked so happy! Learning to drive a stick in a cute sports car is the best. I learned in a Fiat Spider and what a thrill. Having the freedom to roam was the best feeling ever and you were only limited by your imagination, gas budget and how long your parents were gone. No one questioned or was watching where you were or why you were anyplace. There were no cell phones to track your whereabouts so you really were on your own. There was so much more privacy and independence back then, in every aspect of life. So much to look forward to and so many possibilities to ponder. And boy did we kids appreciate not being tracked as we engaged in all kinds and manner of various and unique escapades in our cars. My parents also frequently took weekend trips so the family car would get a workout while they were away. For some reason my dad never questioned why upon their return home the odometer always had hundreds of additional miles on it!

  17. ‘Eureka! I could see her understanding dawn. The huge smile one her face telegraphed it. She got it. A thing she would never forget, for the rest of her life.’ — eric

    Driving manual-shift is the young-adult version of learning to ride a bicycle. So is learning to shoot.

    Shifting, shooting and (for boys) shaving are rites of passage that adolescents shouldn’t be deprived of. The last was axiomatic until the medical horror of ‘transitioning’ became a thing.

  18. I used to drive a semi. For the first 6 months or so I drove a manual. And in a semi, that means double-clutching, starting out in much lower gears when you’re on a hill with a heavy load, etc. I did know how to drive a stick prior to that, but now for sure I’ll never forget. Funny, once when I was a new driver trying to back into a tight spot at a truck stop, I was struggling (it’s a lot harder than it looks). Another (young) driver came up and asked if I would let him try. Well, that hotshot got more than he bargained for – he didn’t know how to drive a stick. Idiot, I thought, as I got back behind the wheel and eventually got it into the spot.

    If I were to buy a new car today, I’d strongly consider the Mazda you write about. Even for a used car, my first choice would be a stick. It’s the best anti-theft device around today.

    • Jim, even if I get dementia as bad as Joe Biden, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how to shift a 13-speed Roadranger.

  19. A fantastic first car for her would be a Honda Fit manual. Damn reliable. Great visibility. Low to mid 30’s MPG. A blast to drive. She shouldn’t get raked over the coals by the insurance mafia either as it’s an econobox with a puny non-turbo 1.5L.

    • Hi Cheap,

      We (my sister and I) have that covered! My niece (her daughter) will inherit her mom’s Honda Element – manual five speed and perfect for a kid who will likely be roaming and moving a lot.’

      • Sweet,
        I like the element. The pillarless rear doors and rubber floors remind me a lot of a shrunken FJ Cruiser. I think those share many parts with the CRV and Civic so you should be golden with reliability and ease of repair. Now all you have to do is indoctrinate her on the virtues of older cars and caring for the one shes got. Nothing drains your fun money faster than getting the itch for a fancy new ride.

      • My respect for the Honda Element went up a lot when I saw one sandwiched between two semis in a traffic collision on the 805N in San Diego. It held up really well, didn’t get get crunched like you would have thought. And the driver was uninjured. Looked like a low speed collision though, but still….

        • Wikoli,
          In my experience Hondas are pretty stout. About 5 years ago my lady and I were rear-ended hard while driving in a ’13 CRV. The nissan crossover that slammed us was really smashed in the front, puking its guts out with airbags deployed. The CRVs tailgate and bumper were smashed in far enough to narrow the panel gaps to the rear doors but that damn thing still ran and drove straight as an arrow. It brought us back cross country from FL to NH where it was later written off as totalled.

  20. About 10 years ago, my former brother in law asked me to teach his son how to drive a manual. Of course I asked him why he didn’t do it? This near 60 year old “man” replied that he didn’t know how to drive one. That floored me. I couldn’t even come up with a response. His son, righteously embedded in the “if it isn’t easy, I’m not interested” didn’t fair well, and in fact very quickly expressed a desire not to be there. He did get the gist of it, finally, and I offered to allow him to drive us home. About 3 miles, on an early Sunday morning, in a VERY rural neighborhood, as in zero traffic. I thought he was having a panic attack.

    • Another thing that today’s “man” doesn’t know how to do is to change a flat tire. Makes me sick every time I see one of them calling for help (a tow truck or male relative). There are some basic things that all men should be able to do. I consider driving a stick and changing a tire as two of them.

      • Hi Jim, that is sad, seems like most people today just have the AAA card to deal with whatever comes along. Before I let my kids drive (boy and girl) I made sure they could check tire pressure and actually change a flat; check the oil; know how to jumpstart a dead battery; and a few other basics. Also gave some manual shifting lessons in an old VW with a really soft clutch so they picked that up too; my more recent cars have been automatics because manuals are a pain in heavy traffic but now that I’m a retired old fart I think I’ll get a Mazda Miata as my final car.

  21. I think another factor is the virtual living that many younger (and older) people live through a screen on social media, texting, commenting on blogs. None of which is bad until in becomes a substitute for actual life. How many high school aged kids would surrender their driver’s license and car if given a choice between those and the latest edition of iPhone/Android black mirror pocket computer with unlimited data plan?
    When I was in high school in the 90’s a car unlocked an entire new world of places I could go and people I could see at any minute of any day. I think the black slab has eased its way in as a substitute for travel and actual interaction.

    • Indeed Sicilian,
      They live in a fantasy world, where no one gets hurt, except by “hate speech”, and things always work out well. Which rarely happens in the real world.

  22. It’s that Puritan thing. Fun is illegal. The Puritans turned into the Yankees, and the Yankees turned into the Progressives. All intently and deeply concerned about what others are doing. The evolution of them, or lack thereof, is quite apparent.
    I would add tobacco use to seatbelts as among the first anointing of the state as the arbiter of what’s good and righteous, and what’s a mortal sin. Never mind that the very most dangerous thing on the planet is government.

    • You got that right John, If you really wanna feel the “No fun allowed” vibes nothing beats a trip to New England. Signs, enforcers and f*ckin’ tattletale snitches everywhere. I routinely got dirty looks for open carrying on the backwoods trails of new hampshire in spite of the fact that its a constitutional carry state and we were deep in moose and bear country. Those Massholes and ConnectiCunts probably called the cops to voice their concerns as soon as dey sail fawns got some bars. Pathetic and stupid.

  23. First car I ever drove was a friend’s 81 camaro (auto).
    Second was my cousin’s Mazda something (stick).

    It was the Mazda that I felt I actually drove.


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