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Shifting gears: One man's ode to manual transmission
Editor's Note: This is a letter from the editors included in WBUR's weekly opinions and ideas newsletter, Cognoscenti. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here.
The manual transmission is nearly extinct. Last year, fewer than 2% of vehicles sold had stick shifts. But people who love to drive stick really, really love it. Cog contributor Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is one of those devotees. Last week, he wrote an ode to the kind of driving that seems at odds with newer technology: It requires more, not less, of us.
“A manual transmission is needier than an automatic; it wants every one of your limbs engaged,” he wrote. “Left hand on the wheel, right hand on the stick. Left foot on the clutch, right foot on the gas.”
I drove a manual for many years, and though it never inspired the same devotion (shifting interfered with my morning coffee), I was moved by his essay. So were many of our readers: The piece quickly shot to the top of our most-read list.
As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, with continuing bleak news on war and climate, this essay about a small passion ran deep.
“The thing is, a lot of the time, I feel out of sync — like I’m the one stuck between gears,” Jonathan wrote. “I think this is why driving my little blue Subaru Impreza with its manual transmission can feel profound.”