I recently decided that I needed to learn to drive a standard. This startling decision was made after I realized that renting a car with an automatic transmission in Italy was at least twice the price of renting a car with a standard transmission.
However, I didn't want to be hasty. I also realized that it ain't easy to learn to drive a stick, and that I wouldn't be ready to drive one in the hills of Umbria by September, when I'll be renting a car for the first time (in Italy, this is.)
So, I've paid up in advance for my small, automatic Nissan Micra, at the princely price of $100 per day for 3 days, and I'll live with that choice. For this year. But who knows -- by next year, perhaps I'll be more adroit with a standard.
That's because I am learning to drive a standard, and I've been learning on my friend Purple Ed. You can see his picture above!
Purple Ed is a delightful, 1953 Chevrolet light delivery truck that had been restored years ago by my older brother, Robert. Before I went to Alberta last month to visit my family, I mentioned to Robert that I had a hankering to learn to drive a standard. He offered to teach me, either on a small tractor that he had recently restored, or on Purple Ed. I chose Ed, even though his clutch is a bit wonky.
It has long been Robert's hobby to restore vintage vehicles -- for years, it was cars from the very earliest days of the horseless carriage. Then, it was old trucks (such as Purple Ed) and more recently, my brother has been into vintage tractors. Most, he restores and sells. But Purple Ed has been in the family for years. He was named Purple Ed after his predecessor, Old Ed, who was a beautiful buff-coloured 1951 Chevrolet light delivery truck.
Old Ed was named by Robert and Dad, in honour of the fellow they bought the truck from in the '70s. Robert liked the model so much, that he discovered and restored Purple Ed (who was named by my mother, the only person who believes Ed's burgundy hue is purple.) Dad sold Old Ed several years ago, just before Dad died, so I think Rob keeps Purple Ed for sentimental reasons.
I quite like learning to drive a stick on Purple Ed, although he's a bit of a challenge. For one thing, his starter is actually a pedal on the floor towards the off-side of the driver, rather than starting with a turn of the ignition key. So there's quite a collection of pedals to deal with underfoot in Purple Ed: the clutch, the brake, the gas and the starter.
But the crowning glory, Purple Ed is equipped with the gear shift on the steering column, "three on the tree" as my brothers (plural) call it. Try finding reverse and first gear in that arrangement! (And it guess it means it's not really a stick.)
Anyway, Robert is extraordinarily patient, an excellent teacher who told me repeatedly how well I was doing as we circled town, me grinding Ed's gears, stalling out frequently and swearing mildly. Ed's clutch isn't quite all it should be, so it took a lot of the blame.
Riding around in Purple Ed reminds me a lot of Old Ed, which my Dad used to drive for short errands. I loved going for rides in Old Ed and remember the musty smell of the leather bench seat, the cranks used to roll down the windows, and the little side mirrors we pushed out for extra air. Purple Ed, though he's two years earlier, has the same features and brings back great memories.
At least for now. If I crash him into a ditch the next time I'm visiting my family, I might not be so pleased with Purple Ed.