Learning to drive manual is a piece of cake if you live in a Midwestern city or a town that’s flatter than an Olympic gymnast. However, those that wish to learn to drive stick shift in this God forsaken place filled with rolling steep hills and countless stop signs, it ain’t easy. I’ve rode shotgun and taught several people in the city successfully, but I don’t think it was because of my sage advice but more likely because of my threatening rolled-up newspaper and verbal abuse. Anyways, here are a few steps that should help you get on your way to learning to drive stick. —James Y Lee
Find Some Wheels
Do me a favor and don’t borrow a friend’s car. People want to lend you their beloved automobile as much as they want to hear your stupid stand up routine that you’ve been working on. You’re going to stall and probably cause some permanent damage, so don’t start calling up your buddies to ask if you can practice your new skill, especially if you’re not quite the, uh, fastest tool in the shed. Unfortunately for you, big rental car companies, like Enterprise, in the city no longer keep a stock of stick shift cars because they like to actually make money. However, there's Quality Used Car Rentals in Marin, the only place in the Bay Area where you can rent a crappy Toyota with a manual transmission for 25 bucks a day without even a credit card.
Pick a Location
Deciding to hop into your hooptie for your first lesson and vrooming toward downtown during rush hour isn’t the smartest decision, even though the ride didn’t seem that bad when you were on that shortbus to your night classes. Pick a time late at night when there are no other cars around, just worse drivers that are drunk--which will only help build your confidence on the road. Do yourself a favor and download this bike map and walking guide. It has highlighted the grades of the steep streets, so you can see which road to avoid while in the fragile beginning stage of your schooling. Driving around late at night in residential areas like deep in the Sunset or spacious areas like Presidio park are fantastic places to start burning that clutch and midnight oil.
You shouldn’t be out there by yourself. Find a trustworthy partner that won’t mind showing you the ropes. If you’re a big loser and don’t have anyone, you can always hire someone (as you probably already know). Places like the San Francisco Driving School in the Sunset offer classes in driving stick. If you can’t handle the pressure and feel like the stress is just too much, there’s always Fearless Driver, Ann’s Driving School: San Francisco's Woman Owned and Operated Driving School. They employ patient instructors who are skilled in providing a low stress teaching style to work through your phobia, so you don’t have a panic attack and accidentally kill one of us normal people.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get started. When you begin building more and more confidence, start going solo late at night and hit up higher grades on your map. Once you’re comfortable enough to play with others, do everybody a favor and put up a sign on your back window that says you’re learning to drive stick, so the rest of us give you some space and don’t hug your ass while at that red light.