Pam Stone: Driven to Distraction

Dec 05 Written by  PAM STONE

Not too long ago, Paul and I were chatting with a friend during the after-church coffee hour after when the subject of cars came up. More specifically, manual transmissions versus automatic. He has a stick shift because he far enjoys the driving experience with it in his sports car, and we have a stick shift because it made our new car a lot cheaper. Evidently few people can even drive a stick anymore, and nobody wants one.

Which seems to me to make it the perfect anti-theft device.

“But did you also know,” said our friend with his customary kindly smile, “that studies show those who drive stick shifts are less likely to develop dementia?”

“I think I read that somewhere,” I replied, “but I can’t remember.”

Since our friend has spent his career in the field of mental health I had no reason to doubt him. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get home and search for that study on-line. I was excited because I have spent pretty much my entire life driving sticks. Beginning with my father who attempted to teach me in a 1969 VW Fastback by driving halfway up a steep hill, putting the car into neutral, and pulling up the handbrake before getting out and ordering me into the driver’s seat.

“Now, drive.” he said.

The car, despite his bellowed commands and muttered curses, slid slowly backwards with the distinct odor of a burnt clutch as I repeatedly tried and failed to engage the transmission into first gear and drive forwards. Luckily, my parents divorced very shortly after that (the car having nothing to do with it), and on my own, while somehow managing not to damage the septic tank, I learned to drive the thing in our back yard and feeling triumphant, drove it to school in a blinding thunderstorm the day I turned 16, albeit with the hand brake on the entire time.

Poring over the internet I found that stick shifts indeed are technical brain food as is learning a new language or playing bridge. Evidently, the act of depressing the clutch, changing gears, stepping on the gas and letting off the clutch uses all six parts of the brain: the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobe, along with the cerebellum and brain stem! Each and every time I change gears my brain is getting a massive work out!

I quickly calculated that after I sold the Fastback (or rather, collected the insurance after its engine caught fire at a horse show and was only extinguished by a wheelbarrow full of manure), I bought a succession of stick shifts: two further VW bugs, then a 1972 Ford truck with ‘three on the tree.’ After that was a ’72 Mazda which also caught fire, three late model Audis, and a very reliable 1992 Isuzu Trooper as long as you didn’t have to make any emergency maneuvers as it would cartwheel like a shopping cart. Add to this that I routinely drive our 1952 Ford tractor so I feel as though I can safely say I will never forget why the hell I walked into a particular room.

The fact that we live in an A-framed cabin which is essentially one giant room practically guarantees it.

Then someone pointed out to me that I routinely enjoy a tipple each evening and if I have more than one glass of wine it damages the brain so I might as well have been driving automatics for the last 40 years.

I countered that I’m a stand-up comic and continually have to write new jokes, not to mention that I train dressage horses and I’ve never known a single comedian or equestrian with dementia. Drug habits? Sure. Multiple broken bones? All the time. But the brain seems to keep ticking. So there.

Now, if only I could remember why I just walked into the barn...

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 December 2017 22:26