CORME-PORTO, Spain — Driving a manual car for the first time in 20 years is interesting. We rented a nice little Peugot that we picked up at the airport in A Coruña from a girl who spoke no English, so our tutorial consisted of thrusting a piece of paper our way with the parking spot where we would find the car.
I got it going then stalled. Then I stalled again. Turns out, the parking brake was on. Who puts the damn parking brake on? I live in Southeast Texas. I don’t think I have ever even thought about the parking brake, especially as the biggest hill has an incline of about 3/4 of an inch.
Ramona kicked me out of the driver’s seat and off we went. The Garmin we rented was not particularly helpful so we pulled over to try and set it. Then we discovered a new problem. Reverse was nowhere to be found. Sure, there was a great big “R” on the gear stick, but no matter how we tried, we couldn’t find how to back up.
We were parked in a spot on a steep incline on a busy road, but my suggestion to put it in neutral and roll back into the street so we could at least go forward was met with a withering look and a firm, “No, don’t be stupid.” To be fair, I deserved that.
We put the window down and shouted at a couple of gentlemen sitting outside a café, enjoying their afternoon.
“Habla Ingles, por favor?” I shouted. “No,” came the reply.
Then the hand signals started, both sides talking in different languages. One man walked around to the driver’s side window, leaned in and showed us that in order to find reverse one has to pull up a collar on the gear stick, the exact opposite of what we had been trying.
It would have been nice to know. I am sure our good samaritans kept the family in stitches over dinner with their tale of Los Americanos who couldn’t work the car.
Turns out, the hand brake is very useful here, with almost every street sharply inclined one way or another.
Two days later I drove 12 hours through the hills and valleys to Seville. No problem. It’s just like falling off a bike.
We can even go backward.