I drove Leland’s 1989 Alpha Romeo today. The seats fit like a good shoe, leather hugging your back in all the right places, the way a good dance partner does when you’re well-matched.
He took us down the steep gravel driveway and then we switched places. “It’s going to grind a little in second gear but that’s not your fault, it’s just touchy,” he said.
He was right, but only once. “You’re as good at this as I am,” he said after the third or fourth silent pass through the tricky gear change. Which is high praise, and also makes sense: Leland taught me how to drive in his little Mazda Miata convertible some (inconceivable) twenty-two years ago.
I hated having to stop at the top of the road from the farm: getting going uphill from neutral had such a risk of killing the engine. And once, we ended up sliding backwards into the ditch when I took a corner too fast and, when he told me to slow down a little, hit the gas by accident. (He backed it out because I was to shaken up– though he remembers that I did it myself– and we didn’t tell his partner or my mom for a good ten years).
I was motivated to get confident at driving stick when I was home on break my first year of college and had a boyfriend who lived an hour away in the Cities. I willed the lights on 65 to all turn green, but got plenty of practice despite my mental gymnastics. I proudly (smugly?) drove manuals until a handful of years ago I decided I didn’t need to prove anything anymore, that I could take the easy route and drive an automatic (and have my hands a little more free for snacking).
It felt really good to be back in a sporty little car with Leland in the passenger seat, and to be doing a good job, both because I was pleased with myself, and because hearing a person you love and respect as much as I do Leland tell me I was doing a good job is one of the nicest feelings in the world, and a beautiful gift across time and space to my sixteen-year-old self.
Plus, the Alpha Romeo is just fucking cool.