My first car was a 1971 Chevy Vega that I shared with my former husband. He paid $1,800 for it in 1975, as I recall, and was tickled to have it.
It had a manual transmission, so I had to learn how to drive a stick.
At some point, something went wrong under the hood, and we had to start the car with a screwdriver.
True story. Starting the car sometimes required one person in the driver’s seat to turn the key in the ignition, while the other got under the hood and touched the end of the screwdriver to one thingee (that’s a technical term) on the engine block and the middle of the tool to something metal. (No wonder this car is now on the list of Chevy’s Worst Cars Ever Made.)
This was tricky when I was driving alone. I met lots of strangers in parking lots while we had that car.
I was grateful to get my own Datsun 310, also a manual, a couple of years later. I appreciated the fact that I had learned the art of driving with a clutch. I had learned about RPMs, how to smoothly accelerate from a stop at a red light heading up a hill, and how to change gears without jerking a passenger’s neck into head trauma.
These days, I appreciate my automatic V6 engine in my far more comfortable and stylish Chevy sedan.
My first camera was a hefty 35mm Canon I bought with college graduation money. It was manual and clunky as well – and required a roll of film, as this was long before digital cameras were the norm. I learned about light meters, perspective, depth of field, and precise focus.
Now, when I consider how much work it took to produce a single black and white, sharply focused photograph, I appreciate the amazing photos that I’m able to capture in mere seconds with the camera built into my phone.
My son Chandler said the same was true for his first drone, which was small and difficult to maneuver. There was a steep learning curve, because using a drone for aerial photography was new to him. With experience he got used to the feel, and conquering the difficulties taught him the essentials of flying.
A year later, when he bought a larger, more expensive drone, his knowledge gained from navigating the smaller, trickier one gave him a much better experience. He knew how not to wreck it.
I thought about our early days of buying bicycles, skateboards, and all sorts of tech gadgets for the boys for birthday and Christmas gifts. Being a sensible mom on a budget, I tried to select the “beginner” model of whatever they wanted.
After the boys learned how to operate whatever it was, they wanted a newer, shinier, bigger one – of course. And when they eventually got the nicer item (sometimes having to use their own money to purchase it!), their experience was better because they had knowledge, expertise and appreciation gained from using the original, smaller, lesser quality item.
My point this gift-giving season is that it’s not necessary for us to cave to our youngsters’ demands for the latest, greatest “Gift of the Year.” Even if the cost is not an issue, consider the lessons to be learned from practicing first with a basic model, whether it’s a drum set or electric bike or a mini kitchen or potter’s wheel.
After all, if one can master a manual ’71 Vega, think how easy it will be to someday control that Ferrari of one’s dreams.