On Learning to Drive Stick in San Francisco

Learning to drive stick in San Francisco is like learning to swim at Ocean Beach. It’s theoretically possible, but the reality of it is somewhat dangerous, mentally intimidating, and more than a little bit stressful. Word to the wise: if you don’t know how to drive stick, and aren’t excited about the idea of the lives of your seven passengers riding (pun intended) on your ability to do a successful hill start, maybe don’t take a job that relies heavily on both of those requirements.

Let me back up to the beginning of this story.

In September of 2015 I was finally accepting that the day-to-day reality of my startup job was not doing it for me. I wanted to be doing something different, but had never encountered a job in San Francisco that combined not sitting in front of a computer all day with earning above minimum wage. As luck would have it, my roommate was in the early stages of planning an eight-month road trip with her boyfriend that involved quitting their day jobs and living in a van. Consequently, a solid amount of time was spent looking at beautiful vans and #vanlife accounts on Instagram. When I came across Vantigo’s account (and a post that they were hiring) I was intrigued. I corresponded with Erik, the owner, and within the week I’d been offered a job doing content, social media, community management, and most of all, learning to be a tour guide. This was regardless of the fact that I did not know how to drive a stick shift, which all three of the Vantigo vans required. Challenge accepted.

Fast-forward about two and a half months, one bicycle accident induced elbow fracture, and enough Vantigo employees being in the US at the same time for the tour schedule to be covered, and you will arrive at the time when my stick shift training began. I started at the Marina Green parking lot, moved on to the back roads of West Marin, and eventually began practicing the tour route around San Francisco over the course of three weeks.

Learning to drive stick proved to be one of those things you just had to learn by doing- and learn by screwing up on. Luckily for me, stalling while trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop seems to be much less irritating to other drivers when you are in acanary yellow VW van. Unfortunately for me, other drivers don’t seem to realize that when I’m stalling out trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop it might not be the best time to pull up next to me to chat about their VW nostalgia. I would have figured that the sweat pouring down my face combined with the stressed out facial expression would be a dead give away of, “this is maybe not the best time to chat with this person,” but VW vans just really bring out the dreamy, chatty side of people. C’est la vie.

My biggest lesson from learning to drive stick in a 1971 VW van was really one about science. In a van with four gears, gravity is gear number five. Gravity can be used to your benefit in many scenarios including but not limited to: backing out of a parking space, coasting down a large hill, and getting up to speeds not otherwise attainable by a VW van (slow is really all we know). Sir Isaac take the wheel. (Shout out to Erik, Eddie, and Justin for pulling the e-brake for me at exactly the right times).

The last three weeks have seen me driving tours to wine country, Highway 1, and all around San Francisco. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I’m driving stick, and I hope this counts as additional practice. I’ve also decided that our yellow van, Jerry, who followed the Grateful Dead for ten years during the 70s, is definitely my spirit van. There is really something to cruising around in these vans, whether you’re driving down Haight Street or coasting down Highway 1. It just feels so right. Well, so long as you don’t accidentally go from third gear to second when looking for fourth, or try to leave a stop sign in third when you think you’re in first, that is.

When in doubt, grind it till you find it.

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Waiting to Board

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Sometimes the world feels like a dome, and things get kind of Truman Show

For quite some time now I’ve been waiting to figure out what I should be doing next with my life. My goal in college was to move to San Francisco and live with my best friend, which I did. Two and a half years, one breakup, three jobs and a new living situation later, I can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m treading water in my day-to-day life, preparing myself for something- but entirely uncertain what that thing is. I’ve felt the nagging itch to move to Los Angeles for the last six months- a new stomping grounds where some of my oldest and newest friends reside. Los Angeles has its own demons of course, but it somehow seems to own them in a way that San Francisco doesn’t. But it’s a hard move to pull the trigger on, given the somewhat necessary pieces required for life in LA, and the fact that there is a lot I’d be leaving behind.

I’m utterly torn, having only ever pictured myself to be in a monogamous, long term relationship with San Francisco that would last forever. Entering our third year together, though, the honeymoon period has ended and I feel the negatives as much as the positives. Like the realization that no relationship will be perfect because humans are inherently flawed, the humanity of San Francisco is both what attracted me to it in the first place, and what is getting under my skin in an uncomfortable way. The question is, do I hang on and seek improvement, or do I leave while the fresh memories are still positive? While San Francisco may be the same city I moved to in the summer of 2013, I am certainly not the same person I was then.

One of the greatest differences I feel in myself (and what is giving me so much trouble as I contemplate all of this) is the weight I feel in my responsibility, and loyalty, to my community. My friends, my coworkers, people who have invested in me and who I in turn have invested in. Is this what putting down roots feels like? Struggling to find the “my wants first” mentality of one’s early twenties, holding back on charging forward for fear of damaging the positive relationships that have helped you get to the place where you decide you’re ready to leave them behind. Feeling 25 approaching and pedaling the catch 22 of wanting to remain static and move forward at the same time, looking for some kind of validation for all the choices I’ve made to date.

I’m working on accepting the fact that like the majority of growing up, making big life changes, real grown up decisions that will alter the course of my life, will never be something that happens easily and without some doubt. No one will be able to tell me what the right thing to do is, especially because there is no correct answer, no right decision. There is, though, only one certain direction to move in, and that is forward, into a future that will undoubtedly involve ups and downs, wins and losses, joys and regrets. It will continue to be terrifying and utterly beautiful, and it will never stop surprising me.

As far as moving to LA goes, well, I guess we’ll all have to wait to find out what happens next.