Second gear

Oh God, the shuddering, the labouring, the painful tremors. I feel every inch of you vibrating, struggling to stay alive, to stay in motion. I feel your agony, and I would help you if I could, but I am as powerless as you are.

You’re a taxi and I’m your passenger, and our driver is trying to go five km/h in second gear.

We’re crawling in typical HCMC traffic and the car is just moments from stalling, saved only by judicious use of the clutch, but not by shifting into first gear.*

I wouldn’t be too bothered if this was a one off, but it is the same for all the taxis I ride in. Every. Single. One.

Over and over in my head “Oh please, shift down, put it into first gear, SHIFT DOWN!”

I’m worried that one day my internalised screams will suddenly come flying out of my mouth and terrify a random taxi driver.

I can’t figure out drivers’ reticence to use the first gear. I’ve asked some people but I’ve never been given a truly satisfactory answer. So in the place of facts, I’ve developed some working hypotheses; People’s first experience with motor vehicles are motorbikes which tend to be a little more forgiving when it comes to driving in the wrong gear and gear change – so when they learn to drive a car, they take the same habits with them. Maybe people think that lower gears use more petrol/power, I’ve heard this in relation to headlights and both are myths. Perhaps driving in traffic jams all day makes people not want to bother changing gears.

I think my last theory seems most likely – the longest I have ridden my bike in HCMC is two hours and it was exhausting. The taxi drivers do it all day, most days, with limited breaks. One day I’ll learn how to say, “Jump out, and have a rest in the back seat, I’ll drive.” Until then, I’ll hunker down in in my seat and anthropomorphise the feelings of a car.

Vinasun Taxi – I feel you Buddy.

* I’m not going to assume that the majority of people exactly understand how a manual transmission works, but I’m sure that most people know that you start a manual car from stationary in first gear and shift gears up and down as you go faster and slower. Go too slow for your gear, you stall. Go too fast for your gear your revolutions per minute (RPMs) go crazy. RPM matching and gearing changing is an art all manual car drivers must master so they aren’t bunny hopping their car and damaging their clutch.


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