Tonight we arrived in Puigerda, a town where I have a little history. You could say it’s where I learned how not to drive a manual transmission vehicle.
The summer after graduating from university I high-tailed it for the Pyrenees to update a Let’s Go travel guidebook. I’d heard my dad tell the story of the first time he’d rented a manual transmission car. The way he tells it is a bit cavalier: he says he drove it off the lot in first gear until he was out of earshot of the car rental agent and then taught himself to shift gears manually. I figure’d anything he could do, I could do, better, so when it came time to rent a car I didn’t ask for an automatic.
My buddy John was covering the area just south of my route, also for Let’s Go, and I enlisted him to give me a lesson. It lasted 40 minutes–the time it took me to lurch and stall my way from the Barcelona Avis office to the bus station where John would begin his route. About halfway along I decided to just leave the hazard lights on in anticipation of stalling yet again.
The freeway to Ripoll was fairly easy but by the time I had to park the car on a cobblestoned medieval alley I was uncomfortably familiar with the foul smell of burning the clutch. Two days and many mountain passes later in Puigerda, the car finally refused to go into first gear.
Avis gave me two options: return it to their office in nearby Andorra or they’d send a tow from Barcelona to pick it up. Some odd law prevented them from towing it across the border with Andorra. So a long, $1900+ wait later I handed over the vehicle and began my career as a hitchhiker.
I found a bar in the town square where a sympathetic bartender served me a caipirinha and I felt sorry for myself. Tonight, George and I are drinking in that bar. It hasn’t changed much. But this time the car I’m driving is in perfect working order.