Private Transportation
by Rachel Lynn Kesselman

That summer Luke taught me how to drive a stick. But no other interpretations can be drawn from this fact. For Luke, there were no questions. He had not second-guessed any part of his ensemble that day: green tee shirt, worn Levi’s. I had changed six times. How to look pretty but casual, flattered but comfortable. Country girls had this down to a science. But I was somewhere between an urban academic prestige and a rustic working class past. Piles of rejected clothing waited back home: an array of potential identities.

We practiced in a parking lot. I shifted, we jolted. Eaaaasy. He shifted, we accelerated smoothly. I couldn’t master the relationship between the clutch and the gas. To take your foot slightly off the clutch and then put just the right amount of pressure on the gas. The intelligence of the feet. The trusting of the body. Why didn’t they make it so that you could fully take your foot off the clutch and then have, say, twenty seconds in which you could put your foot on the gas?

Because that’s not how a car works. The perfect balance this transition required felt as if I were expected to perform a triple axel on cue, at intervals uneven and thus unpredictable. Just listen to the car. You’ll feel it. I managed sometimes and didn’t others. I got distracted looking at the objects lying around the shifter itself. A red lighter, pennies, a tobacco tin. A folded piece of paper. Could it contain a phone number? What was in the glove box?

Let’s take her on the road now. You’re ready. Well, okay. Hey, I’m doing great! Should I turn? But he didn’t have a route in mind. When we reached a hill, I stalled. Maybe another time.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Much more comfortable driving in my favorite and first car: my 1999 automatic Volkswagen Beetle. Picking up a friend in the summer of 2011, long before this boyfriend and his stick shift lessons.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Some say you have to leave home in order to write about it. I’m not sure if that’s true for everyone, but in my case, moving to Paris helped me write about Pennsylvania. This text is part of a vignette series based on episodes that have deeply shaped my life and identity. Pennsylvania is a place where one must drive. The car is an intimate space. Paris is a place where transportation is public. The two yield different kinds of adventures.

rachel k

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born and raised in the coal-mining region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Rachel Lynn Kesselman is a writer currently based in Paris. She is at work on a book set in these two places and teaches English at a French high school. She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College and the Sorbonne.