Manual Misfortune

On my four-day trip to Guadeloupe, a French Island in the Caribbean, I didn’t want to waste one second. Knowing that public transportation can be unreliable I decided to rent a small car to get to the surf school where I’d booked a lesson. The problem was that the standard French rental car has a manual transmission and the extent of my stick-shift know-how was limited to a 15-minute parking lot lesson a few months prior.

“All will be fine as long as I don’t have to do a hill start,” I thought. Then I bought the insurance – just in case.

I certainly didn’t start off on the right foot: I couldn’t get out of the rental company’s parking lot. Ever so slightly I pushed the accelerator and slowly released the clutch. Thump, thump, THUD! I stalled. This continued until a local came to help me onto the main road. He offered to be my chauffeur for the day. I politely declined, but he wrote his phone number on my map of the island – just in case.

A couple of hours later, a tire blew without me realizing. I finally stopped when I heard a horrible sound resonating from the right side of the car. Luckily, a few mechanics from across the street to see what the problem was. “Bon courage” one said, snickering – the tire looked like it had been shredded in an industrial food processor. They shook their heads in pity, and changed the tire.

Once I had finally arrived in the surf school town, my misfortune continued: I made a wrong turn into an extremely steep driveway. By now, my hands were shaking and my stomach was in knots. There was no one to help me out of this one – I had to do a hill start and merge back into traffic.

I inhaled deeply and held my breath, waiting for a break. I could hear the blood pulsating in my ears as I tensed every muscle in my body and focused every neuron in my brain. My right hand squeezed the handbrake as I gently prepped the gas, ready for take-off. There was a gap. Utter terror consumed me and I panicked. I slammed the accelerator and dropped the handbrake and clutch, hard. The tires squealed and the car shot out into the road.

The only crash I heard was later that day, the waves rolling onto the beach at Capesterre-Belle-Eau. As I watched the yellow and orange hues of the sunset reflect in the sea, my exuberance faded to dismay: I remembered the insurance didn’t cover tire damage.

A James

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