I know that sounds a little excessive, but I live at the top of one steep hill, Fiona's school is half way up another steep hill and everything I need in town is at the bottom of every hill. Second gear is tops for getting up, and I'm on the brakes most of the way down, which is why my car was in for brake pads, yet again. Flat land driving is rare for me. Being on a freeway is, well, freeing. I get to cruise in sixth at 80 (sorry, I meant to say "at whatever the posted speed limit is,") for a while - unless it's rush hour, which in California is every hour: except maybe between 10:00am and 11:00am.
So, I was heading home in the loaner, enjoying my tiny slice of automatic freedom - until I got to Laguna. I was shocked at how badly the gearbox reacted on the hills. It couldn't figure out what gear to be in at all, leading to embarrassing revving and slipping when I put my foot down and paralysis when I braked. I could almost feel it thinking, it was that bad. When I got to Third Street hill, which is notorious in Laguna - you can only go up in first - I needed to floor it to ensure the car would make it up. By the time I got to my house, the smell of brakes and rubber was a little overwhelming.
Later that afternoon I took the loaner back and picked up my own Mini. I was so happy to be changing gears again I was even OK with stop/start traffic at rush hour on the 5.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, a lot of it has to do with control, and I am a little bit of a control freak. Another part is that I believe humans do some things better than machines and a decent manual gearbox with a decent human operator beats out an average automatic, in my opinion. I do know that some are better than others. The box in my BMW 5-Series was very responsive, for example, but you'd think that since Mini is owned by BMW the automatic would be better.
I also think it has a lot to do with terrain. If all you're doing is driving around on flat roads, especially long distances, then an automatic gearbox makes all the sense in the world. For me and my weird hilly driving, a stick shift just works better.
Oh, and for those of you who caught the gratuitous homage to a Flock of Seagulls song in the title of this post, congratulations. For those of you who didn't, um, there's a slightly changed Flock of Seagulls song up there. Now you're really glad you read to the end, because there's a picture!