My misadventure with Renault

I’m glad we didn’t have a car when we lived in Spain from 2007-08, because my one Spanish driving experience nearly proved too much for me. We had been working on a short film all day in Vilassar de Mar north of Barcelona when my friend Juan, who was directing our filming, asked me to go pick up his oldest daughter from ballet practice and take her home. I thought to myself, “It can’t be that different from driving at home.” He gave me the keys, I found his Renault van and started it up.

One of Vilassar de Mar’s very narrow streets.

It wasn’t until I started off for the ballet studio that I realized just how very narrow the streets were. Vilassar has those quaintly cobbled European streets. You know, the ones that make for great pictures. But let me tell you they’re hell to drive on. Picture yourself pulling into a garage with very little clearance on either side of your vehicle and then imagine negotiating entire streets like that. I was certain a side mirror would get torn off. I pleaded with the parked cars lining both sides of the already constricted “carretera” not to open their doors. I also said some things I won’t repeat, but thankfully it wasn’t far to the ballet studio. I arrived safely. To my relief, the windy roads widened on the way up the mountain to Cabrils, and I got Juan’s daughter home without a hitch.

That’s when my real trouble began.

I generally have a good sense of direction, and I’d been to and from Juan’s house several times, but somehow I took a wrong turn. Things started looking unfamiliar, but I kept going. All the roads seemed to go downhill and that was the direction I needed to go. But after a while the switchback I was on turned away from Vilassar. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just turn around and do some backtracking.

I stopped. I pushed the clutch in to put the Renault in reverse. I pulled the stick shift left and up, but that made a very unpleasant crunching sound. I pushed the clutch in harder, pulled left and up again. Crunch. I looked at the little diagram on the stick shift. Yep, I confirmed, left and up. I tried again. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I worried I’d break the transmission if it kept crunching. I had grown up driving stick shifts and had assumed if I could operate my dad’s old ’52 “three-in-an-H” Chevy pickup and my mom’s cantankerous “three-on-the-tree” ’66 Chevy station wagon, I could drive any stick shift, anywhere. Umm, not so much.

“I guess I’ll call Juan,” I said to myself. So I reached for my cell phone, but it wasn’t in my pocket. It wasn’t anywhere in car. I realized I must have left it back in Vilassar with the film crew.

I looked around. The streets in Cabrils seemed suddenly deserted. There was no one around to take pity on an American who didn’t know how to drive a Renault.

I shifted into first gear and inched down my lonely switchback, hoping with a fading hope that I would end up back on the main road.

Instead, I unknowingly started down a dead end. A very steep one, I might add. I said more things I won’t repeat.

I ended up inches from a stone fence at the bottom of a cul-de-sac. I did not in fact completely destroy my friend’s transmission, but emergency break on to the max, I wrestled and cussed the van until one of the local residents cautiously emerged from his villa and approached the van. “Ayudame, por favor,” I croaked. “Help me, please.”

I stumbled out a broken explanation of my plight in Spanish, and I swear the guy almost patted me on the head. His kids appeared, toys in hand, to watch the show. I got out, and their father proceeded to hop into the driver’s seat and pop the van into reverse as if he actually knew how to drive a Renault or something.

“You have to pull up on this little thing attached to the base of the stick with your fingers, and then push the stick left and up, my friend,” demonstrated Señor I-Forgot-His-Name, my hero. Many things went through my head just then, but most of them I cannot record here. Still unsure of my capabilities, Señor I-Forgot-His-Name turned the van around for me and sent me on my way. I sweated my way back to the main roads and made it back to the filming location in Vilassar.

After my ordeal, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how to put a Renault in reverse.

Avatar photo

Written by 

Leave a Comment?