Mark Ballard

Life’s a balancing act — especially when you’re driving a manual

Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard

Sometimes I feel like an untrained juggler desperately trying to balance all the things that pop up in my daily life. Everyone knows how hard it is to decide which issues are the most important to address and which ones to let go.

Our world today is filled with more issues to juggle than ever before. It seemed easy when I was a child, but somewhere around high school, my balancing act became even harder. With each year came more responsibility — like learning to drive, having a job, making a car payment and balancing the few dollars I had in my checkbook.

A perfect lesson in balancing came to me in the form of learning to drive a car with a manual transmission. I practiced with my mother in abandoned parking lots and on empty country roads. Mother was chosen to be my teacher since she had more patience than my daddy. A little shudder actually comes over me just thinking about this convoluted process. With me behind the wheel, Mother carefully explained the concept of shifting gears.

In essence, it made perfect sense; in reality, it was scary.

We sputtered and choked up and down many roads. I was frustrated more times than not, but Mother refused to allow me to give up! With time, I graduated to real streets with other cars, but my confidence didn’t follow. The one thing I dreaded most was a hill — especially a steep one.

I can vividly recall the day I loaded up my little Honda Civic with a group of friends and headed to the movie theater that used to be on Riverside Drive. Anyone from Macon will certainly remember the steep hill you had to tackle to exit the cinema. The movie we saw was “Grease,” which I had previously seen so many times that I knew most of the words to the songs.

After the movie was over, I approached the intimidating hill as we happily and in a somewhat off-key tone blurted out various songs from the movie. I slowly drove up the hill following the other cars without paying much attention until I had to come to a complete stop near the top.

This is when things went from “You’re the One That I Want” to “Oh, Sandy!” The line of cars behind appeared to have no end. I pushed in the clutch and shifted into first gear! I slowly slid my foot off the brake and immediately rolled back a little. This happened multiple times in my attempt to exit. With each roll, the headlights of the car behind me appeared closer, causing me to become even more frustrated.

By this time, our singing had ceased and an eerie silence filled the small car. Horns began to honk and I began to shake. As anyone knows, becoming nervous is like throwing gasoline on to a fire. I looked into the rearview mirror and said out loud, as if the person who was basically sitting on my back bumper could hear me, “Fool, don’t you know I’m going to roll?”

In a panic, I snatched up the emergency brake and attempted to ease it off while simultaneously applying gas. Then it happened! I was mortified! My car choked down as it clung to the top of the hill. At that moment, I didn’t remember Mother covering this in her “learning to drive a stick shift” lesson plan. Time stood still! Not a word was uttered.

I was abruptly brought back to reality when a man started banging on my window. “Get out!” he yelled. “You’re causing a traffic jam!”

Without protest and to the horror of my passengers, I immediately surrendered my vehicle. I stood beside my car as the unknown man drove out onto Riverside Drive like “Greased Lightning.”

Getting back into my car, I offered thanks but he said nothing as he scurried back to his car. Even though it was with an attitude, he had saved the day and traffic began to flow.

From that day until now, I’ve had to balance much more important things but none left the kind of impression on me that stopping traffic on the top of that hill did.

Learning to balance life is always a work in progress. It is so difficult to manage all the obstacles in our way. With each attempt, hopefully we learn a lesson.

Also, I still remember where I was when I was finally able to balance my car on a hill. I just wanted to get back in touch with that man and tell him. I’m sure he wouldn’t care, but it would have made me feel better!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.