You’re an auto journalist who can’t drive a stick shift?
This is the question I’ve been bombarded with by readers, enthusiasts and people within the automotive media world. Then they see me walk. Or learn more about me.
(Editor’s Note: Jimmy wanted to share his unique perspective of being an automotive writer with a disability and what he faces daily. While not a typical article, it does demonstrate that there isn’t a single mold or outline for a motoring enthusiast, or an auto writer.)
You see, I was born with spina bifida. I was not supposed to walk at all. Most with this ailment are wheelchair bound. So, see, I’m actually pretty darn fortunate.
But, one of the many issues I have to deal with, on account of my “disability” (I hate that word) is a limp and a left leg that just barely works. I don’t even call it a limp, I like to call it swagger. Because I own it. It is part of who I am. It’s sculpted my outlook on life.
And that swagger, and all the other issues I’ve had to deal, help give me perspective as a writer, especially an automotive writer. While I physically can’t operate a clutch, that does not mean I can’t write about transmissions. I do miss out on opportunities to drive such vehicles as WRXs, some sports cars. I always have to remind my fleet managers who provide me with my test vehicles that I have to have an automatic transmission. I’ve missed out on same great vehicles as a result. It’s a bummer. But I swagger on.
In the eyes of some, this makes me less of an automotive journalist. The truth about today’s cars is that only 6.5 percent have manual transmissions. So I’m missing out on a scant amount. And of those that are MTs, there’s almost always an automatic transmission version too. So, you say it’s a problem, I say your thinking is stuck in the past or caters to quite a small audience.
You would think after having 14 surgeries to keep me walking, and dealing with aches and pains every day, that I’d be jaded and cynical. It’s certainly pervasive within the automotive writing world. I refuse to be that writer or that person who hates puppies and rainbows. I won’t be that reviewer who rips a vehicle just to rip it without any substantive reason for doing so. As such, with all my perspective and all I’ve been through, I go about my writing and my automotive reviews from that perspective – non-cynical and with swagger.
This does not mean I take it easy on vehicles. No, I treat them fairly. But so much of what I write about is subjective. I may not like the firm steering of that muscle car, while someone else finds it to be great. I think those brakes are mushy, you don’t. Those racing seats cramp my back, while it makes you feel like you’re a race car driver.
I’ve never experienced taking a Camaro with a fun pedal on a track. But I have driven cars on a track, despite having little feeling in my feet. I am able and capable to do it. I just have to let the machine do the shifting for me, which is fine. For those who thrive on ignorant judgment, anonymous internet posts and social media rants, I’m lesser of a writer for not having that ability or experience.
I accept that judgment, as ignorant as it is. I’m not writing as an enthusiast. Nor do I fancy myself a race car driver. I’m not into the Fast & Furious movies. I am the every man. I’m the regular consumer who appreciates cars, who has a passion for writing. I’m someone who thrives on informing people about the industry, and offering my take on these vehicles.
And I do it with swagger.
(Editor’s Note: Jimmy Dinsmore is a syndicated automotive writer whose Driver’s Side column appears in several newspapers and websites throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter @driversside.)