Saturday, February 7, 2009

To drive or not to drive

Did I mention that I am not driving here? Well, I’m not. Or at least not yet. Husband has the dubious honor of doing ALL the driving. I tried last month, when we were in Scotland, and it was not as successful as I had hoped it would be. A number of factors conspire against me, however, and I feel they must be mentioned, in my defense. The first two reasons are obvious. The driver’s side of the car is on the passenger side, which only compounds the confusion of having to drive on the WRONG side of the road.

I’ve been cautious in my choice of words when describing things here, careful to describe anything that is different as just that…different. Never as “wrong.” However, I’m confident in calling the side of the road on which they drive as wrong. In fact, many of them call it the same thing, which I find interesting. I’m told that the genesis of that particular side of the road comes from when they rode in carriages drawn by horses and needed to have their gun ready to shoot at all times. Or something like that…I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I do recall that it sounded more like something out of Texas than England. Anyway, I have to wonder whether they’d still be driving on that side if they weren’t on an island…like if they were actually connected to the rest of Europe with a highway and you had to pull over to the side of the road and do some kind of switch where you’d re-enter the highway (and whatever new country) on the correct side. As it is, to get to Europe with your car you have to go via the Eurotunnel ( a.k.a. the “chunnel” (tunnel under the English Channel.) The Eurotunnel has an underground train that is more like a ferry in that you drive your car onto it and when you emerge on the other side (in France) you drive off the train. True story. Look it up.

AS I WAS SAYING….I haven’t been driving, for a number of reasons, one of which is the speed at which they drive. I’ve observed that there are four speeds driven here…there’s the speed they drive when they have like two or three flat tires, which is 'sub-light speed', then there’s the speed at which they go in reverse, also known as 'light speed'. Then there’s the speed they drive through a school zone: ridiculous speed. Lastly there’s the speed they drive the other 95% of the time, through neighborhoods, in cities, on back roads, on the highway (or as they say, ‘motorway’) which is 'ludicrous speed'. (Yes, I used all the speeds featured in Spaceballs…seemed appropriate. In any case, the locals drive WAY too fast for me to be out there trying to figure it all out.

For as insanely fast as they drive, you’d expect to see a bunch of accidents every mile or so. I’m impressed by the lack of fender benders and crashes. They call it a “smash” and apparently they are pretty good at avoiding it.

To further compound the difficulty of not knowing where you are, not being on the correct side of the road, and sitting on the opposite side of the car is the fact that the majority of the information is written not on signs, but on the surface of the road itself. There aren’t many signs. Also, there aren’t many opportunities for stopping, or pulling over, to get your bearings. It is rare to see stoplights, as the intersections are mostly roundabouts, so the respite of a stoplight is hard to come by. Same holds true for pulling over…the roads are narrow and have no real shoulders.

I’m not saying that I won’t drive again, ever. I’m going to do it, I really am. It’s just that I’m still feeling a bit unsure about myself, especially after the debacle I made of moving. (I know, I know…I keep throwing that “moving” thing out there without much explanation. I’m almost finished with a post on that. It was difficult to put into words. It really was one of those “you had to be there” times, although I PROMISE you that you did NOT want to be there. Just ask Katrina and Geoff.)

I have this fear that my inability to drive well will lead to indignation and suddenly I’m The Rude American. I have this image of myself driving like Otto in the movie ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ where he drives all over London on the right side of the road, making all the British people swerve out of HIS way to avoid a head-on collision. After he passes the swerving, honking British driver, Otto leans out the driver’s side window and yells, ‘Asshoooooooolllllllllle!” and continues to drive on. He appears to be self-righteous, but really, he’s just incredibly stupid. The message, however, is still the same: what the hell are you doing driving that direction on this side of the road?????

Here is a clip from You Tube that is called ‘The Best of Otto’. Anyone who has seen the movie knows that there are some hilarious parts that have some serious cursing in them, so I’m putting a disclaimer on the entire clip…it should NOT be viewed within earshot of children. The reason I’m posting the link is to show you the driving scene I’m talking about, which is during the first ten seconds, (and another one occurs during the last minute) so if you are one of my friends that is easily offended by gratuitous cursing, you won’t enjoy the remainder of the clip. If such language doesn’t offend you, then not only should you enjoy the clip, but watch the movie sometime.

That being said, I admit that I find it admirable that the men and women of the United Kingdom do not care whether outsiders find their driving to be strange. You have to love that. It’s like, “my island, my rules.”

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