Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 22, 2018

No driving ambition

I have never cared much to drive, and as I get older, whatever ambition I had for it is waning. I’d like to blame my aversion to getting behind the wheel on the accident my family was in when I was 10. But sister Gaila didn’t flinch a few years ago from driving a U-Haul through Times Square in New York City while moving her daughter to Washington, D.C.

I’m not a very relaxed passenger either. I try to give husband Art less “helpful advice” than I used to, but I think he just realizes that I cannot help myself. So, he has come to ignore my comments most of the time. At his request, I have toned down my remarks. He has pointed out that a loud and fear-tinged “Look out” can startle him and may create an accident as he looks around trying to figure out what impending disaster he hasn’t noticed.

Our friend Deb had the opportunity to see my nervousness during our recent vacation in Wales. She sat behind me and remarked she could always tell how concerned I was by how much her leg room decreased when I pushed my seat back toward her as I braced for a crash that never occurred.

Traveling the one-lane roads of the Welsh countryside was often nerve-wracking for me. Since these roads only rarely had a straight section of more than 100 feet, I was always anticipating another vehicle barreling toward us just around the next curve. And, on occasion, one would be there. It was especially “exciting” when it was a truck or tractor. While the other driver and Art would calmly brake, I’d let out some exclamation, even though on no occasion were we really close. Then, while my heart was restarting, one of the drivers would start reversing to the nearest passing point to let the other vehicle pass by.

Driving on the left side of the road adds a bit of anxiety too, although Art and I have enough miles doing it that it doesn’t bother me the way it used to. However, Art will occasionally relate a story from a 1983 trip to Great Britain - his first one - that doesn’t help my anxiety level.

Because of the number of people traveling together, his friend Bill had rented one car and Art another from the Hertz people at London’s Gatwick airport. Since Bill had made the plans and had been in England the previous year, he was to lead. Art had been given a Talbot - a make he had never heard of. The woman at the counter had assured him it was a “fine little car.”

At the first roundabout at the very edge of the airport, Bill slipped though just ahead of a truck. Art worried he might lose Bill and, since it was the age before cell phones, might never find him again. So rather than wait at the very edge of the roundabout as he should have, he moved slowly leftward into the traffic, waiting for the truck to complete his turn.

But the truck was not turning! Instead, it went out the exit immediately to Art’s left and the trailer was unusually long. When the truck had completely cleared, Art found he had drifted too far left and the small island of the left exit was directly in front of him. Before he could stop, he jumped it. A bunch of red warning lights lit up the Talbot’s dashboard. The gearshift went slack and the engine stopped.

Shortly, a police vehicle came by and Art thought he’d get a ticket. But the two cheerful constables informed him that there was no law against smashing your car. Then, with a slight grin, one added that the growing pool of oil under the fine little car might be considered an offense.

When he returned to the rental office, Art told the counter gal, “You know that fine little car you just rented me? Well I just smashed it.”

Without batting an eye, she answered, “Well, we’ll just have to get you another.”

Art wondered how many cars they would let him go through before deciding enough was enough.

But that was the only real incident he’s ever had. There have been many curb checks, a few close calls, and, most recently, a run-in with the passenger-side mirror on our way across a narrow stone bridge. Although the mirror snapped back toward the door, it wasn’t damaged.

As the years have passed, even Art is amazed that he can get in a car in Britain and drive on the left as naturally as he drives on the right in other places. However, we did have a surprise three years ago. After spending some time in France, we took a one-hour flight to London and immediately rented a car and drove to Wales. Art had wondered if switching sides with so little time having elapsed might be a problem, but it was not.

Then, some days later, we returned to France. As Art began to go right at the first roundabout, both daughter Katie and I wrongly exclaimed he was going the wrong direction. He laughed, adding that he too had the “feeling” he was making a mistake, despite the fact that driving on the right is what he has done most of his life.

This week, Gaila and I are off to California. After a couple of days in San Francisco, we will be driving to my cousin’s place in Paso Robles and then later to see my Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay outside of Los Angeles. As Art was completing the rental-car reservation, he asked if he should put us both down as drivers. I responded immediately, “Nope. Just put down Gaila! If she can get a U-Haul through Times Square in New York, she can drive me anywhere!”

Top-left: Gloria standing in the road from St. Melangell church. Since it is less traveled, the roadbed is compacted gravel, but the width is greater than many Welsh roads. Top-right: There wasn't much room at the edge of this wide spot in the road for this man trimming his hedge. Bottom: A bridge over the River Dee near Llangollen.

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