Sunday, November 17, 2013

U (K) Drive Me Crazy

One of the biggest differences between the U.S. and the U.K. is the rules of the road. As someone who started driving hay truck at the ripe ol' age of eight, this fact didn't particularly bother me before we moved. How hard could it be? You just switch sides, right?

My kinked back, white knuckles and squinted-shut eyes would disagree.

I took a four-hour driving class on base a few days ago. Nick asked me how it went. "I don't think we should ever drive here," I answered. "Let's hire a chauffeur."

Nick did the best he could. Friends, meet MacGyver Mercedes, so named for his ability to get us into and out of tight spots.
Nick's new car!
I've driven several hours around the British countryside now with three screaming children in the backseat. Sometimes I join them, especially when a giant combine, tractor or lorry (the British term for truck) goes whizzing by a few inches from my mirror.

"If your mirrors touch," the driving instructor had said, "then you're probably too close." In complete seriousness.

Because here's the deal: Brits don't make roads for cars. They make them for scenery. Therefore, the maintaining of centuries-old, 12-foot-tall hedges takes precedence over widening said roads to actually make room for two whole vehicles.

See this "road"? The GPS ordered me down what I thought was someone's driveway. Because MacGyver is, after all, straddling the entire width of the pavement. (Insert note: "pavement" is slang here for sidewalk). When I figured out it was a two-lane (2!)
road with a 60-mph limit (because that's their national speed limit), I actually spoke aloud. "You have GOT to be kidding me!"

The GPS assured me it was not. So on I went, most assuredly going well under 60, and praying against oncoming traffic until I got to a "better" path.

I guess, however, that driving here has certain perks. Like I have never prayed more continuously. During a 60-minute jaunt last week, I sang worship songs at the top of my lungs the whole way. "Oh, to get Avinly to calm down?" Nick asked. "Are you kidding?" I answered. "Those were for me."

While driving to a little town called Gayton, the kids riding along, I unexpectedly caught air while going over a hidden dip in the road. (To my mom: I was going well under the speed limit, because I haven't worked up the courage yet. I know you don't want me to ever.)

Avinly wasn't such a big fan of my driving maneuver, immediately wailing. Jack, however, thought it was pretty cool. "Let's do it again!" No worries, son, I'm sure we'll get to.

Thankfully, the driving instructor was full of useful information. Like charts and pie graphs about how many military members and their families have died in car crashes here in the last decade. And several inspiring videos of fantastic crashes and close calls.

And we have to somehow make it out of this country alive in four years.

Fun tidbits: when a curve is coming, there are no signs telling you how much you should slow down. Apparently, you're just supposed to know. Same with hazard lines; there's a hazard ahead, but what it actually turns out to be is anyone's guess. The stoplights aren't even the same as the States!

What's worse, after driving, one must park.

In an effort to be helpful, I suppose, the UK has deemed parking acceptable nearly everywhere. On sidewalks (see photos above and below), curbs and even in the lane you're driving in. No joke. Facing any direction, too. No matter that you're forcing running moms with double strollers to step into the street, or blocking traffic. The cars (and moms) behind you are then tasked with safely getting around without knocking over the bicyclists and horses that lawfully own one-third of the road. I find myself resisting the temptation to roll down the window and knock them over with my arm. I could, after all; they're that close.

And I haven't even started with the roundabouts.Or the fact that I've been driving vehicles much smaller than my mini-van that is due to arrive any day.

When I was 15 and in driver's ed, my first partner was Chad Davis, one of the most popular guys in school. I was in the backseat the first time he ever drove on a highway. As the speedometer climbed toward 55, he started going, "" in complete nervousness. (Side note: part of me was thrilled that Chad, the cool quarterback and future homecoming and prom king, wasn't perfect at everything the first time around).

Shane, our driving instructor, reassured him that he was doing just fine. "One thing at a time," he said. Chad protested, "But I've never been this fast" as his wheel clipped the shoulder. "Sorry," he drawled (because though Chad was just as much of a native as the rest of Creswell, he could still drawl).

Shane smiled. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. In a few years, you're gonna laugh that you ever thought this was hard."

Armed with my new British license, I'm going to take Shane's 13-year-old advice.