Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Monday, August 15, 2016
My goal this year is to be less of a wind-sock and more of a leader. I plan to be more active and less re-active. I am going to practice Agency, so life doesn’t pass me by.
With Agency in mind, I decided to rent a car in Australia so we could drive ourselves around instead of relying on a guide or a bus or a taxi driver.
Plus I figured Guy could do it.
Guy didn’t want to.
Several weeks after I booked our trip, he mentioned that he wouldn’t be participating in the rental car driving experience.
He said that he thought I should be the one to drive our family around on the wrong side of the road because I am more “flexible”. He also pointed out that since I am younger, I have less years of driving experience influencing my reaction time.
Which is fine. Really. It’s fine.
On our way to the Thrifty Car Rental desk in the Adelaide Airport, we stopped and bought sandwiches and a cup of coffee, which came to a frightening seventy -five Australian dollars.
“I think you’ll need this,” said Guy, handing me the coffee. He walked along next to me, chatting.
He said, “Driving is going to be like learning a new language except instead of conjugating verbs you’re going to have to figure out what lane to drive in!”
“Yep,” I said, because remember how good I am at conjugating verbs?
“And the rearview mirrors are going to be facing the wrong direction!” he chortled.
“Yep,” I said, demonstrating Agency by not dropping to my knees in terror.
“You’re going to have to concentrate really hard,” Guy counseled. “All your reactions are going to be WRONG!”
“Yep,” agreed Toby, who doesn’t even know how to drive anyway.
“I’ve done this before!” I reminded them, since when I was in Wales during college I successfully manouvered my boyfriend’s little Geo around the sheep and the hedgerows and while some things DID happen in that car, it was in the backseat and not on the wrong side of the road.
“That was a LONG time ago!” Tavish said.
“Heh heh heh,” my family snickered in an unusual display of unity.
“Perhaps.” I snarled, “Perhaps since it’s YOUR lives that are about to be in MY hands, you should all be taking a more positive approach to this experience.”
There was a moment of hush, then someone murmured, “Go, Mom”.
Eventually we reached the rental desk where I presented the clerk, an eager-to-please young man in a tidy navy blue V-neck sweater, with my car rental confirmation slip.
“Um,” he said. “Did you make this reservation?”
“Yes,” I answered, squaring my shoulders with Agency. “I made this reservation online and I am also going to be the driver of the car because no one else wants to do it.”
“Err,” he said gently, “This reservation is for the Thrifty Rental Desk in the SYDNEY airport. Right now we are at the Adelaide airport.”
“Oops,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, biting his lower lip, frantically typing into his computer.
“Well, THAT was a mistake,” said Guy.
“Yes,” the clerk said again. “It certainly was. And we are all booked up today.”
To which I found a silver lining. No car = no drive.
I tried to hide my relief with insoucience.
“Well gosh,” I said. “Not sure how THAT happened. What-ever will we do?”
“I have a van I can give you,” the clerk offered helpfully. “Eight passenger.”
“I bet that would be too expensive,” I said, shaking my head sadly while mentally deducting the cost of the inevitable taxi ride to our hotel with no guilt at all.
The clerk tapped a few more taps on the computer.
“Don’t worry,” he said gallantly, “I’ll give you the van for the same price as the car you reserved in Sydney” .
“My, my,” I said.
Underwhelmed by my lack of response, our hero declared, “I’m saving you a lot of money!”
“Thanks,” I managed, and took a gulp of coffee.
“She’s going to be driving a VAN!” said Guy, gleefully. “I’ll have to remember to get in on the passenger side of the VAN so I don’t end up driving it!”
“SHHH!” I scolded him, like an angry kindergarten teacher at a school assembly.
He reached over and took a solemn drink from my coffee cup.
The van is large and grey with sliding side doors and a generous back hatch. The paint is already scratched on the front fender, which I find reassuring because I have a scratch there on my car at home, too.
The distance from the airport to our hotel in Glenelg, a tiny town with a friendly pedestrian street lined with café tables along huge beach streaked with loops of ecstatic local dogs, is less than ten kilometers but it took us more than an hour to get there in our eight passenger rental van.
The whole transportation thing is a lot more complicated than just driving yourself along in a car on the wrong side of the road.
Because other cars are also driving on the wrong side of the road and those drivers have no idea that you are an upstanding American citizen desperately trying to do the right thing. As far as they can tell, you’re just a hazard.
The windshield wipers are where the blinker should be, and every single time I signal a difficult right turn by flicking the wipers on high, Guy snickers like Tickle me Elmo.
The boys, who can only see the back of my head, forget that I am the driver and not the passenger. They poke my shoulder to show me something out the window, or on their phones.
“Mom!” they say. “Mom!” and wonder why I am ignoring them while on a family vacation, the express purpose of which is to spend time with my children.
“She’s driving,” Guy hisses between clenched teeth, body tense, eyes glued to the road.
Because this isn’t easy for him, either.
Guy takes cars, care maintenance and the art of driving seriously, while I approach tight spaces with a more cavalier attitude. I’m not afraid of dings. As a sixteen year old, when I pulled into the driveway on the way home from successfully passing my driving test, I took out the side mirror on the mailbox. I’ve popped two tires hitting the curb on the turn into the college.
For Guy, this is a slice of Dante’s circles of hell. But he’s doing the best he can to keep his mouth shut.
You could do a metaphor for our marriage here, if you want.
Here in Australia, Guy doesn’t want to say the wrong thing in case I make him drive, so he communicates nonverbally. When he stiffens his leg, I put on the brakes. When he leans forward, I speed up. If he clears his throat, I veer back off the left side of the road. If he shakes the map, I know I missed a turn. When he coughs, I bark, “What is it now??!!”
We paid the efficient young man at the Thrifty desk an extra $80 for a navigation system. Unfortunately, the woman inside the box isn’t reliable.
On our first outing, we tried to drive to Cleland Wildlife Park, on the outskirts of Adelaide. The navigator woman directed us back to the Adelaide Airport and we drove for miles in the wrong direction while obediently following her directions.
I gently suggested to Guy that as the adult in the passenger seat, he should be less dependent on a feckless computer. I gave him a map. I mentioned he could read the road signs.
After an hour, the boys shifted and murmured that it takes a long time to get anywhere in Australia, but they didn’t say it very loudly, because they were a little scared I would turn on them, too.
We DID make it to the Cleland Animal Park that day.
We met two wallabies with soft noses and deep round eyes fringed with long black lashes. We held out handfuls of kangaroo food and they grabbed us with their little fingers and delicately nibbled the pellets.
We saw two Tasmanian Devils howling at each other like angry tom cats. Tasmanian Devils have teeth strong enough to crunch through bones. Their ears turn red when they get angry. They store excess fat in their tails. A female Tasmanian Devil may give birth to up to thirty young, but she only has four teats inside her marsupial pouch. It takes Agency to be a Tasmanian Devil.
We petted a Koala while she chewed on a eucalyptus branch.
We listened to emus make sounds like bass drums, deep in their skinny hairy throats.
I heard a kookaburra laughing.
During the clear cool sunset that night, we walked along the beach from our hotel to a small Indian restaurant. Tavish didn’t love the vindaloo, though he was polite about it and the waiter brought him a batch of chicken nuggets instead because he said it makes him sad when people don’t eat.
And this is the end of this blog post, not because it has a natural sense of closure, but because the world is full of wonder and kindness and confusion, and it is beautiful.