Archive for June 19, 2011

Wrong side of the road is one thing …

June 19, 2011 1 comment

Just another beautiful day in the English countryside. What's that you say? There's a monument behind me?

Yesterday was my big-ass British driving adventure. This was a needlessly expensive endeavor, and frankly one of those most stressful days I can recall having. There were the plentiful scrapes on the sides of roads, the lines of cars behind me as I winded my slowly down dark country roads, and I also got lost multiple times. It wasn’t all bad. At least I got to experience an outdoor concert during a hail storm. You can scratch that off my bucket list!

My first stop was the rental car agency, which I stupidly thought was on Edgeware (that’s where the Hertz is), so I wandered around looking for it, and it wasn’t there. My stupid Tripit app decided at that moment to NOT work, so I had to find out where it was. So I paid 50p for some Internet time at a sketchy cafe. I also made sure to print out directions for that night’s ride home, you know, because I wouldn’t want to get lost.

Then I’m in my car, and the whole thing is fucked. Driving on the left side of the road is one thing — you get used to this pretty quickly. What you don’t get used to is the fact that everyone in London drives like you’re the biggest asshole in the history of the world for not speeding through traffic. It’s like New York but with weirder and narrower streets. The worst part of it all is sitting on the right side of the car when you drive. This is awful. I had to shift with my left hand, which as an ambidextrous person, isn’t so bad, but I kept banging my hand against the door going to shift. Every time I got out of my car to take a break, I’d open up the left-hand door to get back in. Want to go in reverse? Where’d that rear view mirror go?

But it messes you up in subtle, dangerous ways as well. I’m driving a rental car (a Renault Scenic — some of you would ask), so I have no idea how wide it is. And after scraping the curb a few times, my paranoia increased. You drive through these villages where cars are just parked in the road, making a two-lane road into one very narrow road, and two cars want to go through at the same time, and I’m just letting everyone else go, taking it easy. But then of course I get these lines of cars behind me who all want to pass me, but the roads are so twisty, narrow and windy, forget about it. It was nearly 14:00 when I finally got to Stonehenge (a good 2 hours over estimate).

I feel about Stonehenge much like I felt about Old Faithful. Not very exciting, and you can’t get close to it to make it exciting. I understand they don’t want people to tag Stonehenge, or knock it over, or climb on it or whatever, but it’s a bit ridiculous. Most of the people arrive on buses from London, snap a few photos and go. Sure, it was rainy and windy yesterday, but take the time to listen to the audio tour at least. I did, and I found out that they don’t really know what it’s for. “Imagine yourself on a procession to Stonehenge, if that’s what happened here.” There’s even a Doctor Who joke on the audio tour; they tell you to stand by the Tardis at one point. I mentioned this fact to the audio tour kid, and he said, “Is there? I haven’t listened to it.”

The English Heritage people create their own Stonehenge mystery. Why is there a walking path to nowhere that you aren't allowed to walk on?

After Stonehenge, I went to Bath. I didn’t know why I was going there, other than that it was supposed to be a place to go. I yelled at no one a few times trying to find parking before going into a car park that had impossibly narrow ramps with car paint all over them, probably left by American tourists in rental cars. I didn’t want to add any of my paint to this collection, so I was extremely careful, and got honked at. Well fuck you, too!

So did I go to the Roman Baths in the 15 minutes I had before they closed? Heck, no, I went to Millet’s and bought a tent and sleeping bag. I figured I wouldn’t have a better chance. Besides, I was already so frustrated and out of it, I wanted to do something normal, like shop. Had there been a Vans store in Bath, I’d probably have a new pair of Vans. (As it is, my Merrell shoes are already failing me, and they might not make it through this entire trip. Can anybody recommend an insole?)

After Bath, it was on to Westonbirt Abrobretum, which felt a lot like watching a concert in Golden Gate Park. Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened, and she had a couple of hits in England about ten years ago, and people were enjoying her as a novelty act, although her new album is really good. No one at this show, with the exception of the tall hand waving maniac in the front row, will ever hear this album, though. It’s a shame.

And then we waited for Erasure, and then it started raining. Not some gentle drizzle, because when it rains in England, it pours like a motherfucker. Just sheets and sheets of rain. The band came on stage, played one song, then went into “Breath of Life,” and next thing I know, marbles of hail started falling everywhere. Ice for everyone’s drinks! Andy Bell commented, “Can’t God make up his mind?” Two songs later, the rain had stopped and by the end everything was dry but the muddy ground beneath. (Rubber boots FTW!) The concert was incredibly fun, which was good, because I was considering leaving early, but then they’d play another song, and another, and the rain never came back, and the people danced and sang, and all was good.

So of course I had to drive home afterward. I looked at my directions and saw that there were many country roads in my future. So I pulled out the beat-up, five-year-old road atlas I had borrowed from Europcar, and found a way that was several miles out of the way, but involved fewer country roads and more highways. I led a giant line of cars to the M4, and then I sped along, all the while scared that I may not actually know where the road was going. It wasn’t lit, and the lines weren’t even reflective. It was a fucking nightmare.

But it couldn’t get worse, because I had my directions, and when the highway finally became lit at Reading, it was clear sailing. And then I got off at some exit somewhere which wasn’t the exit I wanted because that came up too fast, and then I followed a sign that said local traffic. At this point, I was driving down tiny roads with homes and drunk people, including one weird guy who was dancing with a stick through the street. I was lost, with no hope of escape. Except there was. I called Megan, asked her to pull up Google Maps, and she led me safely to my destination. She’s like an angel looking out for me!

Does Megan have the phonebox? Or did I see this today in Trafalagar Square as a promotion for some tourist attraction?

At long last, my rental car nightmare was over! That is, until it took two hours, directions from three different people, and a lot of being honked at to get back to the car drop off point. But even talking about that would stress me out, and I’m unstressed right now. Today, I watched West End Live, looked at my favorite paintings in the National Gallery, saw Attack the Block, and ate some delicious cheap Italian food. That’s so much less stressful, it’s practically sleeping.

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