Life on the 'Other Side' of the Road...
January 27, 2006
One of the exciting things about coming to New Zealand was that it was going to give me my first experience of driving on the
other side of the road. Don’t get me wrong…the idea of this scared me quite a bit. But I also knew that I would be a pro at this by
the time I had to turn the car back in – 22 days later.
Whatever hesitation I had about driving the car didn’t even compare to the fear that Jim and Kathleen seemed to have when I
got behind the wheel. If it was up to Jim, he would have driven every minute of the way and would have only given me the keys
as he unloaded his bags at the airport. The only way I got to drive the car the first day was by exerting the small amount of
control that came with having the rental car being under my name and credit card.
What a treat driving with two other people who had absolutely no confidence in my abilities! Kathleen expressed concern that
went beyond my just driving on the other side of the road – she pointed out the fact that it had been over 8½ months since I had
been behind the wheel of a car, period. Thanks, Kat. Then there was Jim who was a bit wary of my ability to stay within the lane.
He put in a request that if he was to die from my driving he would rather go from a head-on collision by my driving over the
center line divider versus driving too close to the edge (which I was a bit prone to doing) and having the car go off a cliff. Okay
Jim, I’ll make a mental note of this.
Maybe I did give them a few reasons for concern. Within an hour of my driving, one bird’s life came to a tragic end. The last site it
saw in its birdie life was the hood our silver Nissan Pulsar. Oops.
Then there was the time I was driving through a town and I noticed Kat grasping onto the little handle on the door. I told her she
should relax. She informed me that I was driving very close to the parked cars. I wasn’t really aware of that. She was pretty
surprised to hear that I had absolutely no idea that I had actually clipped a car with our side-view mirror. All I could say was
“Really? Are you sure?” Yes, she was sure. Oops again.
And then there was the time that I turned into the wrong lane when I turned the wrong direction in a roundabout. This would
have been a much simpler problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the lanes were separated by a concrete divider. I had to back out
of the situation while praying nobody was in the roundabout. Luckily, nobody was. Oops once again.
And then there was the time that I cut my right-hand turn a bit short while coming off of the highway. This would have been no
problem at all except for that this also happened to be the moment somebody was coming down the street and my car and their
car met face-to-face. I was a bit scared by the other driver. ‘Angry’ does not begin to express how she looked. She forced me to
back up onto the highway to be able to have room to drive around the left-side of her car. Mental note: no more cutting turns
short. And the ‘oops’ just keep continuing.
And then there was the time when a gas station was full and instead of driving through the gas station, I decided to get out by
backing out…onto the highway. Jim put an end to this once he realized that I had absolutely no problem giving this a try. I guess
this was a time it was okay for them to question my driving common sense. But as Kat said, it had been over 8 months. I was
bound to forget a few basics. Note to self for the next few weeks I’m driving: no backing onto a highway where the speed limit
is 100 km/hour.
I’m sure Kat and Jim don’t quite believe me when I say that my driving was stellar once I was alone in the car. No close calls. No
wrong lanes. No turns in the wrong direction. I was even completely comfortable with the turn signals (as it is next to impossible
for anybody to not turn on the windshield wipers when they mean to turn on the blinker when they first take to the road – it
seems like this happens a good 10-15 times before it starts to almost feel natural to remember that these little things are on the
opposite sides of the steering wheel than they are at home).
The only problem with driving on my own…which is only too obvious…is that it was all me, all the time. There was nobody to play
driver switcharoo with any more. Many days I had to put in 7 hours on the road since I was in a time crunch to get to the ferry
and also to get to the very north of the country. One of the main problems lied in the fact that there was no CD player in the car –
only a radio that barely got any reception. There was only one thing I could do. While I know it’s a bit of a no-no, I put my little
earbuds in my ears and listened to my ipod while I was driving. The only time I didn’t have to do this was in those few moments
every now and then when a couple stations would come in. These were the moments when I was oh-so-thankful that nobody was
in the car with me as I was belting out songs like Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’, The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ and Guns ‘n
Roses’ ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’. I was appreciating that the radio stations were playing songs that seemed like a
tribute to my younger days. But it was good that nobody else had to be around in the car to suffer through these moments.
I was also happy to have the car to myself since Jim refused to stop the car for me to take pictures of the kiwi road signs. I am
serious that he flat-out refused. The nerve! He and Kat could not understand why in the world I would want a picture of such a
thing. I couldn’t understand why they would not want a picture of such a thing. The problem was that when I came across these
things while driving by myself was that there was nowhere to pull to the side of the road so I kept my camera on the passenger
seat and when I would see a sign coming up ahead I would slow down a bit while putting the camera in my lap and then I would
snap the picture as I was driving. Probably not the safest thing, I know. I blame the country - why does New Zealand have to put
such cute signs on their roads? Is it any consolation that I quadruple-checked in my rear-view mirror that no other cars were
behind me? Probably not.
And now that the car is back at the rental car company, I have some car stats:
There were over 5500 kilometers (over 3000 miles) added to the mileage (or do they call it ‘kilometerage’?) on the car in 22
Three birds lost their lives as a result of my being behind a driver’s wheel.
The car company didn’t find any damage to the car (one of the guys who worked there told me this was extremely rare as many
times there is at least a dent or two). I definitely deserve some credit for this.
After a brief adjustment period, driving on the other side of the road is not a problem whatsoever!
January 28, 2007
Now that I am in the Bay Area for a few days, I am back on the other side of the road (which technically cancels out ‘the other
side of the road’ in New Zealand to make it the same side of the road of that which I am used to). When I got picked up from the
airport, I had to stop myself from worrying when I thought Karen was driving down the wrong lane in the street.
She also lent me her car last night so that I could meet a friend. I guess I did get extremely comfortable with my Nissan Pulsar in
New Zealand as I turned on the windshield wipers at least five times when I meant to use the blinkers…