If you have never ridden in the passenger seat with me, well, you’ve missed out on one of the wildest and scariest rides of your life. I can still remember one of the first times “practicing” on the interstate when I was 15, Dad next to me, and we were merging onto I-65 coming off of I-459…a rather huge curve to the right. For some reason, I just kept speeding up on that curve. I felt in control, personally, but Dad must have felt we were about to fly right off the interstate into the culvert because all of a sudden he yelled (uncharacteristically), “Shit Molly! You don’t speed up on the curves! Slow the hell down!!!”
And then there was poor Jake Crenshaw, a wonderful childhood neighbor I took to school, me being one year older and in possession of the most ballin’ boxy white Volvo ever. I was always running late, so Jake’s way of saving us time was to walk the quarter mile to my parent’s driveway and patiently stand next to the car… (I’m sorry, Jake, you deserved better. Especially since you kept us from getting into many a wreck.) Jake would usually white-knuckle-grasp the roof handle, holding on for dear life, and give me these kind, but very worried sounding alerts as to how far I had until my exit—all while I put make-up on and tossed shedding hair out of the window. We’re both lucky to be alive.
While in college, I got three speeding tickets in a veeeeerrrry short period of time. As a result, the State of Alabama revoked my driver’s license for 3 months, resulting in a nice little visit from my parents who came to confiscate the car. The car confiscation ended up being more of a punishment for Clay though, because that just meant he had to tote my behine around everywhere.
Living in Los Angeles made me a somewhat improved driver, but to this day, if I call the driver’s seat before Clay, I can feel his dread growing as he anticipates me accidentally NAILING every pothole while objects fly about the car.
So, since I am clearly a master behind the wheel in the U.S., it only seemed natural to move to New Zealand and purchase a right-hand-drive, 15 year old diesel Toyota Land Cruiser…a wide, lumbering, lineman of a car…and learn how to drive it on the other side of the road, with different laws and signs than the ones I am used to. The first used car dealer we went to in Auckland was pretty much what you’d expect from any used car dealership in America—bright streamers flying in the wind, the smell of tire shine and deep discounts. What was completely unexpected, however, was the dealer’s first question after we explained that we were looking for a roomy and reliable 4×4 SUV that will be good in the snow come winter. He said to us very matter-of-factly, “Well will you be sleeping in the car?” Excuse me, what? Sleeping in the car? I mean…I may have been in my favorite cinched-at-the-ankles sweat pants, a tatty t-shirt, wild hair, and no make-up, but did he think I was a destitute woman, a bag lady on the verge of homelessness, and this nice man (Clay) was buying a used car for me to live in? I don’t know about you, but in America, if you are sleeping in your car, it’s not your top choice for accommodation. Not here in NZ. LOADS of Kiwis convert their cars/vans into these little “homes” with what seems to be a plywood bed and a make-shift kitchen. An entire post to come about this culture. I am wanting to interview some of these people first. They fascinate me because all ten of my suitcases are practically bigger than their “home.”
So about this used car…we haven’t named her yet. I know she’ll speak to us soon and tell us her name. Clay waited until we were in a very desolate area to say, “Alright Molly, ready to give her a go? You gotta get used to it, because you’re gonna be driving thirty minutes every day out to the farm.” It was absolutely hilarious how gentle and encouraging he was trying to sound as I drove. “Yep, doin’ good babe…yep, yep…maybe just scoot a liiiittle more towards the middle of the road, you got a good two feet on your side. Okay, we’re getting pretty close to the edge of the cliff on my side babe.” He looked terrified, but sounded ever so nonchalant and confident in me.
Round two of practice didn’t go much better. I did a test drive from our apartment to the farm, and I found out that Kiwis drive like bats out of hell. I thought I drove fast…oh no no no no. I was going along thinking I was doing just fine, Clay’s warnings that I was about to drive us off a cliff were becoming less and less, so my confidence was growing. But then a van packed with kids flew past me, and every single kid immediately turned around and gave me the stink eye, as if to say, “Who is this 100 year old granny that doesn’t know how to drive the speed limit?!?!” So the next day was round three, and it was the real deal, because I had to drive to the farm by myself for my first day. I thought to myself, “I’ll show those dirty-faced little mongrels that scowled at me yesterday! Imma keep up with the pace of traffic!!! Watch out New Zealand! Mollymac is on the roads!” And off I went, blundering down the road. Not ONE minute into this journey, a cop appeared behind me and turned his lights on. My stomach immediately fell on the floorboard, then profuse sweating and panic began as I pulled off the road, rolled down my window, and started digging through my purse to find my ID, just hoping to God the officer wouldn’t ask for registration and insurance, because we neither had come in the mail yet. This tall, ginger-haired officer walked up and said in his Kiwi accent, “You know what the speed limit is around here?” I hesitated a few seconds, then ashamedly and sheepishly admitted, “No”. He then looked down at my Alabama license and said, “How long have you been in town?”. I said, “Ummmmmm, one day. I’m here to temporarily work on a flower farm thirty minutes outside of town, and today is my first day.” He moseyed around the car, contemplating for a minute, and came back to my side. “Right-e-o. Okay then, I’ll let you off with a warning this time. But just so ya know, the speed limit is 50 through here, not 80! And that is kilometers per hour, NOT miles per hour!” I stammered out an apology, thanked him, and told him it wouldn’t happen again.
Thankfully, I haven’t been pulled over again, but to say I am “used” to driving a right-hand-drive car on the wrong side of the road would be a big fat lie. Most mornings looks a bit like this…I am frazzled because, well, I’m running behind, so I semi-jog to the car, arms loaded down with purse, cantene, work bag, planner, apples, you name it. I fling open the door, jump in, look up, and exclaim, “Son of a &^%#@!!!! Where is my steering wheel?!” Then I embarrassingly look around in every direction like a squirrel to see who is watching and laughing at me, jump out and run to the other (correct) side of the car, crank her up, and immediately start reaching for the gear shifter with my right hand. Uuuugghhh! C’mon Molly, get it together! Next, I usually proceed to drive down the wrong side of the road until I see a car start to come directly at me, when I shout another expletive, probably my mom’s favorite one (you know Mom). I am hoping muscle memory will take place very, very soon. Might need your prayers on that one.
I’m just grateful we ended up with our hunter green beauty of a truck, even if she is a bit loud and lurching. We almost ended up with one of these awkward boxes. I definitely would have tumped (rolled, for you non-Southerners) it over by now. Thing looks like it would topple over with the slightest gust of wind.
Now, it’s time to close this post down, hop in the truck, and explore the mountains that have been calling my name all morning—a call that cannot be denied. Before you start getting yourself worked up and worried, I’m riding shotgun today. Oh, and thanks, Dad, for keeping us from flying into that culvert. This song’s for you…