Driving me Crazy!

....and a few locals as well, my first few months driving here!

To understand the crazy part, you have to know where I was coming from driving wise.

In the UK I had 2 cars, I know very greedy and not at all eco-friendly! But I had reached the heady position at work where I had a Renault Scenic company supported car, a reasonably economical, comfortable motorway (freeway) friendly, multi-airbag car. It was great for fighting through the 112 mile journey to and from work, on one of the busiest sections of road in Europe.

I loved the fact I sat slightly higher in it and could see at least 6 cars ahead, vital when you're going from 85mph to 10mph every few minutes with no warning! Also comfortable on the usual journey of 2 hours a day, but great when that was extended to 3-5 hours a day dependant on some numbskull deciding today was their day to crash!

Then I had my fun, girly, glamourous, 'tart' car! A beautiful convertible silver Mazda MX-5 (Miata), with all the add-ons. Like the super-cool hard-top (I sold for a fortune separately on eBay before I left), chrome rollbar and glass screen that kept my hair perfect as I whizzed along sans roof. I loved that car, it was just so me and I hated to have to sell it, but it's not a practical car out here, especially as it would fit right under most Pickups!

I drove alot everyday in the UK and had done so for 21 years before coming here. At one point I was a Sales Manager covering a 1000 miles a month in heavy traffic around London and so I considered myself a pretty good, experienced driver.

Then I moved to Oklahoma and everything was turned on it's head!

I now drive a slightly retro Chevy Silverado Red Pickup and it's a lot of fun, plus entirely practical for my new life. And it's probably just as well it's bright red, as to say I was confused alot those first few weeks would be an understatement!

Not only are you on the wrong side of the road here, but you are also on the wrong side of the car. Plus both our Pickups are automatic and the lever thingy (I forgot the technical name) is on the steering wheel, not in the centre near the floor!

Lucky I live in a VERY smalltown! For the first few weeks I stayed within a 10 mile radius of home and concentrated on just staying on the right side of the road. And let me tell you, that was quite a challenge right there!

For once I was actually wishing for some traffic, ANY traffic to help me out. After all when you turn onto a road and the cars are in the right lane, it's harder to get that wrong and not hit something. But around here you often turn out and the road is completely empty for a few minutes. So if you were me, you just reverted to what you knew and sailed forth on the wrong side of the highway!

I gave a few locals a surprise they were not expecting those first few weeks. One day I approached our town rail crossing on the wrong side, only to meet a wide-eyed little old lady on the tracks, head-on! Another day I reversed out of a spot in front of the bank and happily drove the length of Main St on the wrong side, thinking how friendly the waving locals were to the new girl in town!

But by far my finest hour was when I left the Post Office and drove up Main St on the wrong side, until I suddenly realised I was about to have a head-on with our frantically gesticulating Deputy Sheriff. I swerved, missed him and he just waved me on with a big grin; he's still one of my favourite people around here!

So a bit of traffic would have been pretty handy as I tried to adjust.

When I wasn't driving I was forever walking to the wrong side of vehicles and trying to get in the drivers side. One day a friend picked me up and I just happily walked over and opened her door, to be met with "Oh! Are you driving us then?" LOL!

After a month I ventured to the 'big town' and had to deal with 4 way stops, the place where we would stick a roundabout in the UK. I have to admit I have sailed obliviously through a few here in my time and got really lucky no cars or cops were around. I am now at the point where I know their location locally, but elsewhere I have to concentrate alot harder so as not to miss one. I am sorry, but a roundabout in your way is just a whole lot easier to spot!

In July of 2006 I finally took my State Driving Test and passed first time, despite completely making a mess of parallel parking, something I had done pretty well everyday for 21 years in the UK! But around here there are very few chances to parallel park as you usually just pull into spaces and a Pickup is alot bigger than a car.

When I got back to my town I stopped in at our Quick Stop, where unsurprisingly as it was lunchtime, I found our local police force. I ran in waving my Oklahoma Drivers License and was met by a cheer and sighs of relief all round. I sat down and had a good laugh with them over the debacle of my previous 9 months driving. I also thanked them for not issuing me with any tickets or even pulling me over. They said they were just glad I was in such a highly visible vehicle and they'd figured I'd eventually get the hang of it! Somehow I don't think I'd have been so lucky in a bigger town, but then I'd have had some traffic to help me get it right!

It's still not entirely natural for me; I often have to peer at the dash to make sure I have hit 'reverse' with the shift, whenever I am driving a Brit' visitor and we're chatting I invariably end up on the wrong side of the street. I am pretty lucky I don't have a speeding ticket yet, I can rapidly revert to a Brit' with road rage if provoked and the Hubster still has to send me back to the passenger side pretty regularly!

What's going to be really interesting is the first time I drive back in the UK, one wrong move there and someone WILL hit me!


Lynne said...

I never really thought about how different the driving must seem to you. Is there a particular reason why they drive on the left in the UK? In your cars there, was the gas pedal still on the right and the brake on the left or were they reversed also?

Carrie said...

Oh Sarah you made me laugh out loud at this post. I can so emphathise!

I don't know what's worse, having hardly any traffic when you have to drive on the wrong side of the road (though American friends will tell you, it's not "wrong", it's just RIGHT!) or driving in what appears to be constant rush hour traffic and feeling somewhat threatened by all those huge semis.

So imagine if you will learning to drive on the hills of San Francisco. I can honestly say, although I arrived in the Bay Area in March of '98, I did not venture into the driver's seat until six months later, when I finally got a job at the local university and had to drive. The freeways in the Bay Area terrified me (or should I just say Californian drivers?!!)
Not helped that my husband had a beaten up '86 Chevy Camaro, which I could barely see out the windscreen and roared like a tank!

Anyway, I had to take the dreaded road test, so I presented myself to the California DMV in husband's beaten up Camaro to take said test. Nervous as hell as my husband and I were still somewhat traumatised by my pre-test lesson, where I nearly hit a truck on Interstate 580.

So imagine my delight when I get in the car for my driver's test and there's an Anglophile sitting in the passenger seat, who talked ad-nauseum about Princess Diana and failed to notice that I couldn't parallel park if my life depended on it (all that looking over the WRONG shoulder!) and hit the kerb on my three point turn. Our test took over an hour (the hubster thought I'd crashed the car!) because I could not shut the guy up. However, I passed my test.. no kidding!

We have roundabouts in certain areas of Seattle and the kicker is no one knows what to do with them, so most still treat them like stop signs.. all too confusing. Turning right on red still freaks me out and, even now, I still drive on the left in parking lots because there are no white lines to tell me otherwise. I would agree that having a car zooming towards you helps you stay on the right side of the road!

As for driving back home in London, well, my *American* husband usually does the driving because after ten years, the whole concept of driving in my old hometown appears to have escaped me and can you imagine being a Brit AND driving on the wrong side of the road on your own turf...try explaining that to a British copper!!!

Thanks - this was a hoot reading.. keep on writing! I love catching up on the Brit words too..


BritGal' Sarah said...

Lynne - thank god the pedals are the same or I doubt I'd be writing this...LOL! The indicator and window wipers are off though and that caused more confusion.

Carrie - LMAO! I had just the same Anglophile Tester when I took my test. She also never quit talking, so much so, I had to ask her if I should turn here and she nearly caused me to crash on my test! Oh yes and turning right on Red, well actually I think that's quite a clever idea..LOL!

Linda said...

My hubby drives a rental car on our periodic trips to England and I can't count the number of times he has gone around to the wrong side of the car to get in and has taken off in the wrong lane! We stick to the tiny rural roads as much as possible when driving in the Cotswold area and my side is covered in mud at the end of the trip where he has hugged the ditchline! We had a red Chevy Silverado for several years and it is amazing you have made the adjustment to drive it after driving the very small British cars! You GO Girl! I am impressed!

Almost American said...

Traffic is key to helping you stay on the correct side of the road! The only time I've ever made mistakes has been when there was nothing else on the road. Well, except that one time when I was back in the UK and pulled out from a parking spot on the right hand side of the road, drove off and then came to a dead stop swearing at the stupid idiot of a double-decker bus driver who was on MY side of the road! Fortunately my sister pointed out before I started making rude gestures that *I* was the one in the wrong!

I never took an American driving test. I showed them my British licence and they gave me an American one. Pretty scary!

The first time I ever drove over here, I was driving an automatic which I found confusing, but it was probably a good thing - I kept reaching for the door handle in my instinctive search for the gear lever! I drive when we're in the UK, as 'standard' cars are cheaper to rent than automatics and DH (the engineer) has only ever learned to drive an automatic!

Mary said...

Sarah, I'm still laughing. You know, you really should consider writing a book about your experiences! I drove in Ireland and the left side of the road deal didn't bother me nearly as much as the stick shift of the 5 speed car being on the left! But you're right about traffic being a big help.

Do you live in town or the country? I grew up in a rural area with many friends who lived on farms. They would make me (a townie) CRAZY as they drove down the middle of gravel roads to their farms. I realize WHY they did so, but I was always scared we'd meet an oncoming car. Haven't thought about that in years...

We were in Arizona a couple of weeks ago. One day we drove to Sedona. There's a roundabout just outside the town. Also back East (Boston area). My little rural hometown is going to build one in the next year. So I guess they're catching on here, little by little.

BritGal' Sarah said...

Mary I live in a rural town of 400 residents, surrounded by country. One of the first things the Hubster taught me was to approach the top of hills on country roads in the ditch! He warned me how many locals hog the middle...LOL

I have to say I get a big kick out of driving the country roads and getting all that dust come up behind me...it makes me feel like I am in a western! ;-)

Have fun with that roundabout!