I recently came to the realization that I can post anything on here. A few years ago I wrote and article (essay, thesis, dissertation, abstract, manifest) for Jalopnik that I thought would be a fun topic. I didn't know how it would work, but I thought it would at least give them an idea. I spent a few hours on it and sent it over.
Now I don't like to talk crap on Jalopnik. They have given me more positives than negatives, and if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. And I will avoid discussing their current state. But one thing I do take exception with is they never even replied to the email. No one could even give me the time of day, let alone tell me why they couldn't just publish my article. And then 6 months later, when an article came out hitting on a lot of points I distinctly talked about, I felt wronged. I wanted to make a snarky comment, but didn't. I wanted to leave a detailed comment going over the details about how this is so similar to my work I had sent them, just framed in a different manner, but I didn't. I wanted to protest them by never visiting the site again, and that didn't last either. Not that it wouldn't make a difference.
So, below is my work. I am an engineer by trade, so my grammar could use some work (if you couldn't tell already). The story is there though. I also gets a little wordy, but I was really trying to paint a picture in your mind as you read it. It may suck, it may only suck a little, but here it is.
Recently I went on a vacation with my wife. 7 days in Australia. It was wonderful. We drove from Brisbane to Cairns, 2400 kilometers (1490 miles), and along the way went bungee jumping, hiking, snorkeling, surfing, pulled a leech off my ankle, learned what a flat white was, ate a lychee, tried Vegemite, and rented a car. That last bit is important because I have never driven on roads other than those in North America.
For those of you who don’t live in North America, the driving is done on the right-hand side of the road and the left-hand side of the car. The pedals have the gas on the right, brake in the middle, and clutch on the left. Gear selecting device is to the right of the driver, and so is the hand-brake (because no one uses it for an emergency). Most of the time turn signals are on the left stalk and windshield wipers are on the right stalk. I am not going to get into who wears it better, but those are the facts.
Now I was in Australia, a country settled by prisoners from England. Have you ever heard of England? Maybe you have seen Top Gear? Observant viewers probably have noticed that they drive on the left-hand side of the road. Since the prisoners of England were tasked with settling this new land called Australia, they decided to make the driving done on the left-hand side of the road.
Driving on the left-hand side of the road was the only thing I knew about the whole situation. Things I didn’t know were where the gas pedal was going to be, the shifter, the blinker, the windshield wiper, the volume knob. It was all a mystery to me.
Getting into a RHD Car
Walking up to our brand new-ish Suzuki Swift on the right-hand side of the car feels weird, no doubt about that. My first hiccup was before I even closed the door. I went to slide into the driver seat and I jammed my foot between the gas and brake pedal. I guess I just don’t know how to enter a car leading with my left foot. Maybe it was just the car, but the whole week I never felt comfortable getting in.
Once I was settled into the seat, it got worse. Volume knob is now an arm’s length away. I mean, I can understand it was going to feel odd dealing with the radio and climate controls with my non-dominate hand, but now even the volume was at the far end of the console and the tuner knob was right next to the steering wheel. Needless to say I changed the radio station a lot.
The pedals are, in fact, laid out the same. From right to left; gas, brake, clutch. The hand brake was now to my left, on the center console though and the gas door lever was now in the bottom right corner of the driver floor.
The stalk that the headlights and turn signals called home was now on right hand side of the car. That totally makes sense. It gives your interior arm the freedom to select gears, tune the radio, smack the kids in the back. Which leaves the arm closest to the window available for turn signaling (BMW drivers exempt), turning on the headlights, or alerting incoming traffic their headlights are on.
The windshield wiper stalk was now on the left of the steering wheel. Now, it is hard to quantify how much I reached for the turn signal and used the windshield wipers, but my wife tired and lost count somewhere north of 25. I was fine with that though, I have done so much turn signaling the past 15 years on the left side of the steering wheel, doing it with the left hand became sub-conscious. So I can appreciate old habits die hard. Plus, people don’t typically use their signal when they turn or merge anyway. AmIright?
It was when I needed the windshield wipers and I got a turn signal, that I became deeply frustrated. I mean now I am signaling for no good reason. And the Aussie driving at me was probably wondering where the hell I was signaling to go. Unacceptable.
Driving on the Left side of the road
First thing is first, I was so concerned about driving on the other side of the road, it was kind of easy. My attention was 100%. I was solely focused on the task of driving. No distractions, no radio, no nothing. I was only concentrated on not going the wrong way down a road, I was looking through turns, planning my moves 10 seconds before I executed them, reading all the road signs. It reminded me a lot about riding my motorcycle.
I really enjoy driving, so I had been looking forward to this for a while. No doubt about it that there were some nerves. But here I finally was, doing the inverse of all my years of driving experience, and I was killing it. I was surprised.
What I didn’t know was why I was doing so well. As it turns out, all the focus, and distraction-less driving made for an easy time.
The real danger came after about 4 hours of driving. We were trying to get to a waterfall when all the sudden the road was closed. Just effing closed. No warnings, just a road blockade at the entrance to the park and a gravel lot that everyone used as a turnaround area.
Here it comes, and I don’t even know it.
The U-turn. I bust it out. It wasn’t really a U-turn because I went through the gravel lot off to the left of us. But since I turned left, in the back of my mind, I categorized it as a U-turn. And if you can properly execute a U-turn, you are already on the correct side of the road for the direction of travel.
See what happened to me was, as I mentioned earlier, I mentally categorized it as a U-turn. I was also busy trying to calculate our new driving distance, driving time, bladder threshold, and amount of sun left in the day. I was also looking at the map my wife was reading and providing input. So when I got back onto the road, I merged into the right lane, like I have done so many times. Now before you stop reading for fear of some Final Destination shit, this road was a dead-end. Closed. Blockaded. It had been for a few months now and most of the locals knew it. Therefore, it was not a heavily traveled road. Which is lucky because I was now cruising down the wrong side of it.
And cruise down the wrong side of the road I did, for at least a kilometer (.6214 miles). Over blind turns, blind hills, around lizards and right up until curiosity got the better of me. I turned down “Something” Dam Road, because I mean, I can never pass up a Dam Road. It was only then, right as I completed my turn, did I realize I was traveling down the wrong lane. I quickly swerved into the left lane, quick enough to alert my co-pilot. We both shot each other a glance. One of those, ‘that could have been bad, but we lived so it’s kind of funny’ glances.
Then I realized what I had done. “I had been driving like that since we turned around” I muttered.
“Oh boy”, she said. Grateful I had realized what I did, but weighed down by the gravity of the situation.
10 k’s of driving on the correct side of the road later, we found a gas station and stopped in search for a better map. They didn’t have a better map, but they had Wi-Fi, and we had this fancy app on our phones called Google Maps. You should try it sometime, its superb. I especially recommend downloading areas of foreign countries you plan on visiting right onto your phone. That way, you can access the maps without cell service. Very. Handy. Feature.
Map loaded, route calculated, sunset noted, bladder drained. Off we go, back on the trail. I work my way through the gas station, pull up to the road, give a quick glance in both directions and off we go.
Now before I can finish that story, I must tell this story. My whole life I have been looking both ways. If I look right and there is an object on the same side of the road as me, it will be moving away from me: good. If I look to the left and there is an object on the same side of the road as me, it will be moving towards me: bad. Conversely, if I look right and there is an object on the other side of the road as me, it will be moving toward me: bad. If I look to the left and there is an object on the other side of the road as me, it will be moving away from me: good. I understand there are stipulations, sometimes I am turning right, I should look for the front of the car, and I should make eye contact with the driver, and I should double check each direction, and I should floss twice a day. But those deep seeded laws of the road I had proved correct for all the years are enough to start synapses firing.
I look right, and see the roof of a late model (I have always wanted to say that) Range Rover. Quick check left and nothing in sight, but it didn’t matter anyway because I was making a right. Those synapses started firing, the process has started lifting my foot off the brake and onto the gas. Not full commitment, but the kindling is starting to smoke.
I looked back right, the direction I was turning, as I start to roll into the lane.
“Huh, that Range Rover is closer, now I can see the whole windshield”.
Foot is now completely off brake.
I was just about to straighten out the wheel and when it all came rushing back to me. I just remembered where I was supposed to be. Left lane!
I quickly applied throttle and hustled wide and to the outside, hoping the the Land Rover wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t throw his hands up at me while mouthing WTF.
He noticed. He threw his hands up so hard I thought he was going to get tangled up in his cashmere scarf.
My co-pilot noticed, but decided not to comment. I knew what I did, and she knew I knew. Perks of marrying someone who knows that I am not a smart man.
Three days later, I am driving down a very lonely road after a very long day. We were about to watch the sun set. It was a 2-lane road. There was a set of railroad tracks to my left, 15 meters (49.2126 feet) from the edge of the road. The tracks sat just above my point of view on a raised grade which was composed of ballast and red dirt. My vision is focused about a half mile down the road, just staring at white lines (they don’t use yellow centerlines). In an instant, out of nowhere, I thought the tracks next to me were the left side of a divided highway. In that split second, I thought I was driving on the left lane of the wrong side of a divided highway. I froze. My mind was racing. “How did I get here? How did I fuck this up? How did my trusty co-pilot not notice either? Did we pass anyone like this?”
I looked to my left and realized they were the same RR tracks that we have been paralleling for the past hour. I eased up. My hands relaxed from the 2 and 10 positions. My sphincter released its grip on the cloth seat. Everything was fine. I was doing the ‘left side of the road’ thing just like I was supposed to be. And that sun set was gorgeous.
I know it was no drama, but an interesting observation. I had completely fabricated a divided highway in my mind, and then placed myself on the wrong side of it. Maybe it was the white lines and not yellow, maybe it was fatigue. But it was something that would have never happened driving back home. Driving on the same side of the road that I have been seasoned to favor.
Back to Normal?
28 hours of sitting in either a plane or an airport and we finally are on home soil. Spectacular trip but time to go home. I got in my noble steed without jamming my foot or rolling my ankle. Success.
Now, I have been driving my trusty Outback XT for the past 5 years now. It’s safe to say I know my car. I drive up to the window, pay the ridiculous long-term parking fee, get into the turning lane, “ahh back to the proper side of the road” and turn on the windshield wipers…
Update: pictures for your time