My biggest fear about moving to the UK was not, as you might think, selling my things and moving to a foreign country with a man I had met six months prior. I wouldn’t say that I was without fear, but I was sure. Pretty sure anyway. However, the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road sent shivers down my spine. My fears were compounded when I actually saw the way people drove in London. There are painted lines indicating three lanes where in the US that same amount of space would only be deemed big enough for one car. Insane. ‘I am not doing that’, I resolved. Luckily, we lived in central London where it wasn’t too much of an issue. I was used to doing without a car as I had lived in New York for five years before moving across the pond. Walking and public transport was what I was used to. Cars were for families and people who thought certain makes were cool. This was not me. I’ve never been one that loved driving or gave a toss what car so and so had. If offered a ride I take it but will rarely properly notice what kind of car I’m in beyond the colour and size.
As things progressed with my English gent I slowly realized that we sort of needed a car. Not having one made visiting people outside of London a bit of an ordeal. We once rented a ‘small’ car to drive to Scotland where we were staying at an inn by a loch with some friends. When the Volvo Estate showed up we took it in our stride. ‘It’s the only automatic we had,’ said our delivery boy. That’s fine. ‘I can do this’ I told my now husband. ‘Just get me out of London’. I did great on the motorways. Easy peasy. I even felt cocky when I looked at the speedometer – 75mph. Noooo problem. This driving thing is a piece of cake.
Then we got there. The roads were not roads at all. They were ‘lanes’: winding, skinny little paths big enough for a wheelbarrow with overgrown shrubbery on either side, which made visibility a bit of a problem. I was doing OK and taking it slow when a truck came tearing around the bend. He saw me but didn’t slow down. My heart was pounding through the front window but somehow I did not crash. I don’t know how, as my eyes were closed, but it was quite a feat I can tell you that. I later saw this exact scene re-enacted in the film ‘The Holiday’ with Cameron Diaz driving a Mini Copper. Try it in a Volvo sister. Nothing ‘mini’ about it. I was no longer scared of driving in London. Nothing could be as bad as the country.
When some American friends who were moving back to the states offered us their car in exchange for a ride to the airport, we said ‘yes.’ A free car. Can’t really beat it. The car was a clunker, a perfect London car that didn’t matter if I crashed it. It was a red Volkswagen, with a dent in the passenger door, no air conditioner, a very loud engine and the driver’s side blew out hot air from under the dash. You always had the sensation that your legs were burning. I didn’t care. I thought the car was great. It sometimes stalled out but it always eventually got you to where you needed to be. We learned never to speak disparaging words about the car whilst in it or it would stall on us in spite. It purposely made my husband miss a football game when he inadvertently called it a ‘piece of shit’ on a journey home from IKEA. He never did that again. Quite sensitive, our first car.
After months of being quite happy letting my husband drive it everywhere, he finally asked if I was ever going to properly learn. We set off for lessons exactly twice before we both realized that he teaching me to drive was going to be the end of us. So I asked my friend Rachel. She was much better. She never lost her patience, even when I pulled out into a busy intersection to make my first right turn and the whole of London stopped to honk, yell or give me two fingers (the equivalent of the bird). She even stayed calm when I tried to park the car on a busy street in Covent Garden and ended up on the sidewalk, sending a pedestrian running and having it all crescendo with me hitting a street post. She’s a trooper that Rachel. I never saw her sweat and she was so sweet when she lied and told me I wasn’t that bad over quite a few well earned drinks one night after we had parked the car away for the night.
I got better. I still don’t love driving but I feel confident now and passing my UK driving test last year was a real accomplishment. They don’t give drivers licences to just anyone. That test was not a joke. I’m a proper soccer mom now. I live in the burbs and drive, get this, a Volvo. I’ve even graduated to an SUV. Narrow roads, not a problem. London, bring it on. Roundabouts, genius. Now if I could only learn to park the monster.