While driving – probably poorly – on England’s M3 today, someone in a delivery truck (lorrie) pulled up alongside me, honked a couple times real quick, and gave me a thumbs up. Did I piss him off somehow? Was he encouraging my virgin efforts with the left-handed shift (the second-most confusing part, topped only by the endless roundabouts)? In the U.S., people don’t pull up next to you and make hand gestures to wish you well or say hi, so I’m a little confused. Chances are I weaved into his lane or went too slow or too fast or who knows (I never once saw a posted speed limit!?!?), particularly after realizing I was supposed to be on the M4.
Actually, I was doing alright and feeling pretty darn proud of myself for a while. I pulled onto the shoulder, studied up on the rental car map, and got myself onto the correct freeway relatively smoothly. I was tooling around like a regular Briton..until I got to Swindon and later Bath. Since they don’t feel inclined to mark the street names, my Mapquest directions became very useless very fast. And then irritation set in. And then annoyance. Then I realized these were no small towns, and felt the first twinges of despair. Around that time, all the energy I’d put into remembering to stay on the left side of the road and yield to others coming from the right…started to go by the wayside. On a high note, if there were any fatalities in Bath tonight, I didn’t cause them.
Moreover, I’m still doing better than the defeated-looking American guy in the rental car office. While I was checking in, a woman came up and interrupted because they didn’t quite know how to process his issue: He’d wrecked his car before ever getting it out of the rental car lot!! Apparently, a combination of shifting and left-handed driving sent him careening into a guardrail. Picturing a likely wife and three kids smoldering out in the lot, I tried to lighten the situation. “Things could be worse! Hang in there!” I told him. He looked at me sadly, and went back to filling out his paperwork.