Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

A free bit of pre-marital counseling for you August 13, 2008

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

If you are considering proposing to or otherwise permanently committing to another person, take a trip to England, rent a car without a navigation system, print out some spotty Google maps directions, and navigate your merry way to Swindon, Bath, Stonehenge, and Avebury Circle. Feel free to grab a map at the rental office, not that it will help.

Then, assuring neither of you is left-handed or originally from Great Britain, take turns driving and navigating (unless you enjoy migraine headaches and near-death experiences, do not try to do both). Then, sit back and take turns raging, criticizing, and generally freaking out on one another. Enjoy!

If you can make these journeys WITHOUT that happening:

  1. You are saints

  2. You are not human

  3. You should definitely get married

  4. Hell, write a book on how to be more like you while you’re at it.

Fortunately for me (and anyone close to me), I am on this voyage on my own, so I had only myself to blame. Further fortunately for myself, I am pretty supportive of my own efforts much of the time, and try to self-soothe with such banter as,

  • “You’re doing great.”
  • “Lots of people drive around with the emergency brake on.”
  • “Hey, you’re American. It’s a wonder you haven’t injured anyone. What more do they want?”
  • “So you had your high beams on the whole team. Nobody died.”
  • “Way to work that roundabout – and in third gear, no less!”
  • “You’re fine. Ignore them.”

Otherwise, I might still be pulled over on some English country road shaking and crying and considering slashing the tires so that someone will come and get me and drive me back to Heathrow. Let me just say, I regard it as a minor miracle that i somehow managed to get back from (truly) the middle of nowhere (if no street anywhere is identified with a name of any kind and it’s all just country roads, stone houses, and lush landscapes, you’re nowhere in my book), return my car, navigate the train and the Tube and be writing you now from London. Whew!

BTW, London (at least where I am – West End) is so much like Manhattan it isn’t even funny. Next door to the Gap is the H&M and Urban Outfitters. Don’t forget the Black Angus and Pizza Hut across the street.

Anyway, before I get any further into London, let me finish up my Bath misadventure story by noting that it’s truly a gorgeous city. Amazingly, stunningly so, I would know because I drove every square inch of it – twice – and got myself cornered in every dead end in town. At the same time, Bath also has THE LOUDEST pigeons on earth – Insane, rowdy, ridiculous, raucous pigeons. It sounded like a pigeon orgy out there: They were screaming, moaning, shrieking, cooing, and caterwauling all night long. I don’t know whether pigeons can have orgasms, but based on the noises I heard, I’m going to go with “yes.”

Of course, all this was only augmenting the ambient sound of people coughing and a guy that would work up to a snore so loud and annoying I thought I might have to climb out of my top bunk and kill him, and then he’d spontaneously fall silent for a few minutes.

This brings us to the subject of hostels. Six, eight, ten people in one room. Zero privacy. Group bed times. The weird freaking noises people make. The AWFUL beds – basically chicken wire with a few cotton balls on it. Yes, they’re damn cheap…and they should be.

Having had to quit my job to make this trip, I’m on a serious budget. The young version of me – the one that slept on trains every night so as to avoid spending any money – still lives and breathes. On the other hand, I’ve learned a thing or two. And if you don’t give the universe a chance to provide for you, how can it?

Thus, I’ve realized, to get all chummy with strangers and expose yourself like that when you’re young is one thing. I, however, am really not all that young. Which is why I’ve determined that there will be no further hosteling unless it’s a town that I’m passing through for just one night and if it’s f-ing close to the train station (this shit on my back is heavy). On the other hand, why am I making myself run around like this to a town a day? If there is anything worse than hauling your every belonging on your back like a gypsy and vagabonding to a new country every day, I don’t want to know what it is. Thus, the one-night stays will also be reduced if not outright eliminated.

A new era of sanity has begun! Amen.



Is the “thumbs up” gesture obscene in England? August 12, 2008

Street scene in Bath, England

Street scene in Bath, EnglandStonehenge, England

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.


Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge, England

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.