Monday, January 28, 2008

Achtung! Achtung! Drive on the left side of the road!

Tonight I was almost hit by a bus and it was a stupid, rookie mistake.

I came out of a restaurant, talking to someone and I just stepped off the curb. I felt a breeze, ruffling what little hair I have and I looked up and there was a giant blue bus, number 66x to be precise, blowing by me at a prodigious clip. Now I wasn't really in the act of crossing - I had just stepped off and was in the process of stepping back on when the bus went by. But it was close, and it really rattled me and got me to thinking about this whole driving on the left side of the street thing. I had been planning to write about it earlier, but the bus really drove the point home

The title of tonight's blog comes from these yellow signs you see off and on around here. The very first sign you see when you pull out of the rental car lot at the airport warns you to drive on the left. Crosswalks all have "look left/look right" painted on the ground in front of you. Even the car has a warning label on the dashboard.



I imagine it's quite a problem around here given the ease of travel within the EU - short distances, low fares and no passport restrictions. I wonder how many people blow in from Bilboa and end up driving merrily down the wrong side of the road.

It's not that's it's bad, it's just different and doing it makes you realize how much your brain takes for granted in simply things. Like stepping off the curb. I don't consciously think "look both ways" when I'm crossing the street, my brain just does that work subliminally. And while I don't think "it's okay to cross", I know it unconsciously. Tonight my brain said there was nothing coming at me, from my left, and so it was okay for me to accidentally step off. Except that wasn't because there was a giant blue object attempting to occupy the same space that I was. And given its mass, it wasn't taking "no" for an answer.

Driving around, you have to remember constantly to look in the correct directions. I solve that problem by just over checking every lane change and turn I make. But then once in a while I go to pull out and realize that the black Jaguar bearing down on me is a whole lost closer than I might have thought it was had I even thought to look that way in the first place.

It takes some getting used to, and I think I'm getting there. But reality can come home in an instant, and it doesn't hurt to remember that.

Besides the whole safety thing, there are other little nits that get you too. Like the throbbing pain in one of the muscles on the left side of my neck that comes from shifting with my left hand. I've been right hand shifting standard tranmissions ever since Maurie Katz told me to drive his big delivery truck back in the summer of 1971. Now, I'm doing it left handed with muscles that are arguing that I'm making some sort of mistake. I grab the seatbelt from the wrong side every time I get in the car and tonight when I jumped in the passenger side of my friend's car, I went to for the wheel and it wasn't there. Getting beyond that, I had to sit on my right hand for the entire ride just to prevent it from reaching up and adjusting the rear view mirror.

I guess the message is simple, we get trained and we do so many things without even thinking about them. They just happen and if they didn't, it would take double the amount of time to do the most simple things. I suppose it's not a bad thing to have your simple tasks shaken up a bit from time to time, at least those that don't involve big blue buses.


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