I’m not a driver. I’ve got a licence, I passed my test when I was 17; but I never drove much. Never had a car until this year. And since I’ve had my licence, I’ve only ever driven with no passenger for a few minutes. Until today.
This morning I got the inclination to do it, though. I umm-ed and aah-ed for a couple of hours, but then I chucked some stuff in a bag, got Billy’s lead and decided to go to the seaside. I was testing myself more than anything. The seaside was just a place to touch the wall, like a swimmer does when he’s doing lengths, then come back home knowing I’d done it: I’d gone on a long-ish journey on my own.
First the good news. Billy and I got home in one piece, as these words on your screen testify. And I kinda enjoyed it at times. I was lucky-ish with the traffic (not too many cars to bug me) and the route (a bit of city driving, a bit of autobahn, some minor decent roads, some country roads). I managed to light my cigarettes without veering into the oncoming traffic, too.
Sadly, the bad news section of this post is gonna be a lot longer. I’m rubbish at starting the car at traffic lights. I’m fine changing gears, but from the red light, I’ll stall the car at least 20% of the time. This only happens when there’s a car behind me. I’m positive it’s psychological. The more I do it, the more stressed I get each time there’s a suit-jacket-hanging-in-the-back-window BMW type dude behind me. But, I was okay at it today. Still managed it a couple of times, but on the whole, I was better. I even managed a swift 3-point turn in the middle of a street when I missed an exit without any errors at all.
Talking of which, my first big mistake was missing my exit on the autobahn. Rather than going north, I was on my way east to Poland on a road that must’ve been laid in the early days of the DDR cos it was prefab slabs of concrete with a rubbish grouting between each slab which makes for a bumpy ride.
My second big mistake was looking at the petrol gauge as I passed a petrol station rather than before I passed it. Eek, it’s nearly on the red… Better find somewhere. 10km later, still no stations, so I take the next exit, figuring that in one of the surrounding towns there’d be one. Three villages later: nothing. So I stop and ask directions in shit German (“Ich sucht Benzin. Wo, bitte?”). I follow what I thought were the correct directions and ended up on the countriest country road. Imagine a load of vaguely flat rocks randomly thrown on a wonky dirt track. For 7 fucking kilometers. Billy’s wondering what the hell’s going on, the car keeps slipping out of gear cos of the bumpiness, and the needle is getting closer and closer to the bottom of the red bit. Eventually, just as my teeth were about to fall out, the road goes Tarmac and I’m in another village. I ask another local and am directed down the main street. I follow this street. No petrol station, but I am heading back towards the autobahn I need to go north. And then, just to make sure, I pull over to check the map. That red line is the one I need…onto the next page…out the top of that one, onto page, flick flick flick, page 23…yep, I’m going the right way. Now, Craig, let’s git some GAS, dude! Turn key. Nothing. Turn key. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. Fuck. Ing. Hell. Resigned to the situation, calls are made, and an hour later a man from the ADAC (the German version of the RAC or AA: the people who help you out when your car’s buggered) comes along and fills her up. And all it costs is six euros for the petrol. I love this man.
The rest of the journey is okay. Apart from a few tractors on the narrow roads that create a bit of a delay. But, y’know, there was one point when I managed to get past two of them without coming out of third gear. I, err, just forgot to change gear. I do this a lot. I also managed to drive for a couple of minutes with the handbrake on. Oh, yeh: Mario Andretti, me…
Due to all the faffing around, time was ticking on, so I didn’t go to the place I wanted to go to, I just found the nearest piece of beach, parked up in a nice big mostly-empty car park, and Billy and I chucked-and-fetched a stick for an hour or so until it was nearly dark.
Back at the car, Billy and I had our tea (he dog food, me gummi bears) and we hit the road, Jack. I enjoyed the trip back for quite a long time. The sky was pretty, the moon was huge and full, and the local radio station was playing the top 100 hits of 1993 so I was singing along to, err, shit records (hello M People, hello Spin Doctors).
One thing I realised is that it’s so tough to keep your concentration when driving. I’m so used to being a passenger, being the map reader, the commentator; and you can’t do any narrating for yourself when your driving, no looking at those cows, no pointing out a creaky old man on a creaky old bike. But my mind was drifting, and it was getting a bit monotonous, and I neglected to notice the speed limit had changed until saw a bright orange flash of light from above, where a speed camera was. Really, Craig, what were you doing? Running out of petrol and getting caught speeding. Idiot.
The kilometres to Berlin clicked down, getting closer, can’t wait to be home, frankly. Losing reception on that 1993 hits station. Nope, nope, Radio GaGa, I’ll listen to that, change again, nope, nope, oooh, a bunch of country songs on this station, I’m having that. Head nodding, and then I begin to see buildings that I recognise on the outskirts of Berlin. Nearly home.
Soon enough, I’m in my neighbourhood. Going slow, looking for a parking space. None on my street. Take a right into a narrow street with cars parked along both sides. One side’s got cars parallel parked, the other side has cars coming out at right angles to the pavement. A space! A space! I see a space! I try once. Back up. Try again. Back up. Getting closer. Taxi pulls up behind. He’ll have to bloody wait. Try again. Nope. Two more cars are waiting from the other direction. Taxi driver’s getting impatient. Beep! beep! Fail again. Okay, I give up. So I drive off. And the same taxi driver pulls up along side me as we’re driving along a two lane street and he just hovers next to me as we’re going along. I look over and he’s laughing at me. Finger. He winds down his window and shouts stuff at me. I wind window up not wanting to get myself in trouble. But I’ve still gotta park this damn car. So I drive and drive, and eventually find a nice easy big-enough-for-two-cars space about a ten minutes walk from the flat.
It was an adventure, I guess. At least I had an ice cream at the seaside, but, oh brother, am I glad to be back at home sat in front of a machine I know how to use.