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Sunday, July 15, 2012


Having done 'The Knowledge', and driven a London Taxi, getting lost in England was never an option.  However, priding myself on  my excellent sense of direction (albeit that I am directionally challenged when asked which is my left from my right) has been 'shelved' since I came to live in Austin.  Driving on the 'other' side of the road for twenty years, (people seem to take offence when I say 'wrong' - cant think why!,)  meant that there had to be some physical, as well as mental adjustement.  I never had a problem driving on the left, when 'abroad', and was comfortable driving my 'right hand car' on the left side, in France and Holland, but trips were for no more than two weeks at a time.  However, after few months of looking over my shoulder to the left, instead of right, I realised that my neck muscles did not like the concept of turning the other way. Although I do not drive as much as I did when in England, as Dana drives to and from work, and unless I express a preference, automatically take my place as the passenger, I do sit behind the wheel when we go on 'vacation', and on a Saturday, when Samantha and I go on our 'jollies', just to maintain my confidence.

When I first moved to Austin, I learned my way around by making many mistakes.  Finding myself in a 'right turn only' lane, in rush hour traffic, caused me to find many areas which I would rather have avoided.  I think I have mentioned my frequent phone calls to Dana, which always started with me saying, 'don't ask me how I got here; we can discuss that later.  Just get me out!'  Dana's initial reaction of 'how did you...?', did nothing to ease my apprehension.  However, I have learned by my mistakes, and obviously, with experience, have learned which lanes to avoid.  I do have certain 'safe place'; roads that I know lead to my metaphorical Rome.  I know, for example, that Cesar Chavez, is the new (ish) name for 1st Street, and South 1st Street runs parallel to South Congress Avenue, a road familiar to me, as not only does Joe have his coffee outlet on SoCo (as it is affectionately known), but it also houses the workshop of my mechanic.  I have also learned that when I am running low on Petrol, I should not take risks, and plan my route.  The question then asked, by me, and other's, is how, or more to the point, why, did I end up totally lost during the week? 

The car we had to replace, due to the person in front of us (and I quote), 'not going forward when he was supposed to', has a wonderful on board computer.  When something is wrong, the lights flash up like the Vegas Strip, and instead of having to look in the manual for an explanation, we have a digital idiots guide inserted into the dashboard.  'You have a flat tire', was the latest remark from our super genius, state of the art, piece of equipment.  Fortunately, the other magnificent things about our new, modern technological car, are the 'run flat' tire.  The tires that allows you to continue driving, for a number of miles, without ruining the wheel.  Therefore, you can normally get to your destination, or mechanic, or tire outlet, and let someone else take care of the problem, without excess damage!  The not so super genius, state of the art, piece of equipment on the dashboard, does not say 'front right', or 'rear left', etc, so taking care of the problem yourself is not always the best option.  Determining which one 'looks' flatter than the others, is an impossibility, as we found out.   Dana had called our mechanic, who suggested we bring the car over, so that he could plug it in to his 'interpreter', and determine which tire was actually not playing fair!  In a moment of madness, I volunteered to take the car.  The route to the mechanic is very straightforward, as we pass it every day, as we leave Joe's and drive to the office.  The route there is also simple. In a city such as Austin, where the roads are mostly 'one way', it is rare to be able to reverse the process, but fortunately, in this instance, it was the case. 

My mood was not as sedate as it could have been, and my volunteering was more out of frustration than necessity, as I did not want to have to worry about being stuck without a vehicle over the weekend.  That being said, I left the office, turned onto the main road, and after a few turns, took a left, instead of right.  Realising my mistake instantly, I chose not to turn around, but continue as I  thought I would find a connecting path.  Seeing the sign, 'Cesar Chavez', was most comforting, as I knew that this was once 1st Street, and as mentioned, 1st Street runs parallel with SoCo., the home of our mechanic.  What I failed to notice was the letter 'E', preceding the 'Cesar'.  Taking a left did not connect me to the road I was expecting, and I was suddenly very, very lost. East Austin, so I have been told, is not the most desirable location in the city, much less South East Austin, which was, unfortunately, where I had landed. My decision to turn back and start again was halted by three factors.  The needle that indicates how much fuel is left in the tank, was nearing the little petrol pump sign, and the light that is next to the needle, was flashing 'red'.  The second factor was that my phone, which I had not thought to check before venturing on my trek, was also flashing red, as my battery had run down to a virtual halt.  These two factors were, of course, not as intimidating as the fact I was running on a flat tire! 

Eventually, after weighing up the pro's and con's, the phone was the least valuable asset, as it would continue to lose power, and at least I had my purse with me, and petrol stations, no matter the level of extortionate pricing, are on most corners.  I called the office, and Kelly answered.  She recognised that I was, indeed, on the East Side, and needed to get back across the river.  The panic in my answer, which was along the lines of, 'Yes, but how?', led her to put me on hold, and pass me over to Dana.  As my phone 'pinged', advising me that my battery was just about to die, Dana took over, and, in the background, I could hear Samantha shouting; 'Don't ask her how she got there.....!'  As calmly as I could, I gave my co-ordinates.  'You are on the Eastside.  You need to get back across the river', was the last straw.  My answer of, 'How many of you are in the running for the prize of stating the obvious?'! indicated that I was indeed on the ragged edge, and on the verge of being dragged off by an imaginary gang, who were going to sell my body to an organ harvester!  ('Other' things would probably be off the cards, as I am now an old lady!)  Fortunately, the battery died just before I was able to shriek obscenities down the phone, as the next question was, 'Are you travelling East, or West?'  Directionally challenged as I am with right and left, I am a total imbecile when it comes to compass points.  I know that North is upwards, and remember the rhymes, such as 'Never Eat  Shredded Wheat', for the clockwork order, but asking me which way I am going on a street is like asking me for the composites of dark matter!  The final option was to stop and ask someone for directions, and although I doubt my liver would have been used to serve with a nice chianti, I couldn't convince myself that it was not being 'eyed'.

Finally, after regaining composure, and temper, as well as having all my organs in tact, I turned the limping car around, and back tracked across the river, to start again.  I was not going to go on the interstate, nor was I going to fight my way across the South Streets.  If I ran out of petrol, someone would find me, as I had told Kelly, 'if I am not back in an hour, send out a search party'.  It was as I drove northwards (or possibly west; I am unsure, I just know it was on to the 'other side' of the Colorado!) that my confidence levels readjusted.

The tire was, apparently, just out of air, although it was still impossible to tell which one without a tire gauge, or a machine which talks coherently to our on board computer.  Our mechanic was terribly sympathetic, and did not charge me for the visit.  I returned to the office, taking the straight road north (or west, who knows) and put my phone on charge, vowing never to leave in an emergency without fully charged tools (although we all know that promise will be short lived!) 

There are always plenty of things to throw on my desk, and Dana was the recipient of nearly every single one, as he continued to joke throughout the afternoon, 'I could have drawn you a map!'  I did laugh at my total meltdown, and announced that I now knew every 'factory' on the wrong side of the tracks, but in reality, I know this mistake will not be made again, of course, until the next time!
With a fully functional four wheeled vehicle, we were able to venture out over the weekend, and despite the torrential rain, managed to get a few hours of pool time, which helped to put things into perpective, until someone asked, 'which way is the storm moving?'  Apparently, 'that way' was not quite the answer they were looking for!  I have to travel down to San Antonio on Tuesday, with Samantha, and although that is a straight road, who knows what fate will befall us if there are any diversions, or other such traffic inconveniences.  I am sure all will make interesting news for ......... another story.

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