My Aussie partner told me, “You know everyone drove on the left side before. Do you know why that was?’
“No, I have no idea. I’ve always driven on the right side. In America, we keep right not left.”
He said, “In England when they drove in buggies, they had to sit towards the center of the road so their whips didn’t get caught in the hedges.”
The image of those high hedges I’d seen in England came to mind. “Yes I can see how that might happen, I guess that makes sense,” I replied.
I needed to learn how to drive because I’m staying for three months out in the country, but I wasn’t about to ask my partner to teach me, especially when I’m driving his car. We agreed I’d ask the neighbor, Sharon, to ride with me in his car.
“Would you mind riding with me, while I try to drive the car on the “correct” side of the road?” I asked politely.
Sharon answered with her bubbly sense of humor, “Sure I’ll ride shotgun for you.”
As usual, I approached the car starting to get in on the left side. “No, no, that’s the passenger side.” Sharon giggled.
Not a good start I thought as I remembered all the times during my last visit when I didn’t drive and was always trying to get in on the driver’s side. I walked around and sat down on the right side. This feels totally backward my mind rebelled against this change. Then I put my two hands on the steering, relaxing at its familiar feel. My foot felt for the brake and the gas pedal. They were reassuringly in the place I remembered. “Ok, you can do this,” I said silently to myself, as I prayed for help.
I placed my foot on the brake and turned the key. The Holden roared to life. The shift controls weren’t on the steering wheel but in a center console, I was forced to use my left hand to move the shift from park to reverse. My foot was on the brake as I shifted into reverse, as soon as I let up on the brake the car started to move backward. I immediately stomped on the brake.
“Do cars here always start moving by themselves?” I asked, incredulous that this car had independent acceleration.
“Well yes, don’t yours.” Sharon answered.
“No not unless it’s on a hill. It does not start moving until I step on the gas pedal.”
I guess Aussie cars are like horses, I thought to myself. As I easily backed around the corner, shifted into drive and drove down the long driveway out onto the dirt road. I imagined my self driving a buggy with a whip held in my right had seated in the center of the road away from the bush because there aren’t any hedges in Australia.
The car hugged the road as I swished around huge gum trees on the side of the road. “Go to the center on these narrow roads if there isn’t any oncoming traffic, but be sure to move to the left around blind curves.”
One blind curve followed another, it was hard to tell where the edge of the road was. The crinkle of a broken stick told me I’d gone too far. I moved over just a little for the curve was still blind.
“Swish”, m first oncoming car came past my right should. “Its, OK” I forced my stiff body to relax as I gripped the steering wheel tighter. I approached a stop sign and easily worked the familiar brake.
“Signal left,” Shotgun Sharon said.
My left hand reach up and automatically turned on the windshield wipers.
“”No, no they’re over there dear.” Sharon reached across the wheel and showed me the signal controls. “Up for left down for right”
“Sure, sure, of course,”i said. Using my right hand I moved the little stick up. “Click, click,” a little green arrow showed a left turn signal on the dashboard. I easily turned keeping left without crossing traffic. Left turns are easy it’s the right turns that I’ll need to worry about.
The next corner I turned on the wipers again. My brain was refusing to instantly grow new dentrites to contol an automatic response from over 50 years of using the left hand to signal. Practice, practice, plus I needed to sleep on it, imagining turning the signals with my right hand while keeping to the left.
We drove home, my partner’s car still whole, and my hope still alive, I will be able to learn this.