'Do you have a full American driving license?'
Shoot*. I knew this question was going to come up.
A week or two before I arrived in Cork to volunteer with Unbound, they bought a new-to-them van. (A van in Ireland is not like the work vans or even the minivans in the States -- they are small and narrow... Pretty much like a sedan sized vehicle but with a full backside.) The insurance covering the van includes coverage for the various volunteers that pass through Unbound's doors.
So, when I got that text, I knew it wasn't just an off hand comment... I'd be asked to drive the Burlingo (the van) to our shop in Killarney. Shoot.
I've driven in Ireland before. I have no problem driving in Ireland. However, 99.9% of vehicles in Ireland, if not the whole of Europe, are manual transmissions. Even having never seen the van, I knew without a doubt that it'd be a manual.
This is how I answered that question -- 'I do have a full American license. However, I haven't driven a manual in about 15 years.'
And that is the truth. When I learned to drive, I mainly learned on an automatic, but did some training on our little green ford pickup truck. And I hated it. (Enter chiding from my family now.) On multiple occasions I called my mom crying saying I didn't want to drive it back to where I had gotten it. I know one occasion was when I got to church -- and the drive from my house to church was probably the easiest six minute drive ever. It's all about confidence and I never had the confidence to drive a manual. The fact that I had the option to drive the automatic didn't help either. When you have no other choice, you have to sink or swim and hopefully you'll swim. I sank with the manual because I'd opt for the automatic. Who took the easier road? This gal (she says with thumbs pointing at her chest).
I dodged the topic of driving to our Killarney shop as much as I could, and was thankful when the tax and insurance stuff took longer than anticipated. But when that was all sorted, I felt awful not driving as the bus ticket to the shop was €30 versus the €15 worth of petrol the Burlingo drank to get there. For an organization that doesn't have a lot of money to spare, I was eating up at least €15 a week with my bus pass. Shoot shoot shoot.
At some point yesterday, when I was working with Evanne--the wife of the couple that owns the shop--she asked whether I'm ready to drive the Burlingo to Killarney tomorrow. I emphatically said 'No!' She questioned what she thought I'd do to it.
'Uh, I don't know. Crash it and end up costing you guys way more money than a €30 bus ticket!'
'Crashing it has nothing to do with you not being able to drive a manual. That means you're a bad driver. The worst you could do is mess up the gear box.'
'I'm sure I could find another way to mess it up. I haven't driven a manual in about 15 years, Evanne!'
'Well, take the van tonight with Beth and see how you do.'
I texted Beth as to whether she'd be willing to give me a refresher on the Burlingo. She said of course.
'Rachel. You've already driven my car, you'll do fine!' Beth said.
'Beth! Driving from Blarney to Blarney is different than driving an hour and a half to Killarney! And correction, I did not fully drive your car. You were shifting while I was putting in the clutch and steering ... And that was a three minute drive!'
Laughing, she agreed and said 'we'll see how you do.'
The route I drove from Blarney to Illen House (the red pin up top)
So, yes, I have driven a manual in Ireland ... for three minutes. On St. Patricks Day, Beth, Carla and I were in a pub in the village of Blarney. I was set with my beer and Beth wanted another, but she had driven. I had mentioned previously that I had driven a manual but it'd been a while. And then I stupidly said, 'if you want another beer, I could drive home.' 'Okay!' Crap! I immediately started practicing in my head. Brake, clutch together, shift. When you're slowing you downshift. When you're stopping, downshift all the way to first.
We got to the car and when Beth heard my saying 'remember it's been a really long time', she suggested she shift. (She would have been fine driving, by the way, she just didn't want to risk any guards being on the road with it being St. Patricks Day.) I could work with that. And surprisingly, it did kind of come back to me and I did not stall. However, the whole way back, Beth was telling me, 'okay, clutch in' and she'd shift. 'Okay, brake and clutch in.' We made it home in one piece.
However, that experience does not an Irish driver make.
So, I entered the Burlingo with a small amount of confidence that things would come back to me. But then once I got the seat position settled to my liking, my brain went blank. Uh.
Beth walked me through it as I turned the key and put it in reverse. And then stalled. And stalled again.
'Oo, this is going to be fun!' Beth said, giddily clapping her hands. I said I was glad I could provide her entertainment.
I asked Beth to not judge what comes out of my mouth as the f-bomb had already made several appearances and we weren't even out of the drive yet.
Okay, so reversing wasn't my forte. I slowly made my way down the lane with the cows on both sides of me figuring out what was going on. It hit me then that I hadn't even driven a car--manual or not--since mid February! I was so worried about the clutch, I kind of forgot to push the gas. 'Some gas would be good here.' Beth said.
I made it to the main road okay, but despite being a passenger in Ireland for three months, I still turned into the wrong lane and was driving on the wrong side of the road. 'Other side! Other side!' Beth yelled from the passenger seat.
'Oh yeah. Oops.'
'Yeah, there's also that thing to consider.' Beth got out between her laughs. Great.
As I got more comfortable with the vehicle and being on the roads, Beth reminded me to stay close to the center line and let the drivers coming the other direction mind their lane and line - 'as long as you're in your lane, you're fine. And remember, if you do get too close to the trees or something on the left side of the vehicle, wing mirrors can be replaced.'
We went down some country roads to get the feel of what the drive to Killarney would be like, although these roads weren't near as windy as the Killarney road is!
At one point, we had to do a tight turnaround, so Beth said she could do it ... I agreed and I had distinct memories of being 15 with my learner's permit and switching seats with my parents. Beth even asked, 'do you feel like you're 15 and a half right now?' I dejectedly said, 'yes!' We got to a little section of road and I practiced starting and stopping. I was admittedly getting better.
The sputtering from letting the clutch out too soon diminished and soon Beth was saying 'that was perfect!' as I got out of a turn. I shifted on my own rather than asking her 'should I shift now?'
I asked questions, made her walk me through different scenarios, and overall my confidence was getting better. However, it was not close to where it should be to drive on my own half way across the country! (Okay, I realize that saying 'half way across the country' is a bit dramatic as it's about 80km, but it is pretty much half way across the country still!)
The route to Killarney
Beth did relent and say she forgot how many things there are to remember when driving a manual. Things you don't even think about. Thank you!
As I made my way back to the house, Beth said, 'this is a bucket list item, right?! I mean, come on! How many people can say they've driven a manual in Ireland!'
'Well, it wasn't on my list before, but I'm adding it now!'
While I was improving and doing drastically better than when I stalled in the driveway, we decided I needed a little bit more time out before I'll feel confident enough. The thing that scares me is the unpredictable.
Like if someone comes out suddenly, or I have to stop on a hill, or I'm faced with a runaway bus coming towards me... what do I do in those situations! Or what if all three happen at once?! You never know what you'll face! And all of those are completely realistic. Okay, the last one not so much, but still.
I even practiced the unpredictable as we were driving back down the lane to the house.
'So let's pretend one of these cows decided to go rogue and breaks through the wire,' I said as I slammed on the brake and jammed in the clutch. The car stopped. And the cows stared.
'Yep. That's what you'd do.'
'Then I put it back into first and then go.'
'Yep. If I was in third and had to stop abruptly, I cheat by popping it in neutral and then putting it in first. But yes, you need to start again in first.'
'So now, if one of these cows runs towards me, which this bull wants to do right now,' I said, looking to my right as the nose-ringed bull tried to comprehend what we were doing. 'I just put it in first and go.' And indeed that bull was getting a bit protective of its ladies and was starting to canter towards us. Off we went.
'And in Ireland,' Beth said, 'a cow running toward you is a reality!'
As I turned into our drive, Beth asked 'do you want to redeem yourself with trying to reverse out of here again?'
I did it pretty well, but when I went forward again and came to a stop, Beth laughed that my stop was a 'shit, there's a cow' stop. Yeah, it was a bit abrupt, but it'll have to do. I was done.
'One or two more practices and I think you'll be set.'
'Okay, I'll take the bus to Killarney tomorrow. But the next time I'm working in Killarney, I'll drive.'
P.S. The above event happened on Tuesday. My first trip to Killarney will be on Monday. Prayers are appreciated.
*Every time I said shoot, I actually said other not-so-clean words. But I'm attempting (though not always succeeding) to keep this blog PG on the language front. And really on every other front, too.