When I was “planning” my trip to New Zealand, the idea of buying and reselling a car briefly manifested as I considered my options of transportation abroad. When I learned that Kiwis drive on the opposite side of the road, however, I abandoned the idea completely. I figured totaling a car would not aid in its resale value, and then I would just be out $1,000.
It’s not that I’m a bad driver in the typical “woman” sense of being a bad driver—I can, actually, parallel park with success on my first try (sometimes)—but I tend to scare people when they’re in the car with me. They think I have no depth perception, when in actuality, I have superhuman depth perception; what they think is a “close-call,” is actually my utilization of available space, and I leave at least two inches of spare room.
The one time I did go “woman driver,” which was, retrospectively, scary, was the morning I decided to drive in the rain, wearing glasses, on four hours of sleep, on winding New Hampshire roads. I must have guardian angels because I’m pretty sure I did not stay within the lines. The world, which included the curves I took without slowing down, was one big blur. I apologize to the person who was with me that day—I’m hoping your knuckles have regained their color.
Anyway, the rain thing happened a couple of years ago, but that was the image I conjured when I thought about driving in New Zealand. I had a feeling disaster would be inevitable.
THEREFORE, the first time I drove in New Zealand was a hand-jittering experience.
I was doing my friend a favor (ahem) and taking her car home so she wouldn’t have to leave it in town overnight. I also wanted to go home before everyone else, so I thought it’d be great if I could use the car to get there instead of having to walk up a giant hill at two in the morning.
I found her car, which in itself was a difficult task because I’m only capable of finding things in Queenstown haphazardly, and I didn’t know where “Man Street” was. My navigation system is based on stumbling across some place and thinking, “Oh, THIS is where such-and-such is,” but because I have no idea how I got there, I can’t ever find it again on purpose. One would think in a town that’s smaller than a college campus, I could master the geography, but no, I still don’t know where anything is in relation to anything else (except, of course, the gelato place).
Given that it was 2 a.m., it was dark, and because it was dark, I couldn’t see things inside the car—including the overhead light switch. After pawing at the roof for much too long, I concluded there wasn’t one. I don’t think it came on when I opened the door either, so I used my phone as a flashlight. I managed to get the key in the ignition and then I reached for my seatbelt in the wrong direction. Opposite side of the car, hello. Then, I went to put the headlights on and…I couldn’t find the switch. Where are the headlights? The rotating thing I tried started the windshield wipers, and these are the type of wipers that sound like scraping metal of death even in the RAIN, so imagine what they sounded like on a dry windshield. I undid that and tried something else. Nothing happened. I looked everywhere. Where would be the switch be on the Honda? On the Cougar? Do I rotate this? Is it on the dash? WHERE ARE MY LIGHTS?
They were, of course, on the extendy-thing on the other side of the steering wheel (I looked up car anatomy online and I still can’t figure out what the extendy-thing is called). It was on the right, where I didn’t even think to look. From that point forward, i.e. the actual driving, I was okay, minus a mild form of hyperventilating and the fact I was driving five miles an hour, which greatly annoyed the people behind me. I tried to signal to them that I was making a left turn, but I turned the windshield wipers on again. And in an effort to turn off the wipers, I turned the bright lights on. It was messy, but I did, at least, manage to stay on my correct side of the road.
Since then, I’ve driven a few times—borrowed the car to buy groceries, been the DD, that sort of thing—and in a shocking way, I’m sort of a decent driver. I tend to be overly cautious around roundabouts, since I’ve had a lot of near-misses while crossing them as a pedestrian, but I understand which direction to look for oncoming traffic when I’m inside of the car. Also, I can find points of interest on the first try, something that excites me given my navigation tactics.
I’ve thus decided it’s harder to be a pedestrian than a driver.
Of course, I still try to get in the passenger side when driving and the driver’s side while passaging, and I still turn the windshield wipers on every time I want to indicate a turn signal. I know as soon as I get the hang of it, I’ll be headed home to America and everything will be backwards all over again.