Driving Irish

Isabel Bearman Bucher

© Copyright 2002 by Isabel Bearman Bucher

Photo of Isabel and Bob at their Irish home.
"There's nothing to it," stated my friend Madeline. "The steering wheel is on the right side, and everything else falls into place."

Those words gave me a false sense of security.

My husband Robert and I exchanged homes with Dermot and Marie Curran of Kilkenny Ireland. This total, ongoing nightmare on four wheels, began with a start - the start of their red Ford Mondeo on a cool Irish morning in Dublin. The steering wheel was on the right, the gear shift, left, and all the mechanics were totally opposite of anything American. You had to pull up a obscure ring to even get it in reverse, which is where this story starts.

Picture this. We've just deplaned Aer Lingus, in Dublin. It's six am, really 12 midnight, Albuquerque time, our home. Fresh from almost triple digit July heat, the cold hits us like a bucket of ice water. We wander around with too-much luggage, albatrosses, reading Dermot's directions scribbled on an envelope. By his own reckoning, he says his handwriting is terrible. Red hair, freckles, white skin and a fast brogue waft past our nervous path. Culture shock.

"Take shuttle bus to P-3, lot L, long term parking," I mumble. "Yellow ties on antenna. Car parked against green fence, between spaces 32 and 36. Pay on your way out. Money included."

By some act of congress, six inquiries, we find the right shuttle, boarding with all due fuss and bother.

"Soccoro!" I hoot out the bus window, several stops later, while Irish people gape. "Thar she blows! Yellow tie, against green fence!"

Robert disembarks bus, turns the key right and left, deactivates the alarm, gets in car, starts it, and ... can't figure out how to get it in reverse. Bus driver leaves bus, shows Robert how, points to dis way and dat (Irish people do not pronounce th's) - and we're off in fits and jerks. The guy in the pay hut runs out the door, because we're heading right towards it, veering finally to the right side, which in Ireland, is the wrong side. From a safe place, behind a bush, he motions, cautiously, studying us, finally determining we're American, not terrorists. Robert backs up - takes a run at it again. We get more directions, which we barely understand. M1, roundabouts, N9 to Waterford, Kilkenny - wind in and around our consciousness, and float like computer numeracy. Add directional signs in the Gaelic. We're pointing into the Dublin morning rush. God help us. All the little cars are going like bats out of hell, on the "wrong" side of the street. I am squealing because the car is bucking, lurching, and popping. Out into the six lanes of traffic we shoot, like some pre-destined, hiccupping pin ball. We miss the turns, yell conflicting directions, cancel each's instructions. Now comes wrong turns. right turns into the wrong lanes. Wrong turns, right. Turn arounds, and re-starts. Oh, God really help us, because now comes the "roundabouts." We yield, play chicken, inch out, then pow! Round the circle, over and over - round and round, stuck in a repetitive go-go.

"Can't you get the heck off this thing Robert - for God's sake! Make a choice here - any choice!"

We spit out the other side, wrong side. Traffic coming from the right.

"Get over! Get over!" I'm yelling, letting one long squeal rip through clenched teeth. One foot is on the dash; the hand has the ceiling handle in a death grip.

He hits the curb, up and over she goes. When he slows, I open the door and give him a measurement.

"You got exactly four inches buddy, to become intimate with the quaint cobblestone Molly Malone drainage ditch. Get the ABSOLUTE hell over!"

"I can't judge that side of the road! Give me a break!"

"Well find it and USE IT, I'm telling you!"

"I am honestly so sorry honey," I squeal, as we catapult off another curb, avoiding the ditch. "But I can't help it! It's just coming ... there's a hubcap rolling. My God! We've lost Dermot's hub cap! Pull over!

"I can't pull over! There's no where to go!"

I try holding my breath. Held-in groans plug up my ears. "M-1!" I shriek. "Turn. Turn!"

He turns into the right, and swerves over left. We're hitting curbs again, riding the narrow rim of the Molly Malone, finally straightening out onto the freeway. A normal breathing pattern returns. Robert's knuckles are purplish with some returning circulation. We are grateful for a slow truck that everybody else is tooting at. Behind it we stay, until it turns off, and we're babes on the freeway of life again.

"Did you put your walking stick in the car?" he asks, with a confident smile.

My eyes bulge out.

"Oh, no!" I squeeze out. "It's on the Bus!"

Tears begin to fall. That stick has been over 900 miles on backpacks. It's got turquoise Taos rock embedded in it. It's more magic than a leprechaun. A gift from my hiking group.

Mumbling ancient Hungarian curses, learned from his mother, Robert finds a turn-round, and all for the love of me, points the red death chariot back into Dublintown.

"Good God!" he yells, several miles into the foray. "There it is on the back of the seat! Why didn't you look, for gosh sakes!"

The red Rover does the go-round again, across six lanes of traffic, one oncoming ribbon of terror on the right. We relax, on our way south. Traffic thins. We can look at the countryside - green as an emerald, no graffiti, no billboards. Cows and wooly sheep wax lazy and content, eating from a sumptuous table. Whitewashed houses, with slate roofs sit cozy in the midst of a quilt of such verdant green, it's almost impossible to believe real. Every house has lace curtains, and window boxes full of flowers, tumbling riots of careless abandon color. You beg things to grow in Albuquerque. On and on the hills go, mountains are in the distance. Ivy climbs up stone chimneys and over ancient walls. Everything smells of new-mown grass, clover and meadow flower. I see my home town Irish friend, Bill Kenna, in every face. Peace, at last. I know why the Irish write all those songs that make you cry.

"Did you put the video camera in the car?" Robert asks again, confidently, with a smile.

My eyes bulge. I plug up my ears again, with cheeks full of held-in air. "Bus!" "It's got our passports and our return tickets in it too!" Robert screams, slamming on the breaks.


The T.N.T. Courier Service out of Dublin brought it to us for six Euros, four days later. Robert didn't care if it cost a hundred. He refused to drive back.

In six weeks, we lost one coat in a Killarney porta-toidy, one camera at a country road sign in Adrigole, on the Beara Peninsula, numerous maps, scarves and gloves, because even though it was summer, desert rats freeze. We bought a new hubcap and tied it on with three Irish plastic gizzies. Robert learned to drive defensively, with one foot on the accelerator, and the t'other, on the brake. I never drove, because we simply couldn't face another attitude terror adjustment. We, and I underscore "we," because I sweated out every rolling foot, navigated 3,300 Irish miles on Cork dual carriageways, ten footers out of Kilkenny, eight footers in Killarney , and cow paths on the Dingle. Lost? Always. Let me count the backyard barnyards we discovered. We rode behind chains of diesel-spewing tour busses, and faced lorries coming like four wheeled Armageddons. Once we barely missed a chance meeting with a gigantic truck in the middle of a single lane trip-trap bridge, by a tenth of an olympian second. We got used to the Irish habit of simply pulling to a dead stop in the middle of a road to have a neighborly chat with a friend on the sidewalk. Once, I yanked Robert back by the collar because he'd stepped out into an oncoming lane of Kilkenny traffic, looking to cross the wrong way. When sidewalks got shoulder to shoulder, you took your life in your hands, stepping into any Irish street. There's barely three inches sometimes before the car was right there in your lap.

But, at the end of the six weeks, we became almost nonchalant about it all, and drove like any regular, normal Irish bat out of hell. Would we do it all over? You betcha. In an Irish minute.

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