Category Archives: unplanned adventure

I never want to fly again. I mean it this time.

Sydney Airport
Sydney Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A jolt of anxiety was what we got when we tried to check in online for our 15 hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco followed by a connecting flight to Phoenix. Our flight to San Francisco had been cancelled. After much angst and many now-what-are-we-going-to-do’s the airline sent an email to say we were rebooked on a flight to LA and onwards. We didn’t care for the seats we’d been allocated so tried to change them. That’s when the trouble started.

Darlene greeted us with a wan smile when we arrived the next day at the check-in desk before she began processing our reservations and passports.

“I guess the flight is full,” Jimmy said conversationally.

“It’s overbooked,” she said bluntly.

Out the window went our plans of asking her to reassign us some better seats.

“Have you checked in online?” she asked.

“We’ve no idea.”

She looked up from her busyness.

“We tried to change our seats before checking in and couldn’t so checked in then phoned the airline at the airport. She unchecked us but couldn’t change our seats either. We checked in again but had so many conflicting emails, we don’t know what we’ve done.” Darlene frowned and tapped her computer keys.

My suitcase had disappeared and passport and boarding card had been returned to me. Darlene studied Jimmy’s green card and continued to frown and tap.

“I’m just phoning the service desk. I’m sorry to keep you,” she said.

Jimmy looked worried. “I’m not on the flight,” he muttered. I began wondering where I’d packed my phone so we could call his daughter to come back to the airport and pick him up. We’d already been told by someone in the queue that the last seat on the flight had gone and no more seats were available until two days hence. How big is LAX? Would I find my connecting flight? And where was that taxi rank in Phoenix? Keys! Must get J’s keys. I left mine in the apartment. I was going to have to switch out of blond mode to get myself home.

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los ...
The theme restaurant and control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But what I said out loud was, “She’s looking at your passport and checking your green card. We know there’s no problem with it. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

After another 10 minutes of deliberate non eye contact from Darlene, she finally shared, “You have a seat on the flight,” she said looking at me. “I don’t have a seat booked for you,” she said to Jimmy.

Darlene put her head down again and kept tapping. Jimmy started sweating. Other passengers checked in and came and went, came and went. We stood our ground. No one said a word. Another 5 minutes went by.

“37 E and F. Are they the seats you were booked on?”


L1140523.JPG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You’re both on the flight.”

“Don’t do that to me!” Jimmy cried.

Darlene’s facial muscles relaxed into a smile. “Can I offer you a piece of advice? Don’t phone the help desk. They’re helpless. They mess up people’s reservations and when the flight is full we can’t fix it.”

English: Qantas A380 preparing to depart LAX o...
English: Qantas A380 preparing to depart LAX on it’s first flight on the new LAX-SYD route October 24, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good to know.

We’ll fly with Qantas next time.

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve just contradicted the title. I have to fly. I don’t have to love it. Do you love air travel?

You’ll never believe what those birds did!

Coop, the cockatoo, in the early stages of our relationship when he would still accept a corn chip and eat it, if only out of politeness.

Or maybe you will. I’d never befriended a cockatoo before.

On a slight departure from “adventures in a box on wheels in America,” we flew to Australia to visit family. I never imagined an apartment balcony in the suburbs would provide wildlife encounters. The cockatoos were initially cocktail time visitors, smelling the snacks and gate crashing our party, until one of them spotted me for the sucker I am and came to visit for morning coffee as well. He didn’t care for the previously offered corn chips but took one from my hand, laid it at his feet, backed away from it and looked at me as though I’d given him a piece of cardboard. I found a vege chip for him. He took it politely, put it down, backed away again and looked at me plaintively. I had just insulted him.

I’ll eat this walnut, thank you, but I’ll leave the vege chip if you don’t mind.
Yes, I’ll have a peanut but I prefer the walnuts.

Running out of options and not wishing to completely empty our hosts store cupboard, I chanced a few extravagantly priced walnuts. They hit the spot with this now picky bird. One at a time, he took them from my fingers, ate each one delicately as though savoring a truffle. Each walnut was prized and eaten thoughtfully, an exercise in mindful eating, something I’ve never been able to master.

At the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden the ibis practiced gang techniques and pressured tourists into paying protection tidbits. They would circle tables at the cafe and stare, getting closer and closer. Quite large birds, eyeballs nearly at table height, they intimidated a group of English people into sharing their tea cakes. When the group left the table the ibis swooped, whisking crockery aside to look for crumbs while smashing plates on the patio slabs. Those of us with stronger wills against rogue birds were greatly entertained as we finished every last morsel of our own food.

The second sitting at the tea table didn’t last long as the long-suffering waitress shooed off the ibis with her dustpan and brush.

Back at the balcony Coop the cockatoo showed up twice a day until the nuts ran out.

Cockatoo or cockatiel? Do you know the difference? I believe Coop was a cockatoo with a beak strong enough to smash Brazil nuts. He gently nipped my index finger to show displeasure with my offering of inferior hors d’oeuvres but I could have lost a finger. Or several!

Bad Seat Karma

Back at Heathrow in the departure lounge after two weeks on my own in England and smelling like a tart’s boudoir after a visit to the perfume shop I settled down to watch the overhead screens for my flight.

Like the flibbertigibbet I am when tense, my eyes flitted from screen to book to screen to magazine to screen to newspaper to screen and took in nothing other than the fact that the departure gate hadn’t been announced for my 10 hour flight with only 20 minutes left until departure time. Had I missed something? Had the aircraft come and gone without me? Wishing my absent minder to share in my panic though there was nothing he could do to help me I decided to text him. Good journey to H’row. Watching screens for gate. Paying attn. Wont miss flight. XX.  He’ll know that’s not true and wonder what is wrong.

By perusing best sellers, window shopping, drinking cappuccinos, reading sensational headlines on tabloids before returning them to the shelf dog-eared, trips to the loo and trying on bracelets I’d ambled right down to gate 25. When my gate number popped up on the overhead screen for boarding – gate 1a – it was completely at the other end of the terminal building.

My minder would be cross with me if he knew. He would remind me of the time I missed my flight from New York to Baltimore because I was playing video games or the time all the cars on the Seattle ferry were honking at him because he had to wait behind the wheel of our car, engine running, while I stood at the rail of the ferry watching the approach of the fetching Seattle skyline oblivious to his ire (until I got back in the car that is). He would have made me stay put near my gate. Oh well.

I huffed and puffed the length of the terminal building carrying in my heavy backpack a large bottle of water, five magazines, three books and a newspaper for the flight knowing I would probably watch two films, drink the airline’s wine and fall asleep instead. Flustered, I sprinted straight through the now nearly empty gate to board . . . . a bus.

What? Where am I? The bus station? Mustn’t procrastinate when I’m on my own and pay better attention. Ah yes, the aircraft had been abandoned halfway across the tarmac and we were to be bussed out to it. Looking around for familiar faces on the bus to reassure myself I was in the right place, a few unfamiliar weary faces glanced back at me. I realised that as I’d checked in online, not queued at check-in, I wouldn’t recognise my fellow passengers. I could be about to jet off anywhere in the world if I’d bounded through the wrong gate and the ground staff happened to glaze over just at the point when I handed over the scrap of paper that I’d printed off as my boarding card. I made a mental note to check our destination as I boarded the plane, like some addled old dear.

Taking my pick of seats at the back of the bus, I chose an empty side-facing bench that would seat three(ish). A plump florid blond collapsed beside me and scooted across as far as she possibly could to leave a narrow gap between us. As the bus filled to capacity with standing room only I could see no further than the belly in front of my face. A voice speaking Arabic or Farsi made me look up to see a dark-eyed beauty homing in on the tiny space beside me. She began to rotate and I hoped she was looking for another seat but like a dog in his bed, she circled twice then began to reverse her ample bottom towards the gap between me and the blond.

Blondie and I exchanged looks of wide-eyed dismay. Either I hadn’t appreciated the size of Sultry Beauty’s aft section or how small the proposed seating area was but as Sultry Beauty’s left bum cheek made contact with my right shoulder I lost sight of Blondie. The large cheek slid down my arm, slithered over my hip, and on impacting the seat squeezed me into a bolt upright position, forcing the air from my lungs and crushing my ribs against the metal armrest.

Afraid to move a muscle for fear of disrupting numerous pressure points and squirting myself out of my seat and across the bus, I prayed that this was my bad seat karma for the journey knowing I could be this unlucky for the next ten hours on the plane. I was breathing shallowly, with eyes bulging when the bus driver eventually braked and eek, eek, eeked to a halt. As I was thrown from side to side my left ribcage was bruised on the arm rest while alternately my whole right side was cushioned in billowing flesh.

The dilemma then was whether to attempt to get up first and extricate myself like a toilet plunger stuck to the floor or stay put. I was wedged under the armrest on one side and a longitudinal section of my thigh on the other side was trapped under Sultry’s voluminous thigh with a pinching sensation as though a row of bulldog clips had been attached. My leg was going numb but rather than leave a strip of flesh behind, I awaited developments. I didn’t need to wait for long. My wide beamed travelling companion bounded to her feet with surprising ease. I gawped at her agility as I fell over across the seat upon release from the body trap and exchanged looks of bemused relief with Blondie, the remaining seat hostage, as Sultry Beauty was swallowed up by the crowd.

The outsome? Seattle flight. Aisle seat. Three seats to myself. Hooray!

The “Wrong” Side

Homesick for my adopted country, England, I spent two weeks basking in glorious sunshine having left himself behind in his adopted country to contend with yet more torrential downpours. A daily occurrence on the Puget Sound he told me on the phone. Oh golly.

I was not allowed to pick up a rental car from Heathrow Airport on arrival after a night flight as my minder/usual travelling companion feared I would either circle London endlessly on the M25 or fall asleep at the wheel. Unable to defend myself I hopped on the tube.

After a day’s R & R from jet lag, I collected a teeny rental car and was completely flummoxed by a) a manual gearbox, b) a clutch, c) having to drive on the left again, d) sitting my bum so close to the road and e) an empty gas tank. I hadn’t touched a petrol/gas/diesel pump in over two years and the hand I usually had spare from not having to change gears had become accustomed to holding a cup of coffee.

Firing up disused neural pathways along with the engine, I successfully exited the rental car parking lot using an eleven point turn while pumping the clutch as though inflating an air bed. Had I been a fool to refuse the collision damage waiver to save a few pennies?

With intense concentration, I avoided all the other road users without a blast from their horns or angry hand gestures, sidled into a nearby petrol station on the correct side of the pump (ha!), filled the tank and drove up to the kiosk to pay. I felt I had achieved a major feat. Smiling triumphantly, debit card in hand, I was asked “Which pump?”


“Pump number?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” Deflated and much to the chagrin of the drivers in the queue of cars behind me, I squeezed out of the car having neatly pulled up an arm’s length from the kiosk so I could reach the window. I winced at the looks of pure hostility of the DRIVERS IN A HURRY. Three was my number and I slunk back to the car.

It’s shocking how I’d allowed myself to coast into blond tag-along mode. Having slowly and happily let my independence slip away over the years, I had to give myself a mental slap and take responsibility for myself for at least two weeks. Once that was accomplished, I enjoyed being responsible only for myself. Meals when I was hungry instead of at mealtime, trashy TV at full volume, junk food with no looks of disapproval, shopping more than was good for my wallet and a curious feeling of liberation when stepping out of the door without telling anyone where I was going or when I’d be back.

Driving on the wrong side soon became the right side even though it was the left side. And driving on the right when I returned to the States would then feel wrong even though it was right.

Not me but this is how I felt. I fell down into the rental car and climbed up out it, more used to climbing up into our SUV and falling out of it!

You’d Think We’d Know By Now

Maiden “voyage” to Oregon – dwarfed between two monsters

After two years of “caravanning” in Europe you’d think we’d have made every mistake, suffered every disaster and be RV experts when taking it up in the U.S. For instance I’d sat on the keys on the sofa and turned all the electrics off  in the caravan. Who knew a little button on the key fob could do that? And who left the keys there anyway? Fuses blew regularly with the injudicious use of a hair dryer. Always my fault. The trailer got away from us once and impaled a neighbor. I was an observer for that one. The smoke alarm was a frequent accompaniment to cooking in the tiny galley. Usually my fault. But there were still more learning experiences to come.

The day of departure for the Oregon coast in our new toy, a travel trailer:

“What’s that noise?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it coming from our trailer?” The screeching, on a similar pitch to my tinnitus, was difficult to track down, but upon opening the trailer door a din escaped that was so loud that it knocked us both back.

“It’s the gas alarm,” Jimmy said and leapt to check the gas bottles, “but they’re turned off!” Meanwhile the racket filled the confined space in the trailer so fully that all senses were baffled. The noise was exploding out of the door.

There are three alarms on the trailer: gas, smoke and carbon monoxide. The gas alarm is near the floor – gas heavier than air – you knew that. Not convinced the gas alarm could be at fault I hopped into the trailer, got on hands and knees and put my ear next to an innocuous looking plastic box. Now, not only was my head reverberating as though it had been caught between two symbols, I was stuck in the fetal position with my hands over my ears and Jimmy had to come in to haul me up.

As our heads came up level with the battery gauge, some spark of inspiration prompted Jimmy to check the charge and discovered the heavy duty trailer batteries had died. Explain to me how, when the batteries had been draining for the six weeks since we’d abandoned the trailer in storage, the alarm chose that moment to squeal so heartily*. It wasn’t caused by human gas as one post-er claimed!

Jimmy disconnected the dead batteries, which silenced the alarm – again that made no sense* – took the batteries to the battery shop only to be told that they were kaput. Another lesson learned. Disconnect the (two $100) batteries when not using the trailer. Jimmy’s now got tinnitus  to remind him. We’ve also learned that if gas leaks in the trailer, we won’t sleep through the alarm!

I blame the RV dealer – bunch of cowboys – for giving us cheap batteries that weren’t fully charged to start with. After all, why take the blame for something when you can blame someone else.

Favorite saying: “I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was blaming you.”

*So go on. Tell me.

Cannon Beach. My photo. Proof we made to it to Oregon!

Wheels on Fire!

“Yer wus a fur!”

“What?” Jimmy bellowed.

“Yer wus a fur!”

“OUR WHEEL’S ON FIRE!!” I shrieked.

We’d just picked up our travel trailer from its 6,000 mile brake and wheel bearing service and were winging our way north on I5 to a campsite when a car with two girls pulled up level with us, shouting and pointing.

Jimmy reacted very quickly, carved up two lanes of rush hour traffic and pulled onto the hard shoulder. A following wind brought the frightening stench of burning rubber to us when we stopped. Thick black smoke was pouring out of the wheel as it sat at a forlorn angle.

It was exactly five o’clock and the garage we’d just left closed at five.

Jimmy hurriedly dialed Walter, the garage owner and we waited a few tense moments until he picked up. We then waited a very apprehensive half an hour for him to drive the 10 miles (checking to see if his liability insurance was current?) to turn up in an ancient battered minivan.

I was not heartened.

Walter suggested he remove the smoking wheel so we could limp back to his garage towing our dual axle trailer on three wheels keeping to the back roads with him following. We’d spend the night on his not picturesque forecourt and then limp a bit further in the morning, presumably to a garage that wouldn’t forget to put the cotter pin on to secure the brake drum.

Jimmy and I exchanged that special look we have perfected, a pinched expression that says Oh sh*t!

“I’m not sure about this,” I muttered.

“Me neither.”  Jimmy looked beyond pained.

Walter joined in, “I’ve seen it done loads of times.”

Not with our trailer, buster, I thought but left Jimmy and Walt to iron out the details.

Back in the car, fretting in relative safety, I felt the whole rig shaking as ol’ Walt battered the wheel and chassis. Jimmy appeared at my window. “Walter’s swearing a lot.  I thought I’d get out of the way.”

Apparently after he got the wheel off he was trying to wedge some planks of wood between the chassis and the leaf spring to keep the brake drum from dragging on the road. I daren’t get out and look as we’d several miles to lurch along propped up on scaffolding and didn’t want the image of potential disaster ruining my blinkered thoughts.

Jimmy drove down the hard shoulder ve-e-e-ry slo-o-o-wly, exited the Interstate, crossed over and headed south again on the worst piece of road in Washington State.

We’d been so impressed with the kindness of people in Washington and the courtesy of its drivers so everyone we encountered that day as we bumped along with our hazard lights flashing must have been from out of state. They blared their horns at us, gestured rudely and screeched past as we negotiated potholes trying to keep the low slung underbelly of the trailer off the road.

“This will give you something to write about,” Jimmy quipped in an attempt to distract us both from the anxiety we were feeling.

“I like to write about things that strike me as funny. I’m not finding anything remotely humorous about this.”

“Well, no. I’m nipping my bum a bit.”

Indeed. I was so tense I could have cracked walnuts with several parts of my anatomy. My stomach seemed impaled on my backbone.

As my eyes bored holes in the windshield willing us forward safely, I heard CLANG!! TINKLE! Tinkle, tinkle, clink, clink, clink. I’d imagined we’d broken our back like a freighter in heavy seas and spewed the whole contents of the trailer across the road – plates, glasses, cutlery, saucepans all sounding like they’d been dropped from a great height. But we were still rolling along so I gripped the armrest for its comforting reassurance and waited for the calamity to unfold.

Passing an Overturned RV & Car
No, this isn’t us. It wasn’t this bad! (Photo credit: calaggie)

Jimmy pulled off the road, opened the door and jumped out all in one swift movement. I closed my eyes and pretended I wasn’t there.

The brake drum had fallen off the axle and rolled across the road into the path of oncoming traffic weaving its way into a ditch. The ever incompetent Walter, who hadn’t secured the brake drum for a second time, retrieved it and put it in his jalopy along with the previously stowed reeking wheel.

Ten miles and ten minutes due north on the interstate highway became an agonizing eternity of twisting country roads to return south – and east and west – to the garage.

At the end of the journey, we unwound our adrenaline flooded bodies from the car and took a look at Walt’s handiwork. The front axle of the twin axles on our trailer – minus the bulky brake drum – was a mere inch off the road.

It wasn’t all bad news though. The next morning when we were cast adrift – trailer-less and homeless as new brakes, brake drum, calipers and seals were fitted, not by the witless Walter – we paid Courtney’s cousin, Chrystal (How to Render your Husband Speechless, Again) a visit at the NASCAR decked espresso hut.

Chrystal wore a whole dress, but it barely covered her bum and was unzipped in front to her waist, her exuberant breasts launching themselves into the steamy coffee scented atmosphere.

Not Chrystal! Too many clothes! DSCN3065 (Photo credit: &y)

Jimmy approached the drive-through window, having prepared to acquit himself in a manner befitting a Grandad. He did quite well with the coffee order though I couldn’t see his face or keep track of his eyes.

She was the one who lost her cool. “I just love you guys’ accents. Where are you from?” and as she chattered and gushed, encouraging Jimmy to keep talking, she unthinkingly put the coffee grounds back into my coffee.

In a fit of giggles, she dumped out the murky mess and started the long process of brewing coffee all over again, much to Jimmy’s delight.

Daytona 500
Florida, not Washington, but keeping with the NASCAR theme!

Sorry fellas. No pictures of Chrystal. Thoughtless of me.

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Road Kill for Dinner?

Technically, it wasn’t road kill – it was very much alive, but for how much longer?

We’d been to the St. Louis house of Scott Joplin, the ragtime composer of “The Entertainer”, the well known theme tune from the film “The Sting.” From there we visited lions and tigers and bears at the St. Louis Zoo and lastly a transport museum comprising one plane, one boat, one truck, a few cars and lots and lots of trains. Lots more trains. As if I wanted to see more trains. They’d been a wearisome and wakeful theme in our travels. A campsite is not complete without a heavily trafficked railway line next to it.

Bit by bit we’d driven right across to the west side of St. Louis, 12 miles from the  hillbilly campsite where we’d abandoned our RV on the east side. So after a few minutes of the frantic traffic of rush hour and the kadunk, kadunk, kadunk of the concrete interstate, I planned a cross-town shortcut-cum-detour for a less stressful route back to the campsite. Once we’d set our course and it was clear that, yes, we were still heading in more or less the right direction, I drifted off a little.  It was 95° outside and humid and I had just settled into a heat induced stupor of neither being awake or asleep when Jimmy swerved violently, braked and pulled off the road.

“Wud ju do that for?” I asked, startled, heart thudding as I was suddenly thrown forward in my seatbelt whilst my head snapped up and I gripped the armrests.

“There was a turtle walking very slowly across the road. I hope I didn’t hit it.” I craned my neck round to see a foot long inert lump on the double yellow line.

“Are you going to rescue it?”

“ I . . . .”

“Hurry.  There are cars coming.”

“Well . . .”

“I’m getting out,” and I left Jimmy to turn around and bump across a rough dirt lot heaped with junk cars, rusting engines, old tractors, wheels and tires. I could see he was still deciding between the welfare of his car, tires and suspension – vulnerable to the potholes and debris – and that of the turtle.  A faded sign, pock-marked with gunfire warned, “If you are reading this you are in range.”


Unnerved by the sign I continued but really had no firm plan in mind as I placed each flip flop shod foot carefully around the treacherous shards of scrap metal. “Thieves beware. I’m reloading.” A second sign and the smell of river mud sent chills down my clammy spine. I was well out of my comfort zone. Curiosity about the turtle spurred me on but I hoped that Jimmy would abandon the car in time to stop me doing anything stupid.

(Still Alive!) Road Kill for Dinner

About the time we pulled off the road and began to turn around, a ‘72 Chevy Impala – of a non-descript color that had once been blue or gray or silver – had skittered off the road a few feet from the turtle.  As I approached car and turtle, the driver – a skinny old fellow with a shriveled face displaying a squint and containing few teeth, dressed in raggedy t-shirt and baggy jeans – hitched himself out of the car and across the road as quickly as his unwilling hips would allow. Oncoming traffic veered to avoid him.  His passenger, a well-worn, red-faced Dukes of Hazard look-a-like, grinned dopily in turns at me and his dare devil friend.

With head down to delicately pick my way through slivers of metal and glass I heard Bo Duke cackle with delight and looked up to see the old boy in the road lift and quickly drop the turtle.  My progress was slow as the heat and stiflingly high humidity dragged at my limbs, but within 20 feet of what I had been sure was a dead turtle, I saw the old man pick up the turtle again and speed limp back across the road holding by the tail a very much alive and very angry turtle.  Whatever was wrong with the old boy’s hip was not holding him back at all.

“He gonna bite yew,” Bo hooted and I could see sticking out of the whopping carapace the turtle’s jaws snapping in a head the size of my fist and his clawed feet flapping with rage.  Alternately watching my footing and the turtle’s ill-fated progress, I got to within six feet of the old Chevy.  As I opened my mouth to speak, the grizzled hillbilly popped open his trunk, swung the turtle round in an arc, threw him in head first, slammed the lid with a screech of metal on metal and got back in his car. All in one movement and without making eye contact with me, though I knew he saw me.  Dressed in pink Capri’s and a lace top and tottering across to him in sequined flip flops, somehow or other I posed a threat to him and “his” turtle.  Did he think I might wrestle him for it?

My mouth still hung open as he spun his wheels in the dirt and roared off, Bo Duke’s head thrown back in raucous laughter.  “Did you see that?” I squealed as Jimmy caught up with me, not quite sure I could believe what I had just seen. It all happened in seconds.

“Well there’s dinner,” he quipped.

“They will eat it you know.”


“Oh, yes.  Turtle soup.  Turtle stew.  Fried turtle.”  We had just seen a snapping turtle, common along the banks of the Mississippi River which was only yards from where we stood.  The Englishman, who cannot fathom eating snails (slimy!) or crabs (a bottom feeder which looks likes a crusty spider), certainly could not get his head ‘round eating this ugly ferocious creature harvested from the road.

We had cheesy baked potatoes for dinner that night – all protein that required the ultimate sacrifice of an animal was off the menu.

Which Way Now: Part 2 – Lost in San Francisco

Oh no! Which way now!?!?

“What do we do now?” asked my agitated driver having taken the turn for San Francisco city center whilst towing our travel trailer against my wishes.

“I don’t know.”

“Well you’ve got the map.”

“You should have gone on 580 West like I said.”  To further aggravate him, himself then had to pay an $8.25 bridge toll to take us into the city.

“Shall I try for the Golden Gate now we’re heading for San Francisco?” It had been a secret desire of his to tow our travel trailer over the bridge but getting stuck down a narrow road like a rat in a drainpipe had obviously not yet occurred to him.

“You might as well. We’ll get just as lost going that way as trying to turn on city streets and come back. I can’t see where we are on the map. (I had switched from the two-page large print interstate map to a 2” x 3” city centre map – a miniature grid we hadn’t yet driven onto with road names I couldn’t bring into focus, on a twilight zone of scale between the two maps.) Just keep the bay to your right and we’ll come to the bridge,” I said airily as we crawled through a city of heavy traffic, sharp turns, dead end streets and up to 21 degree gradients. Visions of broken and spewing fire hydrants, smashed cars that had been carelessly left in our path, a run-away trailer, terrified children all impinged on my map reading abilities.

“Here’s California Street. Turn here,” I offered helpfully.

“No!” he blurted as he bowled on.  “I thought you said to keep the bay on our right.”

“I did but I thought it would help if we turned onto a road I could find on the map,” which seemed logical to me.

“Yes. I can appreciate that,” he replied calmly. “Where do I turn here?”

“I don’t know.”


“IDON’TKNOWWHWEREWEAREONTHEMAP!!!”  Hysteria had truly set in.

“We’ll laugh about this one day,” he said in a feeble but well intentioned effort to diffuse the tension.

“Yeah.  Right.”

Eventually we came to an intersection, Chestnut Street and Hyde Street, which I found on the teeny tiny print of the Central San Francisco map. “Go three blocks and turn left and one block and turn right.”

101! Yay!

With San Francisco Bay glistening on our right and the shops and restaurants of Fisherman’s Wharf enticing us to stop and play, we passed five minutes in stony silence advancing slowly behind cars, buses, trolleys and cable cars until himself said, “Look, we’re on 101!”

“Yes, I know,” I said in that know-all way that he hates.

“How did you know that?”

What could I say?  I just sighed and began to enjoy the sights once again as we cruised majestically, car and trailer, over the Golden Gate Bridge.

weary navigator in the pink hat

This little scenario happened again, and again, and with galling frequency again – all over the United States. And we seem to court disaster whenever we hitch up and go, but we’re still married – to the amazement of all our friends – and the trailer is still in one piece, with a few running repairs along the way. We’ve wrecked the car and replaced it with a truck; nothing calamitous – the engine and transmission was knackered – just too many miles.

Which way now???

This is a tale for those of you who may have gone on a car journey with your spouse as driver expecting you to navigate. It may ring a bell. You may even laugh at our expense.

We’d driven into San Francisco without mishap in the car the day before, leaving our travel trailer at a campsite just to the south, and did the usual tourist things. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, took photos of the bridge with the city in the background, drove back into the city and parked with great difficulty. We caught a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, and then queued for an hour to ride the cable car back to our parked car, unable to walk up the vertiginous streets accessible on foot only to those with calves of steel.

Even the sidewalks have a staircase!

From the tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid, to the pretty little terraced painted ladies, San Francisco’s charming architecture is packed so tightly on its steep mounds that the two main roads into the city, Highway 101 and Interstate 280, have to disgorge themselves onto frenetic city streets before joining up on the Golden Gate to transport you literally and figuratively across San Francisco Bay. Having experienced both routes in the car, we decided to avoid San Francisco at all costs when towing our travel trailer north from San Jose.

It was a simple enough route – Highway 101 to 880North to 580West and back to 101 – avoiding downtown San Francisco. As we progressed confidently up I880, I knew we were to take Interstate 580 West over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Except himself doubted my directions making me doubt myself. We approached the junction we needed to come off I880.

“Which way?” he asked.

“580 West.”

“It doesn’t go the way we want.”

“Take 580 West.”

“The road splits here.  80 West or 580 West?”

“580 West.”

“Make up your mind.  NOW!”

“Oh, take 80 West then!” I felt coerced to say and he swerved left at the last moment.

“This isn’t the right road.  It’s taking us onto the San Francisco Bay Bridge and straight into downtown San Francisco!” If I hadn’t felt so desperate at our plight I could have been mistaken for sounding sanctimonious but a panicky voice revealed my true feelings. The Transamerica Pyramid loomed just ahead and I pictured the claustrophobic streets at its feet.

Which Way Now: Part 2; our relationship is tested – again.