Tag Archives: travelling

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!

Coffee Society

After experiencing pained but patient expressions on harassed staff’s faces, I ask you, “Why can’t I just order a cup of coffee?”

My previous choices while travelling around Europe had been simply coffee or tea. (Although in some of the more remote villages the patron had to leave the beer pumps unattended, dust off a chipped mug and go in search of hot water.)

Taking care to study long menus of coffee in different joints, with much muttering and consternation, I thought I’d finally got it all worked it out.  Depending on what coffee shop I was in, Starbucks et al, I would casually ask for brewed or drip coffee or an Americano.

After a quick glance at the menu at a local café I asked for two small Americanos.

“12 oz or 8 oz?” In other words, small or very small? You can’t possibly want a tiny little 8 oz. cup of coffee.

“8 oz.”

“Single or double?”

What? Oh, right. A double shot would make us tea-drinking coffee novices hyperactive for the rest of the day. “Single.”

“With room?” Oh, I know that one. I should have asked for Americanos with room. Otherwise the cup is filled to the brim with coffee and no room for milk – no, cream, they call it cream, even if it is milk.


“For here or carry out?”


There, that wasn’t so hard was it for two small plain coffees? But then we had to puzzle over whole milk, skim milk, half & half or soy milk. The land of too much choice was still baffling us.

Starbucks at the mall was a favorite haunt for its amusement value. With a prime location at the entrance of the mall it was always busy, busy, loud and chaotic with three baristas taking orders and three more baristas churning out the orders at the back. I learned to order an 8 oz. brewed in a 12 oz. cup topped up with hot water, as it was always too strong, with room and a cup of ice water to quench my thirst after I’d drunk the coffee which always left a bad taste in my mouth. I would bellow my order over the head of the customer in front who was chanting out their long order to another barista, then hear my order hollered to the back of the shop. A third patron was doing the same. Nothing seemed to be written down. Everyone shouted.

Then one would step to the next counter to wait, and the real fun began. I never identified the body because bags of ground coffee, mugs, coffee pots and other coffee paraphernalia were piled high between me and her but orders began to appear on the counter accompanied by the most wonderful sing-song voice, “I have a tall peppermint frappuccino. I have a grande cappuccino light. I have a tall mocha caramel frappuccino with extra cream. Here’s a cinnamon dolce latte with extra syrup. I have an iced white mocha. I have a venti extra maple extra whipped blended frappuccino and I’m still working on two grande non-fat lattes. Here’s a double-top sugar-free cinnamon dolce frappucinno with hazelnut syrup. I have an espresso macchiato.” And on it went in a high-pitched syrupy voice that sliced through the crowd like a knife through a low-fat double-top strawberry & crème extra whipped sugar-free dolce frappuccino with caramel and chocolate chip syrup, while surely my little black coffee and water got lost in the madness, but no, “I have a small brewed with room and ice water,” and there it was! My order! I felt almost American again immersed in coffee shop society.

But shouldn’t I now get a bit more adventurous?