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Left, left, left! March 1, 2012

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.
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“Are you kidding me? Its frickin’ standard!” I shout to myself.

‘Standard’ refers to standard transmission. So as I sit behind the wheel of my Jucy (seriously, that’s the company’s name) rental car, I’m having serious doubts about my ability to pull this off. After several days in Auckland, I’m parting company with Kevin to make the four-hour drive up New Zealand’s eastern coast and spend a few days in a resort area known as the Bay of Islands.

I'm smiling having not yet realized I'll be driving manual transmission

Okay, I’m already nervous because, as you may know, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. In preparation for my journey, Kevin allowed me to test drive his vehicle the night before, which I performed with mixed results. There’s nothing intuitive about keeping left to any American driver, I suspect. I mean the steering wheel is on the ‘passenger’ side for goodness sake.

So to document the moment, Kevin takes my picture, hands me the camera, and I close the door. That’s when I see it—the stick shift. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve done standard. Granted it’s been 12 years, but I drove across the United States and back operating a manual transmission. But that wasn’t while driving on the left side of the road—with the steering wheel on the passenger side of the car—while shifting with my LEFT HAND!!

“Okay, calm down,” I’m thinking. “You got this.” If I can make my way out of the urban areas of Auckland unscathed, the worst is likely behind me. Kevin agreed to lead the way out until his exit for work. Then I’d be on my own.

As I make my way out of the city, I grow more comfortable. In fact I find myself really enjoying the ride through the New Zealand countryside, which occasionally dots the coastline. Some of the inland areas remind me a bit of driving the winding highway leading through the Catskill Mountainsin New York.

Overlooking the Bay of Islands from Paihia, New Zealand

And during the more serine moments of my drive, I think of Dad. Had he still been among us, my family and I would celebrate his 93rd birthday with him on this day—March 1. I think about him a lot, and how much I miss him. As much as he loved to travel, I know he’d be proud of me for taking this opportunity to visit a new land and enjoy a new adventure.

But ever the prankster, I also think about him looking down and enjoying the absurdity of my situation. Watching me flip on the windshield wipers more than two dozen times, rather than the turn signal (It’s on the wrong side too!), and hearing me blurt out “Left, left, left!” at intersections—willing myself not to pull into the path of oncoming traffic.

For the first time in almost a year, I can honestly hear his laugh. I miss his smile—and his laugh.

The remainder of my two-week stay in New Zealand is certain to feature some adventure and some reflection. And despite the absurdity of any situation I find myself, I take comfort in knowing a well-intended prankster is watching over my journey—ensuring my safe return home.

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Comments»

1. Liz - March 1, 2012

Paul,
Enjoy your amazing “journey!” I feel your pain on missing your father as I lost my father last Father’s day. At the same time, just as you, I know that my father is with me every step of the way. Take comfort in the beauty, the solace and the laughter…
Your “old” friend,
Liz

2. Frank Battaglia - March 4, 2012

Okay, that literally made me “laugh out loud”. I’m glad you’re enjoying the adventure. I have no doubt that your dad is with you every step of the way (and laughing too).

3. Joanna Bartlett - March 8, 2012

So that’s what happened to Kevin Ptak! I had a margarita last night and I thought about him — he made me and Marcia Morphy a fantastic margarita once during happy hour at the Mexican restaurant he used to work at near campus. I haven’t had one as good since.


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