Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The wrong side to Kiama

Well, here I am in Melbourne. Presentation is tomorrow, so while I delay practicing the presentation, I will post about the trip.

The first three days of this trip were almost all about driving.

But first things first. It's an 11 hour flight to Sydney from Honolulu, which, sure, it's long, but Honolulu to Houston was 9 or 10, so this is really just a consequence of living in the middle of the Pacific. Of course, for all my mainland and European friends, it would have been longer.

The Australian people have truly been embarrassingly friendly so far. I mean, the whole lot of them have been at worse neutral and most seem happy to give advice of any sort. I spent my 11 hours with Bernie, a bloke from South Sydney who's in his early 60s or so and just coming back from 3 and a half weeks in the USA. Bernie's so dang friendly, he's either the nicest man ever or a serial killer. He's in a "big brother" type program where he meets periodically with a 17-year-old whose dad has been gone for years, and so he tries to do 17-year-old type things with him like going jet skiing. He's the kind of guy who met the American family in the rows behind us near the bathroom and so spent a while writing up a list of tourist attractions at all their destinations for them. I've got his card as well, so that I can call him if I have any troubles or just to report how I am when the trip is done.

More normal Bernies have been everywhere from the construction guys looking after a big lost dog to the dad from Canberra who chatted with me about the Big Reds (kangaroos) and AFL (Australian Football League) games in Melbourne to the guy in the toll booth in Sydney who gave me directions. I do find myself saying, "I'm sorry?" repeatedly because I didn't understand something, but that's my issue not theirs.

As I said, however, most of my life pre-conference revolved around the Australian freeways. I'm hanging in there now, but, boy, was I having issues the first night.

My entire job was to get from the Sydney airport to my hotel just outside City Center. With normal traffic, it should be a simple 20 minute drive in a northeasterly direction on one of the main "freeways" with a simple turn on one road.

Two and a half hours later, I made it.

There was no one thing that got me, but put it all together and I was wandering, just hanging on for dear life. Of course, Australians drive on the left side of the street and the driver is on the right side of the car. They've got the blinker on the right as well, and the windshield wipers on the left, where an American would expect the blinkers to be. I also rented a standard transmission, which is no big deal by itself, since I drove a standard transmission for several years, but it gave me one more thing to think about. I had no map, but I did have Google travel directions.

Unfortunately, none of the roads by the airport actually had names that one could catch, at least not while trying to stay in the correct lane and turning one's windshield wipers on and off in attempts to turn. I swear I followed sign after sign for "City" or "City Centre", but soon I was in some area called Ramsgate. Maybe I had gone too far and missed the city and was now in North Sydney? I pulled into a petrol station and asked to buy a map. He didn't have maps, but I did learn that Ramsgate was in the opposite direction that I needed to be going in. I wasn't in North Sydney. I was southwest and headed in the opposite direction from the one I thought I was going in.

I managed to get back on highway 1, this time headed towards the city, looking in vain for a way to turn right on Williams St. to get to the hotel. After seeing no signs for William St., I hit the toll booth and ask how much further. Apparently, I'd already missed it. But if I just go up here, turn left and then left and then.... I will be right there. But downtown Sydney is not a calm and peaceful place on Saturday night. One cannot look at tiny little blue street signs hidden in the corners because there are leaping pedestrians hoping to be run over by Americans on every block. I need all concentration to not kill anyone, including myself, and so soon I'm just driving in circles around downtown Sydney having no idea what road I am on nor the direction I'm headed in, but as long as I haven't mowed anyone down, I'm at least still legal. I spent about an hour doing this. Since it's downtown, one can't just pull over and ask someone. There's no place to stop.

Somehow I finally ended up heading back south into neighborhoods and finally turn around... about 6 kilometers north of the damned airport where I started an hour and a half earlier. This was almost my third trip to the airport for the evening. I then end up back on the freeway, back at the same toll booth I was at before, still looking for the mythical Williams St. Okay, so this time I do a left and a left and a left and a I don't know, where the hell is this damned Williams St. I might just die going in circles in this damned city and it's hopeless and oh! I'm on Williams St.! How did that happen?

So I made it.

I called McK to find out the arrangements for our next day's meet-up. We are supposed to meet in Kiama, which has a lighthouse and a legendary blowhole. It should take about an hour and a half. With my experience driving, I left about 2 and a half hours early and was still 10 minutes late.

I got to Kiama and did indeed find a lighthouse

and a blowhole, not much blowing today


It looks like you will have to wait to see more since blogger will not accept any photos for about an hour now. I'll finish the story later, blogger willing.


writtenwyrdd said...

I shouldn't be laughing at your driving 'adventure' but it reminded me of when several of us flew from San Francisco to Boston and drove to a mutual friend's wedding. OMG that was a nightmare! And we didn't have to drive on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the rental car!

I think if I were you I would have taken a taxi. so much simpler!

Precie said...

Argh! Tease!

Best of luck with your presentation! I'm sure you'll wow them with your brilliance.

Can't wait to hear more about your trip. And I'm with ww--Taxi!

Robin S. said...

Thanks for posting! This is so much fun, reading about your trip and the people and the drive and the meeting to come...

And yep, as Precie said - best of luck with your presentation! They'll love ya, paca.

McKoala said...

Hee, hee.

I'll be adding a chapter too.

fairyhedgehog said...

I hate having to drive on the wrong side of the road. (For me, that's the right hand side.)

Quite often the more hassle a trip is the more interesting it is to read about. I used to long for boring holidays: sun, sea, sand and nothing happening!

Robin S. said...

You and McK are killin us with the picture waiting!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paca, Glad you are safe and sound now. I loved your descriptions of the Bernies. Thanks for keeping us posted. Muffytrue