Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: North (05/05/16)
- TITLE: Who Shifted the Steering Wheel?
By Noel Mitaxa
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Opening the door of my hire-car, I reached across to the back seat and dropped my bag, planning to pivot smoothly around to the controls―which crossed my field of vision quite prematurely!
How had they shifted to that side of the car?
A metallic clang suddenly reverberated through the car park. It was the sound of a large penny dropping...
Oh yes, now I was in America, where everybody drives on the right hand side of the road instead of on the left, where traffic should be.
You protest, dear (American) reader? Well yes, I recognize that right-hand side traffic is a world-wide compulsion. Except for a handful of countries like Japan, India, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and some ex-British African colonies. These countries represent over thirty percent of the world’s population, and we’ve stayed true to noble medieval values.
Like jousting? How come? Well, thanks for asking; and let me explain...
With swords or lances only being a right-hand operation, noble knights’ output of mayhem was substantially reduced if any traffic came from their left-hand side. This tradition has held ever since, though never with any premonition of that sad, modern phenomenon we call road rage…
With my confusion clarified, and now seated behind the steering wheel, I departed Chicago. Lacking any encumbrances like GPS, I had to follow signs that pointed me towards the east, with patchy cloud limiting any sight of the sun; which was somehow shining from the south. My Aussie-trained reflexes were telling me that it should be to the north―or over my left shoulder―if I was heading east.
Well, that’s how it works when you come from south of the equator.
Funny thing about reflexes. We train them to handle routines so we might focus on stuff that takes more concentration, but now my reflexes were trying to persuade me that I was heading in the opposite direction.
With no landmarks on my way to Detroit, the Indiana countryside was so flat you could watch your dog run away from home for at least three days. Cornfields surrounded me; blocking my view but not quite as tall as in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma―where they supposedly grow “as high as a elephant’s eye!” But while they might be corn, they’re not forgotten―and they certainly aren’t for cotton!
I found freeway driving was no problem: and what a network those freeways provide. Just keep up with the flow and stay in your lane.
But driving in towns was a whole new ball-game, especially on narrow streets when it took every effort to remember to steer right instead of left to avoid approaching vehicles. Turns at intersections were another challenge; for here it was a constant case of reminding myself, “tight right and w-i-i-i-i-de left” to avoid any surprise meetings with other road users.
It was just outside Detroit, when I stopped to check my map, that a glance in my rear-view mirror revealed a vehicle that was growing larger―and its rooftop lights were flashing. It stopped behind me, and its uniformed driver got out to politely offer his assistance. He quickly realized that I meant no harm, and gave me all the help I needed.
There are many more living memories of that road odyssey, and I hope these have been easy for you to follow. If not, it might help to realize that in Australia we don’t only drive on the left hand side of the road.
We also drive upside down...
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