WHAT IS IT about driving strange cars in foreign lands that turns nice ordinary people into the Macbeths, or George and Martha Bluebeard? For 11 months and two weeks of the year, they get along okay and fight clean. But for those two precious weeks of vacation they get locked in mortal combat, with no holds barred.
My husband and I used to be like that. A harmonious couple with a tidy division of labor that serves pretty well. I drive. My husband navigates. I practically grew up behind the wheel, while he got a license only as an aid to check-cashing. Besides, he has a dandy sense of direction, and I still get lost on the way to my parents' house. It's really a good system.
But we have never managed to export it.
So we have missed great national treasures and spectacular sights by a mile. We've had to skip whole towns to make up lost time. In fact, my husband still insists we've never been to Spain, at all.
After screaming "Which way? Which fork? What do I do?" for a mile, to be answered by a maddening "Just a minute," I have pulled off major highways and refused to budge. You can lose a lot of time, and respect that way.
Of course, turning right on English roads, directly into oncoming traffic hardly counts. Ditto turning left.
But you can count the rubber meals we finally in-digested because one of us was always looking for "just one more place." And the dives we have slept in, for the same reason.
We finally decided something had to be done. After all, it all boils down to nothing more than impatience, intransigence, tyranny, guilt, self-doubt, masochism and so on. Just your average, every day human emotions. And what's that to sophisticated world travelers?
It's a piece of cake, folks. We've done all the work for you. Now, all you have to do is follow the Daniels' Decalogue, and you're home free.
1. Start by taking the pledge, "I shall never, under any circumstance, allude to past disasters. No matter how much he/she provokes me." On second thought, better start each day with that little exercise.
2. Before setting your mind and your itinerary in concrete, try looking at a map. Preferably a new one. They change things when you're not looking. It might help to know beforehand that you can't get from here to there.
3. It's not infra dig to listen to the last people who made "your" trip. Nor is it a sign of weakness to mark the map. But, forget those big fat felt tip pens. They blur where you're going, obliterate where you've been and leave you smack in the middle of a battlefield. Your own.
4. The manual shift. If you're out of practice, stalling out will gall you, and "reverse" will humiliate you. If you can't rehearse a little, try the joystick on your videogame player. That's Pacman with a purpose.
5. If you think "90" means miles per hour, you may raise your consciousness by meeting the local constabulary. Yes, Virginia, they have them, too.
6. Accept the fact that you really can't cover 450 km (300 miles) a day. Unless you're prepared to miss that famous church, that stunning square, the glorious local food and drink and any serendipitous events along the way. In short, all the things you'll be going for in the first place.
7. Both driver and navigator will agree to answer a few civil questions and give each other some slight idea of coming events.
8. Alternate days for decision so each person has a turn to decide where to stop for lunch and when to stop for the night. That's equal opportunity to divvy the blame (and the responsibility).
9. Always use the facilities when you have the chance. The next pit stop is guaranteed to be beyond you.
Now, unless you really enjoy emotional roulette, or you think that a day without a fight is a day without fun, these rules should take care of everything. Except for driving in cities. Which cannot be done.
To begin with, the maps are a mess of little red arrows, all going in the wrong direction. Next, they're always closing off more and more of the really neat places you want to see. No cars, and no parking, either. (They claim it's landmark preservation. Not so. It's simple sadism, aimed at you.) In any event, you will always be trying to get around on a local holiday, during a transport strike or in the middle of rush hour. Or a combination of the above.
So, pay close attention to the 10th Commandment. And Bon Voyage.
10. As you near the city of your heart's desire, start looking for bright blue signs with a big white "P".
That's the international sign for parking which is in use all over the map. Pull into the very first one you find. There won't be one any closer to where you're going, so don't get cute.
Park. Lock. Step out onto the curb.
Then raise your hand and shout, "Taxi."
And leave the driving to them.