We’ve managed to stay happily married while working and traveling together for years. We’ve been up against article deadlines when the hotel’s internet crashed. We’ve recorded radio interviews in situations that were almost comical in terms of their acoustics. We’ve been stuck in immigration lines while needing to catch a flight leaving in a few minutes. We’ve had to seek medical attention in the most impossible situations. We’ve been turned away at borders in the middle of the night with nowhere to stay. We thought we could conquer anything as long as we were in it together …until we got in a car in Ireland.
The Emerald Isle is amazing. It’s every bit as friendly, beautiful, inspiring, historical, fun and entertaining as you’ve heard. But while those beautiful, meandering, hedge-lined country roads winding through an endlessly green landscape look beautiful in films and on calendars, they can cause absolute panic for Americans trying to drive on them.
The Irish are incredibly good drivers – they have to be. The streets are about as wide as your living room. Two-way streets. Getting from one town to another generally involves driving on small country roads that always have a large hedge or stone wall on each
side. When a truck, bus or large car is coming the other way it feels like the only choice you’re making is what side of the car you want to wipe out. On top of that, we were driving on the “wrong side” of the road for us and trying to use a GPS that doesn’t always understand the Irish countryside, and there were some frayed nerves to say the least.
Voices were raised. “Watch out!” followed by, “Stop yelling at me!” followed by, “But you’re running into the hedge over here!” followed by, “You’re going to hit that car!” followed by “Why don’t you try it!?”
When we did switch seats, we found the grass wasn’t always greener on the other side, even in Ireland. If you were on the driver’s side, you were always worried about the gigantic busses and trucks that seemed to be coming straight at you with no intention of swerving, like a giant game of chicken, and yes, we were always the chickens. If you were on the passenger side, you felt like the car was always on the very left edge of the road and you were about to get a face full of hedge or chunk of stone wall.
When we picked up the car in Dublin, we noticed there was already a scratch on the right side of the car, and we started obsessing that we were going to get blamed for that scratch when we turned the car back in. That turned out to be the least of our worries. Once we got out on the road we backed into a car in the small town of Lismore, and scraped the left side of the car and the rearview mirror on hedges and stones walls. After driving to Waterford, Cork, the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, we were wondering if the car, and our marriage, would make it back to Dublin in one piece.
When we got back to Dublin, we were looking forward to returning the car, gaining more than a car seat’s distance from each other, and finding representation for divorce court. We missed the turn for the return office and went down a small alleyway to try to get back. At the same time, a car came the other way. We instinctively swerved to the left and into a cobblestone wall. We knew we were in trouble when we went to back up and could see the bumper being pulled off. We pulled into a gas station just a block from the rental office and got out to look.
Could it be any worse? The entire bumper had been pulled away from the body. This was going to go down as one of our worst travel failures. We were no longer mad or upset with each other because we were too overcome with a total sense of defeat. We both seemed to realize at the same moment that the car was constructed in such a way that you could just push the bumper back in. We pushed, and heard a click, sort of like with Legos, and suddenly everything looked fine again – at least where that front bumper was concerned.
There were still various dings and scratches all over the place. After the bumper was fixed, the car didn’t look like a total wreck, but it didn’t look good either. We still had to get to that rental office and face the music.
Our blood pressure was rising by the minute as we returned the car and nearly went off the charts when the woman in the office said, “I need to go out and inspect the car.”
We nervously watched her look up, down and over the car. She went past the ding on the back bumper. Past the front bumper we had just snapped back into place a block away. The scratches on the left side from the hedges didn’t give her pause. But when she got to the right side of the car she said, “What about this?” It was the one scratch on the car we weren’t even responsible for. How could it be that after everything that had happened and all of the panic we’d been through that the one thing we’d get blamed for was the one thing we didn’t actually do?
Just as we were about to protest our innocence for the one thing we didn’t do, she said, “You got the insurance, so you don’t need to worry about it.”
Later, we had a relieved chuckle over a shot of Jameson Whiskey and enjoyed the rest of the trip not driving in Dublin and feeling glad Ireland doesn’t offer quickie divorces the way some other places do.
We love Ireland and intend to go back there together, but only after we’ve first renewed our marriage vows with one addition to the originals – No driving in Ireland!