HERB BENHAM: Straight into adventure | Grass Benham

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“Where’s the reverse? I can’t find it.”

The question was directed to my navigator, Sue. The question was about the blue Peugeot sedan that we had rented in Lisbon to drive around Portugal for the next 10 days. I was still scarred by a previous encounter with previous years in Scotland, finishing downhill, inches from the front bumper of a 12th century wall, unintimidated by our small hire car. We got closer every time I put it in gear and couldn’t find reverse.

I should have asked the woman at Europcar when we picked up the Peugeot but she was so imperious I thought if I hired her she might send me back to second year where I would have to sit on a stool in the corner until I had learned my lesson.

I kept moving the gearshift lever up and down the speed track, hoping I might get lucky or the reverse gear would signal its proximity by saying “Estou aqui”, Portuguese for ” I am the”.

“Just push it down and slide it to the right,” Sue said, as if speaking to a child and not a precocious child.

Preparation for driving in Portugal or almost any foreign country should include familiarization with the roundabout. In Bakersfield, a potential traveler can do this by driving downtown, heading north on Chester until you reach Garces Circle, then driving back and forth until you run out of gas, whether your family is worried about you missing dinner or you’re being swept away by an over-caffeinated man in a white truck.

After warming up, try again and this time take the first outing. Alright, you made it. Then try again and take the second exit and on a subsequent try the third.

In order to get closer to the real thing, it helps to have your navigator sitting next to you deciphering GPS instructions as their phone gradually runs out of juice and shuts down. It’s also good for the browser to repeat some of its answers which might include “How should I know?” or “Are you some kind of idiot?” or “How could you miss that?”

Without knowing precise directions, it is safe to say at most roundabouts that this is the second exit, which takes you straight. The first outing is for suckers or for people who tend to panic and jump to conclusions and the third outing is that you missed the turn your navigator so clearly laid out if only you had listened and now you are completely heading in the wrong direction.

It’s like the Kingston Trio song “MTA”: “Well did he never come back, no, he never came back / And his fate still hasn’t been told (what a pity) / He can ride the streets of Boston forever / He’s the man who never came back.”

Preparing to drive in a foreign country should also include spending time in parking structures with incredibly low ceilings and parking spaces so tight that to get out of the vehicle you have to exit through the driver or passenger side windows instead. than opening the doors. It’s times like these that you regret not taking out the collision policy or scratching the door, because there’s most likely a loophole in your own insurance policy that excludes cramped European garages with low ceilings. .

As a driver in a foreign country, it’s also important to get used to missing most of the beautiful sights, ocean/cliff, gorgeous sky moments and relying on your passenger to describe them and tell you how great they are. moving.

Although kneeling is acceptable in the United States, please do not attempt to do so on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country as this may panic your companion unless he falls asleep. So, by all means, do it and look out the window at the same time at the ocean, the cliffs and whatever else you’ve been missing.

Don’t worry about how fast you’re going, because 200 kilometers per hour is only about 120 mph. It’s natural to want to go fast in a place like Portugal because everything is new, fresh and beautiful. No need to reverse as everything is smooth and straight. Adventure too.

Email contributing columnist Herb Benham at [email protected] His column appears here on Sundays; The opinions expressed are his own.

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