One of the things that my husband was most nervous about when travelling to the United Kingdom this summer was having to drive on the other side of the road.
Picture this if you will: It’s noon on a balmy day just outside of Wembley Stadium in North London. The locals are taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, avid sports fans from around the city are heading to the park for their afternoon game of footy, and here we are in our beautiful Vauxhall Vivaro still trying to wrap our heads around driving on the other side of the road. We reach a set of traffic lights at a major intersection and as the lights turn green for us, my husband suddenly can’t get the van into gear. He and my father who was sitting in the passenger seat try everything but there is a serious problem with the transmission. As we sit stranded in the middle of a three lane road, the traffic begins to back up behind us. I call the rental company to try and get help, but have trouble finding the correct number to call and am starting to get flustered. When I finally reached her and was trying to give our location, I guess my accent precluded her from understanding. She asked if I was near “Wimbley” or “Wembley.” As an American, I think “What’s the difference??” but apparently there is one and this took some time for us to figure out together. We had just passed a major wreck, so the drivers on the road already must have been agitated at the delays before they even reached us. But to our amazement, no one honked. Not one person. They simply moved into the next lane and went on their way. After a few minutes, a police car who had been working the wreck behind us made his way to our car in a vehicle that had been created for a middle school science fair and asks “well, well, well, what ‘ave we ‘ere?”
This didn’t actually happen but I couldn’t resist :). He quickly became our Knight in Shining Armour. He very kindly worked with his partner to find tow equipment and proceeded to use their police car to tow our van to a side road where we would no longer be in danger. And that was just the beginning of our day! We waited by the car for two hours before help arrived, and we moved the car yet again. Then we waited for an actual tow truck. By the time he arrived, our day was gone, but somehow we were still in really good spirits due to the kindness of the other drivers, police officers and the wonderful employees of the Automobile Association.
Over the course of our 10-day journey there were numerous opportunities for fellow drivers to visually or verbally abuse my husband. There was the time that he put the car into reverse instead of first (twice in a row), the time he went into a pedestrianized area in the middle of Leicester city center, and the time he found himself in the bus lane. However, not once did anyone express their frustration. Or maybe they did, and we just couldn’t hear it over my laughter. Who knows? The point is, there were so many occasions where we were expecting to be honked, yelled or cursed at, and it just didn’t happen. Except for the one time where someone actually stopped their car in front of us and tried to get my husband to get out and fight. That happened. But that was less due to road rage and more due to a teenager who just got his license and was on a major power-trip.
Now fast forward to the very end of our trip. We arrive at the Dublin airport at 5:30 in the morning (with a toddler and infant, I might add). My husband makes all the right decisions (yes, I said it) and directs us to the shortest lines so we are just barely able to catch our flight to London. We thought the worst was over, but with a short, one hour layover at Heathrow and the need to go through security a second time, we soon realized there was a good chance we would miss our flight back to the states. My mom’s bag required additional searching, so the rest of us went and checked in to the flight while we waited. And waited. And waited. We tried to rush security along, but with only one person working, and a quite unhelpful one at that, it was to no avail. We finally decided that my dad and I would run to the plane with the boys while my husband waited with my mom at security. And I do mean run. A sign told us it was a 20-minute walk to our gate and our flight left exactly 20 minutes from when we reached that point. When we reached the gate, the staff did not rush us or act irritated. They actually acted as though nothing was wrong, gave us a bottle of water and toy bags for the boys and assured us that the plane would not leave without the other two people in our party. Thank you Virgin Atlantic! (If you’re wondering, my mom had forgotten a tiny bottle of vodka when bagging up her liquids, and security refused to throw it away without first testing it)! And again we thought the worst was over.
We arrived in Chicago after a grueling flight with two young children and to our dismay, we realized that our car seats were still in London. And we had an 8-hour drive ahead of us. We were informed that we could purchase two new ones and apply for a reimbursement, so we headed to the nearest Target and quickly purchased new seats. Finally, on our way home! Not. I have installed my fair few car seats, but somehow the ones we chose required a Harvard education and employment by NASA. It was hot. We were in a hurry. We had been awake for 16 hours with 8 more to go. And despite our efforts to make it fun and pretend to be on The Amazing Race, we just could not do it. Enter another amazing idea by my husband – head to the nearest fire station and have someone do it for us! My mom happened to spot a police car and flagged them down to get directions and this is when our luck changed. The police officer was a licensed car seat installer! He pulled his car over and taught me how to install our new seats, while giving me peace of mind that they were done correctly. He even chose to ignore the half-drunk bottle of wine on the floorboard. I guess he figured we needed it. Once again, we were saved by a Knight in Officer’s clothing.
The kindness shown to us by the London officers, the English drivers, the Virgin Atlantic employees (who sent me a very nice email with our reimbursement approval), and the Chicago PD restored any lack of faith we had in humanity. And maybe, just maybe, it can be attributed to a new attitude of kindness adopted by myself and my family.