So Juliet and I arrive at Gatwick Airport near London. We’re planning to drive around the countryside in England for nine days before dropping the car off in Inverness, northern Scotland, where we will meet up with a group and hike for fifteen days.
We get to the rental desk where I expect to pick up the midsize car with automatic transmission that I had reserved. The first surprise is when Kareem, the very personable agent, announces that I had not arranged to drop the car in Inverness, but rather, to return it to Gatwick. I’m told the drop-off fee is an additional 30 pounds. I’m not happy but I can deal with that. The second surprise is when Kareem states I had arranged for a car with manual transmission! How could this be? Juliet had volunteered to drive because I hadn’t ever driven on the left side of the road and wasn’t keen to do so. But she hadn’t either AND she hardly knows how to drive a car with a stick shift!
This is a horrifying development. Kareem then declares there are no cars available with automatic transmission unless I want a premium car that costs an extra 50 pounds per day! This is ridiculous and, to make matters worse, Juliet repeats over and over again a kind of mantra “this will be fine. I can do this.”
At this point, Kareem’s eyebrows elevate quite a bit, his eyes grow very wide. Is it disbelief? amusement? I say I need some water and he returns with three cups, apparently needing one as well. I am thinking I need something much stronger than water! Being such a kind man (or simply out of his mind), he offers to drive around the lot with Juliet while she “practices.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Kareem then disappears again and comes back with a set of keys in his hand saying he “found” an automatic for us. I think he’s kidding. Where this car suddenly materializes from, I haven’t a clue. Maybe from some unfortunate tourist who hasn’t yet arrived and will be in for the shock of her life when she finds out the only car available is one with a stick shift!
We get in the car, an enormous SUV, a further complication. The last thing Kareem warns us about is the pole that stands extremely close to the front of the car. After several maneuvers back and forth, Juliet is able to extricate the vehicle from its tiny space in the under-size parking lot, wend her way around the many tightly packed-in autos and pull into the travel way. She merges into one round-about after another, slightly on edge as round-abouts are always a challenge especially when seeming to drive the wrong way.
There is much traffic going up to Northamptonshire, a three-hour journey, where we will be staying with friends the first few nights. But Juliet gets us there without a hitch: on time, without getting lost, and in one piece, a heroic accomplishment. Mercifully, we weren’t subjected to the prospect of her driving a car with a stick shift!