On my second day in the US I picked up my hire car which I used until my lease car was ready.
As the time got nearer to driving myself my anxiety started to increase. I probably should have read a theory book to work out the road signs and markings but it was a bit too late for that at the time.
The man at Avis was reassuring and as I have been told before, driving in US is so much easier than UK. All cars are automatic, the roads are bigger, and most importantly there are no roundabouts. I still couldn’t stop sweating as he went through all the forms.
I jump in, put the car in drive, and off I go.
Driving an automatic is easy. There is no clutch control and it pretty much feels like driving a go-kart. Stop and go. My left hand did hit the door a couple of times due to habit of wanting to change gear but that stopped fairly quickly. It does feel like you’re forgetting to do something though.
My main concern was everything around me. For example, did you know that at a red light you can still turn right, unless it specifically states with a sign? No, me neither, but gratefully I was given this tip before getting into the car. It was a difficult concept to overcome but as long as there was nothing coming on your left you’re good to go.
Turning left was horrific at first because you have to drive across 5-6 lanes, and these roads are big! But in fairness, markings are laid effectively, and you can only turn left on green and you know nothing else will be coming in a different direction. I did have to repeat in my head at times “stay on the right, stay on the right”.
After a couple of hours my confidence grew and now feel quite comfortable driving around. The roads aren’t that busy at most times of the day and it’s now just trying to figure out how to get anywhere.
It’s remarkable how quickly you adapt to jumping into a car to get anywhere. In London, UK, there is an accomplished transport system in place (although at a price), and it’s a very walkable area. Plus if you want to go shopping everything is in the same place and next to each other.
It was about 11:00 and I had parked to go to Target. As I returned to my car, I noticed a lamp store on the other side, so I walked over. The guy at the door greeted me and said “I saw you walk across the car park. Bit of a trek”. Yes, carparks here are big, but the walk probably took me 2 mintues if that so I found it amusing and assumed someone would normally have driven over. But then again, I am talking about a place which has a drive-thru Starbucks and drive-thru cash machines..
Getting petrol (or gas) was an experience itself because it’s different to what happens in the UK. In the UK, you put as much or as little petrol into the car and then go and pay a person. Here it’s more self-service. You pop your card in, pump, and then it charges your card. I’m not sure how it compares in other States but Arizona petrol is pretty cheap! I’m comparing this to UK. I can fill my 10 (approx) gallons for $22.00. That equates to roughly £15 depending on exchange rate.
Now, for anyone who hasn’t experienced a freeway I would advise to have more than 48 hours of driving experience before tackling it yourself. It is 5 lanes of absolute Hell. You can overtake in any lane, and you don’t know which lane you need to be in until it’s too late. I tried to stay on the right hand lane as it is considered the ‘slow’ lane but suddenly you’ll see a sign above saying “exit lane only” which means if you need to continue straight on you have to move. Then you’ll sometimes, as in UK, see the sign above saying right lane for this way and left lane for this way. In some cases it would read, right land for this way, middle lanes for this way, and left lane for this way. So if you’re cruising in the right lane, and see where you need to go requires you being in the left lane, you have to quickly figure out how to get across 5 lanes before the solid white lines appear. This is tricky and quite frankly frightening when there are other vehicles on the road. I’m pretty sure I broke a heap of rules but surprisingly no one beeped me.
It’s amazing what lengths you will go to visit an IKEA.