With two days notice I found myself taking a short trip to Gainesville, Florida. I had to look it up on the map – Central Florida, about two hours north of Orlando. In order to arrive here at a reasonable time of day the route entailed Bermuda / New York / Orlando by plane then straight up along the route I 74 so we left Bermuda at 9am and arrived in time for dinner.
This is the home of the University of Florida, a town-sized campus with around 55,000 students – real ones, that figure excludes the distance learning online courses. You don’t need to be smart to work out they have a University team called “Gators” – clothing, artwork, shops all proud in their support. “Which sport?” turned out to be a daft question – football, baseball, basketball, etc, all teams are “Gators”. It might have been easier to call the town Gatorsville.
Our hotel is on the edge of the campus. Armed with a map I spotted the University Bookstore and set off. Three steps outside, away from the air conditioned climate I realised walking there was not going to be at all comfortable. No problem, we had a car …. BIG problem …. I have never before driven in America (or even Europe for that matter) and as you must know, they drive on the wrong side of the road. Anticipatory panic set in rapidly, that was not just the heat making my hands clammy, I felt ill. Perhaps I need to go inside to sit down. Lie down. Maybe coffee. Yes, I’d spend the day at the hotel. Oh, man up KT, you can drive (and have two licences to prove it), even teenagers do it over here, how hard can it be?
Oscillating between raw confidence and fulminating anxiety I unlocked the car and sat in – the passenger side – even my toes were prickling as the obvious LEFT hand drive factor hit home. I was talking to myself by now, “You can do it” “I think I can” “no problem” vs “Oh s***, Oh s***”
This car has a problem with bleeping – open the door, put key in ignition etc all accompanied by bleeps, which stop when you fasten the seat belt, but doing so was somehow a commitment by me that I was going to do this, just one mile along then turn left, another mile and it is on the left. Simple.
With a background of “See one, Do one, Teach one” (medicine in the old days) I have “seen” my husband drive, I can “do” a practice around the car park, and off I go, talking myself through this with encouragement and positive comments.
“YOU STUPID IDIOT!!!!”
Unfortunately that was not just me saying that, long hoots on several car horns reinforced the exclamation.
When a big yellow school bus stops then all the traffic must stop too. A big red sign pops out both sides to tell you this. The road was wide, two lanes either side, the bus was the other side of the road. I saw the sign, read it, but somehow the message that this meant me too did not get processed by my brain quickly enough and by the time I did stop (a sort of hesitant slow down type of stop ) everyone around was looking at me angrily. I am really sorry, not just acutely embarrassed, and I will never make this mistake again.
There are some quirky things about US roads –
- When you see a road name on a sign above you it doesn’t mean that’s the road you are on, it means that’s the road you are crossing or passing – in UK if you pass by a sign that says “A43” then you are on the A43
- You may turn right even when the lights are red – of course only if it is safe, but this left me with annoyed lines of cars behind me when I failed to do so
- Roads are wide and people overtake on both sides, not sure if they are meant to but they do
- Cyclists go in both directions on the cycle path which is disconcerting when it is separated from the road by just a white line
- Bill boards are huge, demanding your attention, while speed limit signs are most discrete
Eventually I found myself pulling into a car park at the University Bookstore, coped with the “pay-but-don’t-display” ticket machine and followed the sole student up into the store. I had to check I was in the right place – racks and rails of Gator clothing, but books? No books?
This was the most disappointing university book shop I have ever ever been in 😦
Think Foyles, Blackwells, even Waterstones ….
I had imagined shelves packed with exciting medical texts, books with pages that smell better than Chanel, random sorting that made me long to create order by alphabet or colour or height; I had imagined books.
The shelves were empty, not just sparsely filled, but unlabelled expanses of bareness. Why? It’s vacation, summer, “we will have new books next semester, you should come back then”
I purchased a lead to charge my iPad, a pink one. I walked back to the car, realised I had wasted $5 parking in an all-day section, and drove uneventfully back to the hotel where I ordered morning coffee for ten am and downloaded a “book” onto my Kindle.