In writing about last evening’s grocery apocalypse solely from my own perspective, one detail that got lost in the mix is E doing all of the left-side driving in a ridiculously large sports utility vehicle.
It’s terrifying. And that’s just from my perspective.
Of course, E is doing all of the hard work and shouldering the even-greater terror of actually piloting the vehicle – the mental gymnastics of staying left, doing shallow left turns and wide right turns, and figuring out how the fuck you “Give Way” in a roundabout.
Even before we could get into the terror of conducting our American-driven death-tank around the unsuspecting roads of Wellington, there was the misadventure of actually acquiring said vehicle at the airport.
We were forewarned by D, E’s Aussie friend on the ground in NZ, that our chosen car rental agency was a little … odd. Perhaps our first hint should have been their complete absence from the considerable line-up of rental desks in the international arrivals terminal.
An exhausted E posed this to me as a feature rather than a bug as I swung a delirious EV6 back and forth by her ankles in an effort to keep her from attempting to surf on the baggage carousel. Our car agency would pick us up and deliver us straight to our vehicle, she advised me as she rang them up to let them know we had arrived and would require a large luggage cart.
It was a concierge service. Perhaps they might arrive wearing a jaunty hat and carrying a little white-board with our names written on it.
I entertained that possibility for the first ten, or maybe twenty minutes of us hovering around our impressive island of nine bags for two-and-a-half people, being the most obvious weirdo, materialistic, “super-size me!” Americans we could possibly be. After that, my hopes began to falter.
(“We’re moving here FOR GOOD!,” I wanted to shout at every Kiwi passing by, “And our household belongings won’t be here for FIVE MORE WEEKS!” As if our suitcases didn’t contain more clothing than most of them had in their entire houses.)
Finally, our man arrived. Sans luggage cart and jaunty cap, but with a large mini-van! Was this our vehicle? He made no comment on that, but started loading our luggage into the rear of the dingy, disheveled old van whose particular scent I might kindly describe as being evocative of a cat brothel.
Hopefully this was not our vehicle. E snapped EV6’s child seat into place and we confirmed that all of our bags were intact. Then, we set out for a short drive through the airport to the rental agency lot.
“Perhaps,” the driver mused, “you might just like to keep the van to drive home? All of your things (he said this very pointedly) fit into it so well. I could drop by your flat with your car tomorrow.”
To which we of course replied, “Um, well, we respect the rights of feline sex workers as long as they are doing the work by their own free will, but perhaps you should hold on to their mobile home and we could possibly have the actual car we rented? If for no reason other than needing to figure out how to snap EV6’s seat into it.
“And also on account of the smell.”
The rental agency lot was a garage. Not like a parking garage. Like, a mechanic’s garage. An abandoned mechanic’s garage in the back lot of a sports club with just two cars in it surrounded by a lot of disembodied car parts and what looked like unclaimed baggage, or maybe the baggage of other travelers who they dismembered and fed to the feline prostitutes in their mobile cat brothel.
We disembarked from the van in a rush, gasping the cool unpolluted air of Wellington and hurrying to the unassuming station wagon that was our actual rental car to confirm it did not smell like any parts of a zoo.
It did not, and so E dutifully unlatched EV6’s car seat from the cat-van and brought it to the wagon to try to latch it in.
She tried. We tried. And tried and tried. Though there was a latch behind the back seat in the bed of the wagon, no matter how much digging into the butt cheeks of the seats we did, there were no rear seat latches to be found. This was a little annoying, since we specifically mentioned needing the latch system in our reservation, which is actually a helpful acronym for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children,” which sounds like it is less about car seats and more about spawns of Cthulhu.
Anyhow, this car, it did not have latches. We asked the man about the latches and he denied knowledge of their existence in New Zealand, despite the fact that the cat-van we were in just a moment ago had them. Which, okay, fine. You can also secure a car seat using the standard seat belt, and so E began to work out how to do this and we continued our finely choreographed dance of Secure The Car Seat, which we’ve done a slew of times over the course of our past few nomadic weeks.
There were two minor problems.
One was that we could not figure out how to get the seat securely belted in. No matter how we tightened the seat belt and the strap to the sole trunk latch, the damn seat swung from side to side like a carnival ride. It seemed like EV6 would be safer just wearing a lap belt, or perhaps riding lashed down to the roof like a kayak.
The second problem may have been contributing to the first problem, which was that the car rental man did not want to let E secure the car seat. He mostly left me be, maybe because I am a man or maybe because I was in the boot of the wagon, still struggling to tighten the strap to the back latch. However, he seemed to be doing anything possible under his power to interfere with E’s attempts to engineer a secure method of belting in the seat.
If I’m being charitable, I’d say that his impressive struggle with E was his vain attempt at superior customer service – he wanted to make sure we did not lift a finger as customers. However, in the moment it came off more like we were on some sort of hidden camera show and he had been instructed to secretly work at counter purposes to his customers. I was tempted to look for the cameras, because the other option might have been that this is how he initiates the process of feeding us to the cats. At one point the man was engaged in an actual, literal tug of war with my wife to try to wrest the belt out of her hands with her telling him it’s not the right way to do it and to just let her try it herself.
(I should mention at this point that we had yet to see any cats, which somehow was even more troubling than if there had been a bunch of them roaming around the garage.)
Seeing that situation as intractable and being unwilling to accept returning to the mobile cat brothel as our ride home, I silently slipped backwards out of the boot of the wagon and laid eyes on the hulking SUV parked just behind it.
I begin casing the SUV. The front doors were locked. The back doors were locked. The hatch was locked.
However, the hatch glass was open.
As an increasingly irritated E continued to struggle with the rental man who was maybe just fucking with us for the entertainment of a remote audience of viewers or invisible cats, I climbed up on the back bumper of the SUV, slithered through the open hatch glass into the interior, and then clambered over the headrests into the back seat to discover that – despite the protests of the hidden-camera cat-ferrying rental man – the SUV did have the latch system, though it was in a bit different in style and location than we are used to in America.
I unlocked the SUV’s door from the inside and walked back over to the wagon, where E was still locked in her car seat gladiator match with the rental man. I slid into the back seat, unnoticed by both combatants, to feel one more time for the latches in the place I found them in the SUV.
They were not there.
“Hey,” I announce casually, interrupting the continuing back seat tussle in the station wagon. “I, uh… let myself in to the SUV parked behind us and it totally has the latch system, and this wagon definitely does not have it in the same place.”
Then, innocently, “Why don’t we see if the car seat fits into that one?”
Without another word, I slipped out of the wagon, walk around to the rear, unlatch the seat from the boot, then plucked one of our bags from beside it to carry it back to the SUV. Shortly after, I was trailed by E, lugging the car seat.
Sure enough, the seat fit perfectly and securely into the back of the SUV. The latch things weren’t so much in the ass-crack of the seat as we are used to, and at first E – already considerably frustrated by all of the vehicles she had encountered on this island – could not locate them, which lead to this all-time-great exchange:
Me: “You have to just feel for them. They’re set up kind of like cloaca.”
Me: [Stage Whisper] “You know: bird genitals.”
Because, you see, the latches are in these little disguised slits in the seats that don’t look like anything but hide potent machinery inside, so they are totally like obscure internal bird genitals.
(Retelling this to Lindsay via text a few hours later:
Lindsay: “omfg you did not say that”
Me: “Word for word I swear”
Lindsay: “i can’t”
Me: “Like, this is how insane we ACTUALLY are. I don’t need to give it a blog reality edit or anything”)
By the way, by this point EV6 has belted herself into the driver’s seat of the cat brothel, has turned on the blinkers, and is merrily pretending to ferry the invisible amorous cats around town.
Yes, we remembered to take the keys out before leaving her in there. Trust me, if we had left the keys she would have figured out how to drive the car away.
(Fun fact you may not have considered: When driving on the opposite side of the road, the gas pedal is in the same place but the signals and wipers are reversed!)
Finally victorious in our seat-latching, everything else about our experience at the garage was denouement from there. The rental man ended his crazy interference campaign and moved the other vehicles out of the way of the SUV while we loaded the rest of our baggage, and then we were off.
Off to drive on the wrong side of the road.
I mean, the wrong side of the road for us. E did not drive on the wrong side of the road for New Zealand. She drove on the right side of the road. Well, not the right side of the road, because they drive on the left. The correct side of the road.
Are you with me?
We almost got killed approximately once every 1.1 miles, or should I say every 1.75 kilometers, of our 5.25 kilometer journey to our flat. We narrowly avoided one serious crash (during which I screamed as if we were in the actual crash I had been anticipated in a particularly skilled bit of method acting), but I was a lot more terrified by sitting on the left side and not being in any control of our proximity to the parked cars we hurtled past.
(As an epilogue to our adventures in the rental garage: throughout the entire drive the SUV continued to emit a foreboding low chime accompanied by a flashing arrow and a diagram of the vehicle on the display, but none of the doors were open. After a desperate search through the owners manual in the glove box, I discovered the meaning of the warning chime: the rear hatch glass was unlocked.)
(Good thing the last driver hadn’t heeded the same warning!)
Today’s driving into Wellington city to acquire new SIM cards for our phones was considerably less stressful. For E. I continued to be just as stressed by my proximity to parked cars and by left turns in general.
Cells were all we had on the docket for today, aside from being ignored by the bank for hours at a stretch. Hilariously, our next to-do?