Left foot presses down on the clutch and it goes inward as my left hand moves over the shifter knob and moves it from 1st gear into 2nd as my left foot departs the clutch and my right presses on the gas. The RPMs begin to climb 2300, 2400, 2500 just as our tires bounce over a 30cm speed bump and then a second. Our car rolls down the paddock towards the street light and just before reaching the red light, I repeat the motions in the reverse order and come to a stop.
Singling right, the light changes and I yield us into traffic on the left side of the Route 132. It’s all backwards here in Ireland, I am sitting on the right side of the car, driving a left hand 5-spd manual VW Golf while my wife investigates the road map and my hand written directions to our first location; San Augustine B&B in Swords.
Up shifting into 3rd we travel 30 kilometres per hour, then 35 and into the 40’s as we drive North up this 2-lane highway. About 3 kilometres from the airport, I spot a shopping complex on the right side of the road and pull the lever on the right side of the steering wheel. The windshield wipers come on. We both laugh. I correct it. And turn on the turn signal light. Off the highway and we merge onto Nevinstown Lane then on into the parking lot, where we both spot: Starbucks Coffee Shop.
As I am parking the car, she asks “When was the last time you drove a left hand manual car?” Before I can answer her, a large smile creeps onto my face, “Well it’s been about 12-years ago. We were living in Australia at the time. I spent a weekend on the Gold Coast photographing the Quicksilver Pro Gold Coast competition. That’s the weekend I met a bunch of local Tweeds Head surfers who introduced me to Surf Legend Tom Carroll and those guys asked me to go to the Surf Party after the comp, and drive their 5-speed Holden sedan.” She smiled a rhetorical answer of, “then not too long ago.”
Back on the road, coffee in the cup holders, she scoured the map and I tried to maintain speed and look for a road sign for Swords, that’s when I veered left onto Route 836. Less than five minutes later we were in downtown Swords. People were everywhere. On the sidewalk, next to their cars, on the roadway, crossing the street, in front of, behind and beside the car. As the people moved about we kept looking at all of the signs. Signs for shops, for road ways, for streets, on trash cans, on buildings, on… everything. There were literally signs everywhere! “How does anyone find anything with all of these signs?” I said in my inside voice.
Depressing the clutch and down shift into 1st, the car lurched forward, then backwards as I tapped the brake and we crept forward along the lane. She laughed. I laughed. And she asked “did you see a sign?” “Which sign? I see all kinds of signs.” My frustrations were rising in the car, I could tell, we both needed fresh air and both of us felt lost. My mind drifted, ‘how can I drive the car, read the map, and check the road signs? I’m still trying to get used to driving this left hand manual car.’ There she said lets take a left up there and pull over to determine where we are going? “Okay,” I agreed peering out the front windscreen.
“Hey… do you see that?” I asked as the left turn signal continued to blink, on, off, on, off, on… “What? What am I supposed to be looking at NOW?” “There. Right in front of us. I think… I think… I think that’s a Castle!” I spoke with a HUGE SMILE. “What? Where? Oh My Ga…wd! You’re right. That is a Castle!”
Stunned. We sat in the car looking at our first Irish Castle. Until a horn behind us beeped. BEEPED! BEEEEEEEEEEPED! I finally got the hint and made the car lurch forward across the lane and turned left onto Bridge Street. “The sign says ‘Swords Castle,'” she said as we rolled past the Castle, the three Irish pubs, over the bridge, past the B&B and up the hill.
“I think we drove past it,” I say and turned left into a parking lot. Maneuvering the car around, I blurted out, “I cannot handle it anymore. This car is miserable! I cannot drive the car and help you look for signs. Road signs. B&B Signs. Restaurant signs. Its just too difficult. We need to take this car back, now!” Quietly, calmly, she said, “Are you sure? This is the car you wanted, right?”
“Yes. I realize that I wanted to drive the manual car around Ireland because it would cost us less money. But if we cannot enjoy ourselves in the car, then this trip is going to be miserable. So, I would rather pay more money to have an automatic car and have a great trip, then keep arguing over how the car is lurching, how I cannot drive and read extra signs or help you locate stuff to do. We need the automatic, okay?”
She smiled. I smiled and I turned right driving back down the road we had just come up. Back past the B&B. Back past Swords Castle. Back past downtown Swords. Back through the roundabout then down past Starbucks and finally back to the Hertz parking lot. And when I walked through those electronic glass doors, Liam’s eyes caught my own, his smile growing larger as I sheepishly stepped closer and closer to his counter space. “Welcome back. Is there something wrong with the car?” “Yes. We need an automatic.” “Excellent! Unfortunately we are all out of the compact car, so I will have to upgrade you into a sedan.“