Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 17, 2010

Shifting Gears

Yet another literal and figurative reference.

I symbolically shifted gears yet again as I hit the road for my last hurrah on this trip. So many, often conflicting, emotions circulating in my brain; the grinding of the gears deafening at times. As is often the case, I thought I had things fairly well under control the night before my departure from the apartment, but time seems to run at different speeds, increasing velocity at the most inopportune moments. How often has a minute felt like an eternity whereas an hour passes in the blink of an eye?

Thus I found myself rushing around Friday morning trying to get everything packed up. Of course I still needed to wash sheets and towels, not wanting to pack them away dirty. It didn’t help that the dryer has only worked one time in seven weeks. Thankfully, Rosalie volunteered to finish folding and packing away the linens once they finally dried, sometime in the next day or so.

I was due to meet Sheila and Dawn Redman for lunch as they prepared to head to An Cheathrú Rua for their month long Irish immersion experience. Off I trod towards Eyre Square, reflecting along the way that it would be my last walk along that route – I was scheduled to pick up my rental car later in the afternoon. At least the swan parent was in the canal with her cygnets, now nearly grown and beginning to turn from tan/grey to white.   I left my offering to the Goddess and the Swans, a small token of many affections.

The three of us didn’t have much time as they needed to be at NUIG around 2 pm so we checked out a few of the tourist stores on Shop Street, heading for a restaurant Sheila remembered from her trip last fall. We all had fish and chips at McDonagh’s – my first and last meal of that variety and one of the few fried food meals I ate the entire trip.

I escorted them to NUIG where they were met by a coordinator who would make sure they made it safely to their host families; then off I went to pick up the rental car (as we’ll soon see, it was a good thing I didn’t do this before escorting them to the University). Here we sidestep into the literal aspect of the blog title.

Although I’d reserved my car several weeks ago, when I arrived I was informed that they were out of automatics. There was supposed to be one returned that day but the person had extended it. After hemming and hawing I allowed myself to be coerced into taking a stick shift. It has been a good 15 years (probably closer to 20) since I’ve driven a manual transmission, but hoped it was like riding a bicycle – it comes back quickly. Not in my case.

After a precarious exit from the parking garage, I proceeded to stall not more than 20 ft from the Budget Office right on Eyre Square. I should have followed my instincts and pulled it over to the side and walked into the office to return it, however, I was hoping it was part of the adventure and I would soon get the hang of things. After several failed attempts I was able to get it moving again, but by the time I made it back to the apartment (less than two miles) I was a nervous wreck! At this point I decided that there is such a thing as too much of an adventure.

I called Budget and informed them it wasn’t going to work and by the way there wasn’t any chance I was driving  it back. After a somewhat heated conversation, the man said he’d try to find me an automatic and would call me back. In the mean time I logged on to the internet to see if I could find one myself and nearly spiraled into full panic mode as company after company showed they were sold out! The Galway Arts Festival was in full swing, not to mention it’s the middle of tourist season.

Just as I was beginning to think I would have to cancel my hotel reservation in Athlone (not to mention having to sleep on then re-wash the sheets and another set of towels), they called back to say they found an automatic in Ballygar (3/4 of the way to Athlone, more or less), and someone would be by to drive me in the stick shift out to fetch the automatic.

It was an interesting hour and a half drive with a young man named Phil, just completing a quarter century of life. It turns out he has friends in Portland and Vancouver and is planning on visiting in September. While he’s there his friends are supposedly going to arrange for him to perform his stand-up comedy routine – turns out he’s hoping to change careers to a full time stand-up and is hoping to find a way to stay in the U.S., up to and including marrying a girl to get his green card (or so he says). We chatted about how hard it is to get into other countries and he’s the second person to recommend I marry some Irishman to get into the country. Although I’ve met one or two that might be suitable candidates, they are nothing more than pipe dreams. I’m too much of a romantic to settle for some random stranger – there have to be other, better ways. That may explain why I’m fascinated by swans – they generally mate for life – or it could be the ugly duckling story – they’re both relevant (IMHO).

Although there wasn’t any way I was going to survive driving a stick shift (nor was the clutch), the biggest drawbacks to swapping cars was I traded a real trunk that would fit all my luggage to one with only a miniature  trunk to hold only half my luggage. The manual had been diesel as well, which gets significantly better mileage than this gas guzzling Micra.

As I headed in the direction of Athlone, leaving Phil to return the car to Galway, I envied him following his dream. Nor would it be the last time that day that I envied people who were able to live out theirs. (To be continued…)

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