Wrong Way


I debated not writing this post tonight for several reasons, I'm exhausted, jet lag has taken over and consumed the tiny fragments of my functioning brain, and because quite frankly I didn't want to re-live it...but, then I thought, the story would lose it's luster (and details) had I waited a day or so to gather my energy to divulge!

Today was the first day in Okinawa post flight. What other logical thing would one do but to drive, on the wrong side (which they actually think is the right side, but I won't get into one of those arguments here)

Wheel on the wrong side, also switched are the blinker and wiper knobs, resulting in sporadic wiper usage when one intends on making a right/left
It turns out that I'm actually a good left side driver...possibly because of ALL of the experience that today permitted me (that's trying to see things from a positive lens). On a side note there is a nice little jingle that someone shared with me today to help with "wrong" side driving. Here it goes: "Look to your right, stay to the left, and keep your hiney on the liney" Pretty accurate!

OK, on to the dirty details of my traumatic evening here in Okinawa...A group of us were following each other back to the hotel, the leader was someone who has been here before, and I (not by choice) fell in position 5 of 7 in the line. After running several orange, and some questionably red lights, I finally met my match in a red light at a 4 way intersection (freakout moment: which way is oncoming traffic, where do I turn, who has the right of way, how will I find the previous 4 cars). So thinking I would see the cars after the light turned, I proceeded in the direction where I last had visual contact. By this point car 7 in the train has also fallen off somewhere. This leaves 5 (me) and 6 to try to find the way back to the hotel. I diligently followed the hand written directions that were given to me earlier in the day. Several times.  But, here's the funny thing about Japan, things aren't in English, street signs are limited to non-existent, and what seems logical is not (like allowing me to drive in this country knowing nothing about the road signs, traffic laws, etc).

I'll spare you all of the gory details, there might have been tears. I might have convinced myself that I had elicited the help of a Yakuza member, and I might have envisioned my own death in an ally at the hands of complete strangers. But I assure you, this only happened after 3 hours of driving aimlessly around the city (and the wrong prefecture). I gave lost a whole new meaning. Eventually I pulled into a gas station, at this point I had become separated with car 6 and was flying solo. I must have looked pathetic (the tears?) because the man working there said for me to "chase" him. Now, for you common folk, this means follow. And I happily obliged. Prior to "the chase" I heard a familiar language and saw a familiar car, in the same gas station...car 6 and I had been reunited! We both "chased" the man through winding streets, and eventually up and back down an ally, where he connected us with a younger and even more random person who just happened to be traveling in the same ally in the same direction. He told us that we should now "chase" this fella and that he would bring us to the hotel. Bring us to the hotel he did, the wrong one.

At this point I was starting to feel drunk from the lack of sleep in the past 3 days. Definitely should not be operating a motorized killing machine (aka: left side driving car), and oh yeah, I had to pee starting about an hour ago.

In a LONG series of events that lasted over an hour the nice guy who brought us to the wrong hotel was able to call our hotel, connect us with the English speaking staff member, who then translated (since oh yeah, I forgot to mention, nice guy didn't speak English). It resulted in nice guy hailing a cab for us who then drove as we followed all the way back to the hotel. I was feeling relieved that "home" was so close, until of course he had us pull a U-Turn in the middle of a busy 4 lane Japanese road filled with "wrong siders". After that I lost faith quickly on the cab man. We did one more of these tricky moves before finally ending up on the right road, going the right direction, on the right (left) side of the road.

Upon finally arriving at the hotel, they wanted us to go park our cars down the hill in a lot (which you have to back into these micro spots) I laughed (and almost cried) and let them know that I couldn't drive any more. I got complimentary valet for the evening.

What lessons can be taken from this "adventure" well, let's see, there are so many...how about the first and most important:
1. DON'T drive in Japan
2. It's OK to "chase" just make sure you know where you're chasing to
3. Maps that you can read in English are useless when eliciting help from Japanese who speak no English


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