You won’t find any connection between my essay and Joy’s pictures here. The essay is a report on driving in Melbourne, my first attempt at negotiating traffic in another country. It will probably be my last for some time to come! The pictures are from Joy’s collection of doors, one of her favorite subjects.
Sometimes flattery can get you into a lot of trouble. Ever since we arrived in Melbourne son-in-law Michael has generously offered us the use of the family car at any time to go anywhere. He assured me he has complete confidence in my driving competence even in my dotage. Flattering. I’ve consistently responded with a “thanks but no thanks.” I had not intended to drive at all during this Next Phase adventure of ours and wasn’t keen on tackling the challenges of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Also, I’m too old to rent cars in most countries. That’s fine with me. I like leaving the driving to others. It’s not so much the driving I dislike, anyway, but the parking. Especially in a city, where it is so hard to find a parking place. Melbourne is a city.
Today Joy and I had to go into this city to pick up our passports and visas for India, our next stop. Michael persuaded us to take the car. It’s very hot and rain is threatening and you should be nice to your wife (he didn’t say this last part, but I got the message). This is a good time to drive in Melbourne, anyway, he opined. We’re between Christmas and New Year’s holidays. There’ll be lots of parking spaces; nobody much will be in town today.
The man lied. There was hardly room to walk on the bustling sidewalks, and on-street parking was non-existent. But more of that later.
I yielded—the temperature today is in the high 90s. The humidity is unbearable. And my wife dressed up to go to town and she’d like to stay relatively respectable without wilting from the heat and any thoughtful husband would drive so she wouldn’t have to go on the tram (she didn’t say this last but I caught the drift). So I drove.
But first I had to master the intricacies of the Prius hybrid. You can tell right away it was built for Australia. Everything is in the wrong place. A selling point for this car is that you don’t need a key to get in or start it if the key fob is in your pocket. Right. No problem. Except that once you’re in the car you have to figure out how to turn the air conditioning on. And the engine on. And the parking brake off. And program the GPS. And why did they put the turn signals on the right instead of the left-hand side of the steering wheel? In a normal car the right side and not the left is for windshield wipers, which got a real workout on this rainless day. I know other drivers and pedestrians appreciated the way I flashed the windshield wipers at them with every turn.
I immediately knew I had done something wrong. Whenever I let up on the accelerator the car braked to a stop. (I’m astute about such mechanical things, you see.) Fortunately, within half a block from home Joy found the owner’s manual in the glove box. We studied the picture showing the location of the parking brake, hidden just to the left of the other brake. Seems you have to manually disengage it (actually, with your left foot), even though there’s a beautiful button on the dashboard that says Parking Brake. They need one that says Unparking Brake for beginners. Anyway, no harm done.
The driving itself wasn’t so bad. As I mentioned, there’s a GPS on the dashboard. After several wrong turns in the middle of the city during noontime traffic, we learned how to read it.
There was no on-street parking so we wheeled (actually, crept) into a parking garage. For only (!) 30 Australian dollars (about $22 US) we parked for an hour-and-a-half. Taking the tram would have cost a total of $16 Aussie dollars for two of us ($11.52 US). Of course, we had air conditioning in the Prius. Still, the tram would have been cheaper, to say nothing of saving wear and tear on the driver’s nervous system.
Our purpose, as I said, was to pick up our Indian visas. We knew exactly where to find the office, since we’d been there before to apply. Except when we got there this time, a sweat-drenched walk of several blocks from the parking garage, there was no there there. We knew the entrance to the building was two doors away from the Tropicana—we’d been there twice for smoothies, so we could easily find our way back.
Besides, I had confirmed its address on the Tropicana’s web site. We found it but the elevator lobby next door was missing. We asked a number of people how to find the Indian Consulate and baffled them all–including a helpful gentlemen who went on-line to get the proper address; he was no help in spite of his kind intentions, because that office has moved and the website hasn’t been updated since 2014 or so. I had already tried calling the same number listed on their outdated website, but no one answered. I think they only want Indians going to India.
In near desperation I rechecked my notes, found the address we had been given when we were at the former office, and began looking for 55 Swanson Street, several blocks away—we were on Elizabeth Street—and we found it, just one block from where we had parked the car. Does the word “frustrated” have meaning for you?
Before we got there, though, we tried another high-rise on Elizabeth Street. We went into the lobby, stepped into the elevator, and found the 12th story missing. This must not be the right building. The young couple coming out of the elevator said so, as did another man who might have been the superintendent. They joined forces to escort us out. This is a residential building, they said rather abruptly, and lost aliens aren’t particularly welcome. They smiled, though.
So we made our way to 55 Swanson Street And there, only two doors away, was the Tropicana, just as we remembered it. What we didn’t know until that moment is that Melbourne has two Tropicanas—two nearly identical Tropicanas. We had initially, it turns out, gone to the other one. And that, as they say, has made all the difference.
The positive part of this report is that once we arrived at the Consulate, we were quickly served. Oh, I suppose I should mention that I was initially served with a Japanese passport—but we fairly quickly got it sorted out. I don’t look much like the man in the passport, although I like to think I’m tall enough. We now have our visas for India.
Other than scraping against a curb and playing “I dare ya” with a red Toyota that wanted to be where I already was (I surrendered–it’s not my Prius, after all) and thinking a variety of thoughts about my son-in-law’s stubborn insistence that I drive to town, the excursion turned out OK.
I think, though, if Michael had seen my driving, he’d have reconsidered his offer.
About Melbourne I should add this word. A good friend just sent us this New Year’s greeting. It says it all: “So since you have been in Melbourne, we have read in AP news about heat waves, bomb threats and now concert stampedes. Will you all, please, stay out of trouble in 2017!” Pretty good advice. We’ll try to heed it.
Happy New Year to you, too!