I miss the day to day contact with friends who were part of our lives on previous assignments, which is why, when my son and a friend from LA were happily comparing iPod playlists in the car yesterday, I was listening in and enjoying fond memories of time spent with people we love and luckily, have not lost touch with.
This warm and fuzzy moment came to a screeching halt about ten minutes in, however, when an Elvis song started filtering through the absurdly loud teenage headphones.
The last time I listened to Elvis in a moving vehicle was during the most bizarre driving lesson I have ever endured, and bearing in mind I took five attempts to pass my UK driving test and had an 80 yr old instructor who thought nothing of rapping your knuckles with the wooden ruler she carried with her for exactly that purpose, it’s saying something.
To put the experience in context, we had just arrived in LA after a 26 hour journey from Nairobi, complete with 8 hour layover in Heathrow airport.
The journey was made significantly more stressful by a series of unfortunate events, the first being the loss of my passport (complete with newly minted US visa) in Nairobi airport. It had fallen into the flaps of the English leather saddle that I was inexplicably transporting with us to LA. After 20 minutes of frantic searching and some passionate use of Anglo Saxon epithets, it was found on the floor of the airport by a passing security staff member, who was promptly kissed and hugged by every member of the family bar the Wiggy One. He simply stood by, mortified at the public family drama, and looked like he had swallowed a frog.
Our arrival into LAX was hampered by flooding in the International Terminal, and the rerouting of all 2000 incoming passengers to Tom Bradley terminal, where we were then in a fight to the death to retrieve any luggage that may have made it to the carousel.
Predictably, the saddle was to be our nemesis, and 2 hours later we were informed that it definitely was somewhere, they just didn’t know where. Our flight had landed at 6.30pm, but at 10.30pm we finally exited the airport and checked into our temporary accommodation, only to be informed that the restaurant was now closed, our room only had one double bed, and that our driving lesson and assessment was booked for 9am the following morning. It was not an auspicious start.
Walking into the foyer to meet my driving instructor the next morning, I assumed the vision before me was some sort of jet-lag fueled hallucination. It had never occurred to me that Elvis impersonators might have a day job, but apparently teaching newly arrived corporate immigrants to navigate the hazards of the Los Angeles traffic system is a good use of their skills.
I don’t have a great deal of experience with this particular anthropological group, so the next hour proved challenging. Apparently, they don’t take their vocation lightly, and despite the white rhinestone studded outfit, carpeted car dashboard with nodding hula girl and propensity to accompany every directional instruction with a swirly arm movement, you are expected to remain straight faced and focused on the matter in hand.
LA traffic is difficult at the best of times, but having the Hound Dog personified in the passenger seat for your first battle is not exactly conducive to concentration. It didn’t help that my sun visor was adorned with a photo of his 40-something girlfriend with bottle blond 80’s hair, clad in a bizarre Playboy sailor outfit complete with hat. As a first introduction to US culture, it was a doozy.
Four years of nurse training in one of London’s biggest hospitals has rendered me immune to the more extreme varieties of self expression, and frankly, after you’ve seen some of the rectal X Rays that I have, it takes more than a Bryl-Creemed quiff and a whiff of old Spice to rattle me.
Eventually, he became bored with my continued focus on the highway code and directed me to a local shopping mall where he promptly announced that he would be back in 5 minutes, exited the car, and locked it behind him, with me trapped inside.
Twenty minutes later he finally returned slurping on a milkshake, by which time I was snoring gently behind the wheel.
We finally arrived back at the hotel to find the OH pacing outside the main door, anxious to see how I had fared, and pick up any pearls of wisdom that might help in his own quest for driving excellence. I had only one: