Marolt: Traffic jammed on a carless street
I traveled through Spain with my wife, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. No, that is not the first line of a joke. It is the true beginning of a paragraph in a recent chapter of my life.
Everything probably would have been alright, if I hadn’t gotten our rental car wedged between two buildings on a “street” I had no business being on in the ancient city of Granada. I would plead that something was lost in translating the sign where we turned onto the pathway, but the red circle with a bar spanning its diameter is unambiguous. I don’t know why I ignored it. Perhaps receiving three sets of instructions through only two ears had something to do with it. It came together in my central processing center as, “He who is lost hesitates.” If it comes down to it, I will plead insanity.
“Oh, que terrible!” a cyclist exclaimed in perfect Spanglish when he came upon us. His voice came through the window I had cracked to get some fresh air, hoping to arrest the hyperventilating. Somehow, he knew we were Americans and made the effort to be the first recognized alarmist at the scene.
“We necesario to get policia to shut street and get un crane to lift ustedes de aqui to up.” This was explained loudly and with exaggerated hand gestures so that my anxiety level rose to where I could strongly feel my pulse rhythmically strain a vein perpendicular to my part line.
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“Si, si!” He went on before topping out near his anerobic threshold. “Debes to pay for it todos! Ooooh, may gootness.”
I would have gotten out of the car at this point to stretch, breathe deeply and survey the situation, but the doors were pinned against historic brick walls on both sides. The only exit would be to kick out the front or back window and crawl across the hood or trunk. I decided to wait five minutes before deciding.
All I could think was, “Why did we upgrade to an Audi A6?” For distraction, I tried to figure the odds of the Broncos making the playoffs, but it always came back to the conversion rate from euros to dollars for settlement with the rental company. While I know Spanish well enough to get by in touristy areas, I would be at a serious disadvantage pleading my case to a local judge. I wondered if crying in Spanish would translate well or even how that would work out according to local custom. What might they do to a crybaby in a Spanish prison?
I began positioning the fully programmable driver’s seat so that I could get more swing room to kick, when a construction worker came up on foot behind us. He motioned with his waving hand to back up, “rapido!” He was working behind us and had tucked his golf cart sized truck into a nook. Now he had to leave and, to do so, had his crew clear the street of pedestrians and cyclists and halt the heavy vehicular traffic on the main street at the end where we had begun this adventure.
I quickly pictured how much damage a crane would do rescuing my car from this position and realized I had nothing to lose attempting to back out of this mess. With approximately four inches on each side of the car to play with (it felt like two), I put the car in reverse and immediately set off a cacophony of continuous warning beeps and flashing lights on the computer screen in the dashboard.
The first 10 feet went smoothly with the aid of the lane assist steering and then I recalled that we had creeped in about a quarter of a mile to get here. The thought of retracing this distance in reverse made my sweat glands believe they were thunderheads in monsoon season. I was instantly soaked. I could feel my legs rapidly turn from drumsticks into shredded dark meat. My mind raced as the car lurched backward in fits and spurts. Curse words I didn’t even know spewed forth in languages I didn’t even speak.
After what seemed an interminable battle with the steering wheel and rearview mirror conspiring to do me in, I am happy to report the car came out of that mess unscathed, at least as far as anyone taking a casual glance is concerned. As for me, I can only say having your confession heard in an historic cathedral by a Spanish-speaking priest is a vacation experience one will never forget. I told him everything!
Roger Marolt believes driving in a foreign country is worse than most cases of travelers’ diarrhea. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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