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Saturday
Sep062008

The Worst Copilot EVER

A good copilot is an essential part of any road trip.  The duties of the copilot are simple but important: remove obstacles for the driver.  Whether it be reading a map and providing navigational assistance, helping out with vehicle functions, checking for traffic in a blind spot, or providing conversation to keep the driver alert and engaged along a dreary road, a good copilot is not a necessity, but it sure makes things a heck of a lot smoother.

I remember during the Y2KRTE, somewhere around Day 21, we were trying desperately to get out of Texas.  This was before units like Vicki were available to most consumers, so we had Microsoft Streets loaded onto our laptop with an external GPS receiver plugged into a serial port. The GPS receiver simply showed a little car on the map that represented our current position.  If you went off route, it showed your little car on the map no longer along your intended route.  It was the copilot's job to provide navigational support to the driver to make sure the little car stayed on the route.

On day 21 we were on a two lane highway in the middle of nowhere.  I was driving and my copilot had been doing a good job of providing engaging conversation to keep his driver alert and engaged.  After about half an hour, Chris asks me what highway we’re on.  I paused for a moment to think about it, and then I looked at him and asked, “Don’t you know?  You’ve got the damn computer!”  “Well here’s where we’re supposed to be” Chris told me, pointing to the highlighted green highway on the screen, “and here’s the car”, pointing to our actual location on a diverging highway a few miles away.  I remember thinking "you're the worst copilot EVER".  I may have even told him as much.  I was wrong.

On day two of Ireland 2008, my family and I loaded our luggage into our rental car and got on the road to the Trinity Capital Hotel in downtown Dublin.  Thanks to Danny Boy, navigational support is not something my copilots have to deal with too much anymore.  That leaves helping out with vehicle functions, checking for traffic in a blind spot, and providing conversation to keep the driver alert and engaged along dreary roads.  Nowhere in the list of copilot duties does it include pestering, heckling, tormenting, or aggravating.  So let's go over the seating arrangement in the car. 

 

 

I am in the driver's seat on the right hand side of the car. Behind me in the back seat is my mom, an appropriate place for her considering her nickname, Miss Daisy. Next to Miss Daisy, in the middle seat, is my sister and next to her rounding out the back seat is my brother. In the front passenger seat, in the esteemed copilot position, my dad, my Number One, my left hand man. 


Our vehicle was a Ford Edge and, like most of the cars in Ireland, it had a manual transmission.  The last time I drove a car with a manual transmission was five years ago in Lugano Switzerland. Most of the time I was navigating the narrow, hilly roads of Lugano in a ten passenger van filled with children aged six to ten.  That was easier than the short trip I was about to take to our hotel.

I'm not here to make excuses, but I did have a few things on my mind, like keeping to the proper side of the road, yielding appropriately at roundabouts, following Danny's instructions, and maintaining a good balance of gas and clutch.  I was not always successful at the latter and on several occassions we stalled.  No problem.  Stay calm, depress the clutch, start the car, back in gear, here we go.  It's just like riding a bike...at the top of the Empire State Building...on the ledge...with someone pointing a gun at your head telling you not to fall!  Here's where my copilot comes in.

The first time I stalled, my copilot's helfpul conversation consisted of: "SWEET JESUS!"

The next time I stalled, as I tried to take the car out of gear start the car depress the clutch put the car back in gear and start driving before the cars behind me starting getting upset and honking, my copilot could have rolled down his window and given that International wave that says "we're not spacing out trying to get you to miss this light, we're just morons and stalled".  What he actually did was shake his head in disgust and shout: "SACRED HEART!"  That was much more helpful.

I must have stalled at least three more times because I remember going through "JESUS MARY AND ST. JOSEPH!", "MOTHER OF GOD!", and my personal favorite “LORD HAVE MERCY ON THE POOR SOULS!”.  It was no different than if I'd put Miss Daisy in the copilot's chair, gripping the oh shit handles with white knuckles and trying to put her foot through the floor in a vain attempt to get her brake pedal to work.

As tumultuos as our ride was, we made the eight mile drive to the hotel in less than half an hour.  It took us another half hour and about five trips around the block to find the car park for the hotel, which was three blocks away and hidden behind a nondescript rollup door.  Of course, even after all that our room wasn't ready, we were about two hours too early.  We propped ourselves up at the bar, ordered some lunch, and of course, a round of pints.  

Meanwhile, Gary and Josh, who left the airport before us, still had not made it to the hotel.  In their case, driving was not the issue; anyone who's ever ridden in a car with Uncle Gary knows that braking, not acceleration is his challenge.  Without a GPS or a good map, navigation was their undoing and tensions were running high in their vehicle now too.  Finally, in a fit of exasperation, Gary pulled over, got out of the car, hailed a cab, and waved for a bewildered Josh to follow in their rental car.  So much for easing into UK driving.  It turns out they were only a few blocks away.  Lucky for them I was now an expert on the car park, saving them at least a little bit of added aggravation.  

We finished our pints and finally got into our rooms to freshen up from 18 hours of travelling.  By this time most of us had been up for 24 hours.  The day was barely half over.  

 

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