Saturday, March 6, 2010

Swimming and Sinking, part one

This has been an interesting week.

And when I say interesting, I mean it fucking scared the shit out of me.

Okay, it wasn't the whole week that was scary, just two parts in the middle of it. But let's begin at the start. On Tuesday morning, I woke up thinking it was going to be just another day in paradise. I arose at around 8:00, ate some food, listened to some music, was reading various things online. My little brother went out early (for him) to take care of some errands. While he was out, he was informed that one of his best friends back in Florida, Max, had died of a drug overdose. Understandably, he was destroyed. He decided to fly back to Florida the next day for the funeral. Right, nothing funny or scary here, just plain sad.

The sudden resolution to leave the country left our friend and his sometimes employer Elisha in a bit of a spot. Stephen was going to drive to Thun, which is 90 minutes away, on both Wednesday and Saturday, set up Elisha's market stand -- he sells various accessories (hats, sunglasses, scarves, gloves, etc.) -- and run it for those days. In addition, he was going to take care of Elisha's beautiful dog, Sheleg, for the month. During all this time, Elisha was going to be on vacation in Thailand.

So, when your worker disappears into the night, who better to replace him than his unemployed loaf of an older brother? I certainly need the money, and I wanted to help Elisha with his trouble. Plus, it had been our plan for me to accompany Steve at some point and learn the ropes a bit so I could do more work in April, when business gets rolling a bit more. In short, I agreed to step in. But since I have not worked with him before, Elisha had to run the show, and my place was to be the driver and the helper. You see, Elisha's driver's license had been suspended for a month because he was caught twice driving without his glasses. This left me with the primary responsibility of playing chauffeur.

My noble and virgin readers, if you have never been to Europe, there is something you must know. In the United States, almost everyone drives cars with automatic transmission. I learned to drive automatic, and I never drove anything else. In Switzerland, almost everyone drives cars with manual transmission. In fact, if you take your driving test in Switzerland with an automatic car, you get a driver's license that is only valid for automatic vehicles, thereby denying you eligibility to drive 99% of cars in this country. However, if you have an American driver's license, you are permitted to drive any car in Switzerland, because the Yanks don't make a point of distinguishing between those competent to drive stick and those relying on the miracle of technology to handle their transmission. So, legally, I was in the clear.

The only problem is that I'd never done it before. Well, "only" isn't exactly right. I had also never driven a car in Switzerland, where drivers are a bit more aggressive than in the U.S., where the road signs are different, where intersections are way more complicated, and where the rules of the road are not quite the same. But, as they say, sometimes you just need to throw the chick out of the nest and hope it flies. Knowing that if I had to drive 150 kilometers on my first attempt with a manual I would fail utterly, I insisted that I get some practice on Tuesday.

So I went over to Elisha's to get some instruction, practice, and help him with some errands. My first attempt behind the wheel, I stalled twice or three times. He and I promptly traded places, and he drove us to a parking lot. In the parking lot I learned the most basic of basics, and we tried to drive off to where we needed to go. Naturally, I stalled a couple times in traffic, and we switched again.

I don't want to bore you with the details (though I've indulged shamelessly in that very practice up to this point), so I'll try to summarize. I did manage to get us where we needed to go that evening, but not without extreme mental anguish. My entire body was rigid as I drove, my pride and ego were humbled in the chorus of angry honks as I stalled multiple times at traffic lights, and I was clenched in a fist of fear that I was going to drive us to our death at any moment. But we lived! It was one of the most terrifying evenings of my life, one that seemed would never end. But, God be praised, it did end, and I'll be damned if I didn't feel like a fucking man afterward.

I've been told by several people and several books that a person should do things that scare them. People should place themselves out of their comfort zone, push their own limits, discover and develop skills and abilities they didn't know they had. At the end of Tuesday, I felt I had pretty much earned a check mark on that count for that day. be continued.

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