The quote isn’t mine, but it’s worth repeating – “tourists bring home souvenirs, travelers bring home scars”. To which I’d like to add, “or at the very least, stories.”
I had rented a car in Edinburgh, in order to drive down to Blackpool and Bristol. The story of what I had to go through so that I could assure that I had an automatic transmission is its own tale, one filled with service reps more concerned with telling their customers what can’t be done rather than what can, and a writer who needed a car that morning rather than two days later. But that story is for another time.
The reason for the need of an automobile with automatic transmission is the fact that this writer is an American, used to driving on the right side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the left side, rather than some bizarro-land mirror image. But, as they say, “When in Rome…”. But if I was going to be in “Rome”, I may as well make it as easy as possible for myself.
So, after a car was procured (a silver Mercedes, which is as descriptive as I am able to muster for an auto), I ran my Scottish errands and then returned to my hotel for the night, getting ready for the next day’s travels to Pontefract and Blackpool. My plan was to take advantage of my still lingering jet-lag, and leave early. Five AM early.
I packed the car, checked out of the hotel, and set up the SatNav. Destination? Pontefract. I was off.
Driving through Edinburgh at five AM is, I thought at first, a relatively easy affair. Yes, I needed the GPS, but aside from that, traffic was light, the sky was overcast, and the car was behaving well. It was the perfect moment to get myself acclimated with driving on the left side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the right.
The first fifteen minutes followed a pattern of sorts. Stop at a light, check the mirror, look at the SatNav, make sure I was following traffic as best as I could. If I had to slow down while driving, I checked the mirror to make sure the car(s) behind me were not to annoyed at my driving.
The first incident that indicated was something was going to be amiss was a police car driving at us (that’d be me and the blue mini-compact that had been pared up with me for the past three miles). Their lights were blazing, and they were traveling at a high rate of speed for an urban area. But being from America, where cop cars travel at high rates of speeds in urban areas quite often, I thought nothing more than “Well, there must be someplace where they are needed.” I pulled off to the side of the road, and then checked my rearview, making sure I was following proper custom by mimicking the dark blue mini-compact behind me.
Once the police had passed, I started on my journey again. I steered the Mercedes onto a parkway of sorts. In the distance, one, no two police cars, both with lights ablaze and traveling at high rates of speed. Getting the hang of local customs, I pulled the car to the side of the road, checked my mirror for the dark-blue mini-compact.
I remember thinking to myself the following during that last action: “Good, she’s pulled off too. Hey look, there’s another car…Going really fast! Oh CRAP!”.
The other car was a red sedan, and it was immediately apparent that they were the car that the police were looking for. Because as soon as the drive of the sedan saw the police, they tried to turn the car around one-hundred and eighty degrees. The speed and their skill conspired against them, and their car went into a spin.
The blue mini-compact realized what was about to happen at the same time I did, and we both accelerated our vehicles forward to avoid any possible collisions. A horrible sound of metal ripping apart and tires squealing pierced the air. Sirens from the passing police cars came to life. The red sedan had come to a sudden stop, perpendicular to the road. The door on the driver’s side came open, and a young male took off running, right by my car. Some of the police followed by foot, made an attempt to tackle (succeeding only for a moment), and then gave chase. I was never to see the driver again.
The police, on the other hand, were everywhere. I got out of the car and took account of the situation. The woman driving the blue mini-compact was okay, and it looked as if her car had been hit, but only slightly.
The red sedan was a mess, and the extensive damage suggested that they had rolled the car, something that my mind simply does not remember happening. So what had stopped the red car from rolling over the blue one? That’d be the telephone pole that had ended up being enough of a barrier on the front end of the car that it stopped the red car from doing any more damage.
I gave the police my statement, and my involvement was done. From what I was told, two men had stolen a car and were driving recklessly. The police had gotten involved, and had taken into custody the one man who had not been able to leave the vehicle. The other was still at large.
From a point of view as a witness, it was a bit odd, watching all of this unfurl. I was not a player in all of this, simply an observer. However, had we had not moved our cars up, things would have been much worse. It’s an interesting thought that the distance from being a witness to being a victim was only a fifty feet or perhaps a ten second difference.
The incident would have been odd had it taken place in Seattle. It was made doubly surreal that it took place several thousand miles away. I suppose there’s no real lesson here, no moral to be learned. Chaos happens everywhere, and sometimes it happens to us. But it was memorable, and has painted this trip in a very odd light.