A 1,512-Mile Drive Around Southern England
from Boulevard, Spring 2014
The British exaggerate when they call this a road. It's at best a roadlet, a paved path. Something roadish. Across a fold of the map, and in my dreams for the next month, it has a four-digit, B-road number too blurred to decipher. Call it B-4XXX.
I see B-4XXX bend west two hundred yards ahead. There are no road signs, and I can't detect the change sooner because high hedgerows and overhanging trees obscure my view, further narrowing the absurdly tight space, creating shadowy blocks, distorting perspective. Then a burly black van bursts through the curve and speeds straight at us.
My instinct is to jerk the wheel left. But I know—have been repeating to myself like a mantra, even before Beverly started saying it—that there's a stone wall to the left, completely camouflaged within foliage. We're as far over there as we can dare to go but still seem to take up more than half the road. There's no center stripe. It's like hurtling along a bobsled run and meeting sudden oncoming traffic. I tap the brake, not wanting to risk a swerve, and hold the wheel hard as our car shudders in the van's passing. My side-view minor is blasted flat against the door. I don't know how we survive.
"Did you see how close that was?" I ask Beverly.
"I just shut my eyes."
We're silent for a moment. She checks the map and makes an adjustment to our GPS device, which responds by announcing that it's recalculating. Which is what Beverly and I are doing too, recalculating the dimensions of our latest hair's-breadth escape on British roads. This one isn't quite as horrifying as when I ran over some sort of mound cloaked at a road's edge, and almost flipped the car while eluding a caravan near Land's End, or when the left-front tire smashed across a hidden boulder in a remote corner of western Cornwall. But with its nightmarishly darkened, pinched setting and video-game intensity, and with its apparent normalness as a British driving experience—its modest ordinariness—the encounter on B-4XXX is emblematic.
We'd come to Great Britain for two weeks of scenic touring. Just the south and southwest of the island this time, seeing landscape and gardens and stone circles, paying homage at a few literary sites. We'd take walks in the Cotswolds and on Bodmin moor, along Carmarthen Bay, in Dorset and Cornwall, where we'd also have a picnic at Land's End. There was so much we wanted to see. Beverly had lived in Great Britain for four years in the early 1980s, and I had been there in 1969, when I was twenty-two. We loved the Great Britain we remembered, loved the art and literature, the land, the history, and wanted to see it together. But we didn't want to over-schedule our vacation or put ourselves in a time-bind. So Beverly sacrificed visits to the grounds of Blenheim Palace, landscaped by Capability Brown, and to the gardens of Barnsley House or the bronze-age Rollright stone circles, and I chose Thomas Hardy and Dylan Thomas over T.S. Eliot or the Dimock poets, and skipped a stop at the Hay-on-Wye bookstores. Eliot, whose Four Quartets I loved, was particularly hard for me to skip. I'd started researching where the sites that had inspired individual Quartets were located, saw that Burnt Norton and East Coker were not too far from where we planned to be, and stopped before checking out Little Gidding, telling myself that we'd be back in England again, and I could catch up with Eliot then. What might have been is an abstraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility.
I'd anticipated that there might be some narrow roads here and there, and had noted Paul Theroux's comment, in The Kingdom By the Sea, that "driving on English roads was no fun." But the B-roads, farm roads, byways, and single-tracks were proving to be far more perilous than I'd imagined. So were a lot of the so-called A-roads. Maybe we needed to rethink our strategy for seeing what we wanted to see while not dying.
When the next oncoming vehicle appears on a long B-4XXX straightaway, I have just enough time to stop and back up toward a slight wrinkle in the shoulder I'd noticed moments earlier. Even tucked into it, I'm not sure the accelerating blood-red Saab will make it past us.
Within two hours of renting a car, I realized that the true challenge wouldn't be what I'd expected: driving on the wrong side of the road, with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and the stick-shift on the wrong side of the steering wheel. Those wonderlandy, mirror-world British elements required concentration and practice, and never did become second-nature, yet were manageable right away. But the roads! So many brought to mind the ancient foot or cart paths they may once have been. Think of the occasional country lane in the United States where only one car at a time can cross a narrow old bridge; then think of that road stretching for dozens of twisty miles with two-way traffic and a speed limit of sixty miles an hour; then imagine it so overgrown that everything beyond and within it was hidden, or like a tight tunnel open (sometimes) to a bit of sky. Then picture it littered and bordered with potholes and obstacles that slashed tires, walloped rims, jolted chassis.
And it wasn't just a matter of the backroads. In towns, already-narrow streets were further crimped by cars or vans or delivery vehicles parked half-on and half-off sidewalks. Some streets dead-ended without warning or room to turn around. There were high curbs ideally designed to hammer tires, and when traffic could only pass in one direction at a time, a system of unspecified protocols ensuring that you could only proceed when oncoming vehicles were likely to force you curbside.
Road signs presented vast amounts of irrelevant or ambiguous information, as though Monty Python had been in charge of their design. The Bureau of Silly Signs. Newspapers routinely featured stories about driver confusion: crossroads where dozens of signs clustered just a few hundred feet from the turn, a cascade of information about speed limits, nearby attractions, distances, cautions, permanent and temporary prohibitions, instructions. According to The Daily Mail, "at one junction near Oldham, motorists are told not to turn left, not to turn right, to give way and to keep to the 40 mph speed limit—all at the same time." Some signs contained a red circle with a line through a prohibited activity while others, also prohibitive, contained a red circle without a line. Arrows indicating that a road turns left might appear where the road turns right. A sign known affectionately as "The Evel Knievel Sign" seemed to show a motorbike vaulting over an automobile. While meant to indicate that no motor vehicles are allowed on the road, it could as easily be construed to mean that motorbikes have the right of way or that motorbike stunts are forbidden. A recent survey of 524 drivers showed that none could understand all twelve signs they were shown, and only one-fourth managed to identify half of them. I thought we might be safer just to ignore signs altogether, but on a road in Dorset, we passed several signs that said SUDDEN GUNFIRE.
When told by his readers that "trying to drive in Great Britain and Ireland was a nerve-wracking and regrettable mistake," travel writer Rick Steves advised them to "adjust your perceptions of personal space." As though the problem were one of attitude or manners, solvable by a tweak of perspective. He added, "it's not 'my side of the road' or 'your side of the road.' It's just 'the road.'" Sage-sounding advice, except Steves failed to mention that the road, "shared as a cooperative adventure," (!) is actually an arena of temporal-spatial pandemonium in which space age automobile technology meets medieval road design and neolithic human combat impulses.
Out of necessity, Beverly and I became avid students of the British road classification system. First, there were letter codes: M-roads, the motorways radiating out from London, were like American freeways; A-roads were the main routes between towns, B-roads were secondary routes, and then there were unclassified roads. But the letters didn't tell you much about road size or condition, and we'd driven A-roads that were narrower and more treacherous than some B-roads. The secret—the mystery—was in the number of digits that followed those letters. More digits meant the road was more remote and usually smaller. Some three-digit roads and most four-digit roads—the roads we most wanted to drive on to get to the places we most wanted to go—were roadlets.
Beverly, our navigator, studied maps and worked on the GPS device, which had its own struggle with the roads, their twists and habit of vanishing into one another, their tendency to shrink toward tracks. The device, whose voice we named Emma, kept thinking we were in the middle of fields rather than on roads, an understandable confusion. Turn left! Then turn left again! In our rooms and our car, folding and refolding maps, programming and reprogramming Emma, Beverly was a genius at estimating dimensions and likely visibility and potential traffic flow for various routes, but still sometimes had to revise them in a flash, according to conditions on the ground. Meanwhile, I tried to keep us on the roads' surfaces and out of fields.
In February, three months before our trip, we'd reserved a Ford Focus, opting for a car roughly the same size and shape, and with a similar range of driver visibility, as our seven-year old Honda CR-V. But when we got to the Avis counter at Heathrow, the rental agent was very persuasive. He'd just received a shipment of new 2012 Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, and he could give us one for only a little more than the Ford would cost. But since we planned to drive so much, and the Giulietta used diesel fuel, and the price of gas was so high in Great Britain, we'd end up saving a lot of money while having the pleasure of two weeks in such a sharp vehicle.
That all made sense while we were standing there going over the figures, and it made sense when I saw the snazzy red car itself, the sort of sporty thing I'd never driven before (six gears to shift through with my left hand while remembering that turning right meant crossing oncoming traffic and that when I entered a roundabout, I had to drive left). Of course, under the circumstances I should have understood that never having driven such a car before was a drawback, not an attraction.
As we headed toward Oxford, our destination for the first two days, I was confused about why the Giulietta felt so large since it was actually smaller than our Honda. It was shorter in height by eight-and-a-half inches and in length by ten inches, and was a half-inch narrower. But together these dimensions meant that the Giulietta put me closer to the ground than I was used to. At the same time, because it was configured with a long snout and chunky rear, a lot more of the car was in front of me than I was used to. It seemed huge out there, like I was steering a limousine; its hood bulged to accommodate an aerodynamic crease in its design, and I'm only five-four. All this combined to limit my visibility over the Giulietta's front edges and down to the road. I struggled to keep from hitting the front left tire against curbs when I parked or was forced close to the road's edge.
If we followed B-roads most of the way it would take ninety minutes to drive the forty miles from Hidcote Manor Garden back to Oxford. It had already been a long day. Wanting to finish a three-hour walk in the Cotswold Hills before the weather got too hot or the hills crowded, we'd left Oxford early and taken A-40, a broad divided highway where my main problem was remembering that the left lane was the slow lane. Exiting at Burford, we looped through a series of narrowing roads with widening route numbers toward the River Eye in the village of Lower Slaughter, where we planned to start our walk. A friend back in Oregon had told us that following The Warden's Way from Lower to Upper Slaughter and beyond was like dropping into a Jane Austen novel, and a 2011 Google Streetview Poll had named Lower Slaughter's Copse Hill Road "The Most Romantic Street in Britain." Even so, after a few minutes we could tell that paved road, with its view of sprawling estates and the occasional vehicle forcing us to step aside, wasn't what we were after. We could experience that while driving. So we returned to our car to figure out an alternative site for our walk.
As Beverly studied her maps and notes, I sat passing the ignition key from hand to hand and realized that for the last two days—ever since renting the car—I'd been paying inadequate attention to where we actually were. I loved seeing the landscape and villages we passed but had been so focused on the roads and the management of the Giulietta, on the crazy driving conditions and the still-awkward shifting of gears and the car's endless alarms about roadside traffic cameras and the stay-on-the-left business, that I had little sense of specific places, the flow of geography, what was near what, or which roads we'd been on at any moment. I was missing Great Britain, except in the most general way, except as a kind of slideshow. Lines from Four Quartets came to mind while I closed my eyes, stretched, and waited for Beverly's instructions: I am here or there, or elsewhere, from "East Coker," and I can only say there we have been: but I cannot say where, from "Burnt Norton." Then, when I glanced over at Beverly, more lines from "East Coker": Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter. It was as though Eliot had determined to offer appropriate commentary and mystical guidance in counterpoint to Emma's practical GPS advice, insisting that there was indeed room for him on this trip after all. Move over, Hardy and Thomas.
While I was dealing with Eliot, Beverly had mapped out a route along B-4077 and a slinky unnumbered lane to the village of Stanton, where we could access a long, circular walk on the Cotswold Way National Trail. All her research was paying off. She knew exactly where we were and what was near what, and she had backup plans ready in case things didn't work out.
Just outside the Slaughters we stopped for Beverly to photograph a blooming rapeseed field, and as I watched I became aware of how tight my neck and shoulder muscles were, the result of a constantly tensed back and a left arm unused to all the repetitive shifting of gears. Early symptoms of B-road Syndrome. I needed to focus on the right things and avoid transforming the journey into one extended driving test. I remembered Eliot's lines from "Little Gidding," which struck me now as ominous: What you thought you came for is only a shell, a husk of meaning. No, Mr. Eliot, I knew what I came for was rich with meaning, especially if I let myself find it.
A half-hour later, we parked in the Parish Council lot beside Stanton's cricket grounds. Chatter, cheers, and the pock of a solid hit drew me over to the fence for a closer look at the game, and we stayed long enough to watch a white-clad batsman slug a ball into what would be deep left on a baseball field. Then we followed Cotswold Way signposts through the village, past a thatched cottage and small pond, and began the steep climb through tall beech trees that seemed to lead us out of time. The morning was now emphatically quiet except for the sound of our feet in the grass and our breathing. Hard as the going was, I could feel myself relax and my muscles begin to find balance. We stepped over a few stiles and out into sunlight just beyond the kissing gate. As I looked back, I saw we were alone. The view rolled east toward Snowshill, and I could see no evidence of cars anywhere. For three hours, I didn't think about driving at all.
Hungry after our walk, we skipped the backroads and took A-44 straight to Moreton-in-Marsh. For three months, ever since Beverly had found out about Mrs. T. Potts Tea Room online, we'd been anticipating their Cream Tea with homemade gluten-free scones. They even had a gluten-free version of leek and cheese quiche. We saved room for the scones, and when they arrived I tore one open. Beverly gasped and said, "No way that's gluten-free, it's too fluffy and sticky." We called to the owner, who also gasped. The waitress had brought out the wrong scones, and the owner replaced them for us gratis. It was hard to tell if this sequence of events was good or bad. I heard Eliot say, It was not what one had expected.
We walked the old market town's High Street picking up supplies for a light picnic dinner back in Oxford. Then we drove eleven slow miles, some of them along the ancient Fosse Way dating back to Roman days, to Hidcote Manor Garden. A pigeon greeted us—the bird called, in response to the unheard music hidden in the shrubbery as we entered Hidcote's series of small gardens conceived as distinct thematic rooms—a white room, a red room, a room containing a circular pool—with hedges, hornbeam, and yew trees as walls separating each room. We tried to appreciate the plan that Lawrence Johnston had come up with for his garden, but even though we were outside, and had occasional panoramic views across the Vale of Evesham, it felt like we were in a big, rambling mansion, its individual rooms lavish and eye-catching but random, lacking flow, lacking a sense of wholeness. And to me, the flowers had the look of flowers that are looked at.
We were tired as we left Hidcote but not in a hurry to get back to Oxford. Beverly was taking landscape photographs to inspire her painting when she returned to her studio, and I was reveling in Eliot's company, wanting to stay out longer to see what he might say next, concerned that he might go away once we stopped our day's travels. I was also feeling more confident about driving. So we decided to stick with our plans and follow the B-roads back to Oxford.
Just over two miles later, as cramped Hidcote Road led us through the village of Ebrington, I glanced to my right and saw an oval sign on the stone wall at the entrance of a driveway. It said Little Gidding.
I braked and pulled over to the left, hitting the front tire on the curb—something I hadn't done all day—and sat with both hands on the wheel, unwilling to believe I'd accidentally driven right to the place that had inspired Eliot's final Quartet. That would simply be too weird. I hadn't realized we were anywhere near it. And I thought I was about to cry.
"What happened?" Beverly asked.
"Oh my God."
I felt overcome by a profound feeling of revelation, one of those timeless moments that Eliot wrote about throughout the Quartets, an understanding that I was being led to the places where I most needed to be. It didn't matter what I came here for, only what I found. Or what found me. The purpose is beyond the end you figured and is altered in fulfillment. Despite all that I'd been allowing to distract me, the power of this moment—discovering myself at Little Gidding as though drawn there—put me in deep contact with the spirit of Eliot's poem, its search for the miraculous in the everyday. Here the impossible union of spheres of existence is actual. Poetry itself was alive in me and in the world, working an unexpected magic. Having decided I did not have time on this trip to see the places that inspired Eliot's Quartets, poems so saturating my memory that lines returned almost on their own, unbidden, I was nonetheless led directly to one of those places, without knowing quite where it was or where I was in relation to it. In order to arrive at what you do not know you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. The experience was transcendent, both timeless and immediate, exactly the sort of thing that travel should provide.
One reason I hadn't realized we were anywhere near Little Gidding as we drove through Ebrington was that we weren't anywhere near Little Gidding as we drove through Ebrington. At least, not the Little Gidding that inspired Eliot's poem.
As I discovered later, the Little Gidding we'd passed was actually a cozy bed and breakfast offering two guest suites and a private lounge. A stone house set far back off the road, it had been built and operated by two elderly women who felt that an orchard site they were purchasing, with its air of peace and tranquility, and its pigs rooting among the trees (leave the rough road and turn behind the pig-sty), reminded them of the place Eliot had written about, so they named it Little Gidding. It was an homage—in name only—and far from the real thing.
Had I thought about it clearly, had the details behind Eliot's poem remained more present for me than its music and themes and a scattering of its lines, had I studied it rather than simply savored its lyrical pleasures, I might have remembered that he'd written about a settlement—a former Anglican religious community—and its chapel, located in Huntingdonshire, ninety miles northeast of Ebrington. But in the moment, tired, distracted, dodging around and between parked and oncoming cars, tense behind the wheel, B-road crazy, I responded to the sign "Little Gidding" with pure emotion. I was there! I'd been visited by the miraculous.
In "The Dry Salvages," the Quartet preceding "Little Gidding," Eliot wrote about certain moments of happiness or of sudden illumination that we only come to understand much later. He says We had the experience but missed the meaning. In Ebrington, encountering a Little Gidding, an out-of-the-way bed and breakfast in a remote comer of the North Cotswolds near Chipping Campden, but believing that I'd been led to Eliot's community of Little Gidding with its rebuilt 17th-century retreat and famous church, I had the meaning but missed the experience.
It didn't occur to me to research Little Gidding online when we got back to Oxford. I knew I'd eventually get around to that, imagining I'd write an essay back home about the literary sites I'd visited. I was content just to savor what had happened.
The delusion lasted until the following evening. First, we drove five hours—most of them on highways luxuriant with lanes—to Llandeilo, in southern Wales. We arrived at our hotel just before two o'clock, still in time for its massive Sunday lunch, then napped and woke to find a blue-and-purple-striped hot-air balloon descending toward a field across the road and lifting off again in the late afternoon light. Seeing its slow gentle movements, hearing the occasional soft whoosh of its burner firing, feeling a little groggy from sleep and relaxed by the first easy day of driving since we'd begun the tour, I decided to phone my daughter in Chicago and tell her about our astonishing rendezvous with Little Gidding. Rebecca was excited for me, sharing my astonishment over what had happened and what was to come. Unlike me, though, she responded to astonishment by asking for facts. Where exactly was the Eliot site I'd stumbled on? What kind of place was it? She encouraged me to write everything down, send her occasional travel notes if I wished, and followed up with an email asking for more detail. Anticipating that I would want to write about my upcoming visit to Hardy country, she urged me to track down my lost college honors thesis on his novels, something I never would have thought to do. I wanted to write back immediately but realized I was uncertain about exactly where we'd seen Little Gidding. I also realized that I couldn't remember much about what had so inspired Eliot, what Little Gidding actually was or what it meant to him. So first Beverly retraced for me the route we'd taken from Hidcote. Ebrington! Then, as I wrote an email to Rebecca, Beverly googled Little Gidding and began to read about it.
"Oh," she said, passing me the laptop. "Take a look at this."
A few minutes later, I changed the subject-line of my email to "Uh, the wrong Little Gidding."
After that, Eliot's voice faded, replaced by the racket of Dylan Thomas as we drove around Carmarthenshire and into the Black Mountains. At Thomas's boathouse in Laugharne, approaching nearby St. Johns Hill, or walking the shore and cliffs at Pendine, it was possible to imagine him, at least for moments, in touch with a sober and genuine ecstasy. I open the leaves of the water at a passage of psalms and shadows. That feeling stayed with me when Beverly and I visited the National Botanic Gardens and drove in the Brecon National Park, as we climbed into the ruins of Dynewyr Castle and walked its Dragonfly Trail in late afternoon. For a few days, I'd had no nightmares about cars careening toward ours in the depths of long tunnels or about a massive truck appearing suddenly before me as the road funneled us into its maw. I was, I believed, gaining ease with the driving situation, had begun to find what Thomas called fountain in the weather of fireworks, Cathedral calm. Maybe driving hadn't been quite as bad as it seemed last week.
By the time we left Wales and headed to Cornwall, I'd begun to convince myself that road size and conditions, road signs, roadside obstacles, or daredevil drivers were problems I could handle through skeptical scrutiny and flexibility. Ease up, Floyd, it's not as bad as you make it seem. It felt liberating to consider that our journey was all about improvisation, that route recommendations—whether provided by the GPS, hotel staff or guests, or guidebooks—couldn't be trusted, and that maps lied, their determination that a road was scenic seeming to ignore the presence of high, view-canceling hedgerows or knotty curves. One evening in Wales, we decided to visit Carreg Cennan Castle, a 13th-century ruin visible from various roads near our hotel. Located just four-and-a-half miles southeast of Llandeilo, it took forty-five minutes to reach on the steep, winding, one-lane, roundabout roads by which Emma directed us, and we arrived just as the Castle and its park closed for the night. We might have gotten there a few minutes earlier if one of the roads hadn't been a dead end so narrow that I couldn't turn around in it, and had to back sinuously out of for nearly a half mile. At the park gate, the departing supervisor described a route to Llandeilo that took us back in ten minutes. It was possible, I supposed, to laugh about that.
Then we went to Cornwall. After four days of driving around the region, we knew we had to avoid B-roads for the remaining three days of our travels. Even before Cornwall, the left-front tire and wheel rim were scraped and scuffed from encounters with curbs. We were concerned that we'd have to pay for a replacement tire. So when B-3315 south of St. Ives couldn't contain both the Giulietta and an oncoming caravan, and I was forced so far left that we nearly flipped as the wheels passed over a hidden bank of dirt, we were relieved that there was no further damage to the vehicle. But later that afternoon, heading back north on a slender vein of B-3315 near Penzance, when a gleaming black Land Rover suddenly filled the road, I veered away and smashed the same left-front tire across a boulder jutting from the bottom of the hedgerow. The force was so great, the jarring so thorough, and the sound so loud, we were sure the car's chassis or body had been mangled or the wheel destroyed. I pulled over and we got out to assess the damage. The impact had been confined to the tire and wheel, but the rubber was now profoundly gouged in two places, with flaps like torn skin revealing the inner tire wall. Beverly tried to nudge the flaps back in place but we knew they weren't likely to stay. The wheel's rim was dented and marred, shabby rather than sporty.
We looked at each other, grateful to have escaped worse harm, understanding that we had to avoid any further contact between that tire and an obstacle. From now on, we'd stick to the dual carriageways and main roads as much as possible, inspect the tire and gauge its pressure every time we got out of the car, worry over every bump.
We drove southeast to Dorset almost entirely on A-38 and A-35, fat trunk roads with only two digits to their name, true highways. Once there, we didn't have to drive much because we'd planned to spend time on foot. We walked a windy, cold half mile from our B&B to Lulworth Cove, "the small basin of sea" where Sergeant Francis Troy staged his disappearance in Far From the Madding Crowd. Later in the evening, we walked the Weymouth shoreline. In and around Dorchester the next morning, we explored the town's heart, where The Mayor of Casterbridge had been set and where the county museum had a vast exhibit of Hardy-related material. We spent over an hour at his Max Gate home and strolled the nut walk, the alley of bending boughs Hardy had planted himself. We walked a long wooded path over the heath at his birthplace in Higher Bockhampton, and spent an hour at his grave in Stinsford churchyard.
Going to a small pub that catered to gluten-free diets, we followed a road through the Lulworth Firing Range, a Ministry of Defense zone normally closed to traffic. It was open now in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee holidays but few tourists seemed to know. We drove on an ancient ridge road, its view toward Dorset's Jurassic Coast clear and panoramic, and as I came out of a blind curve a dozen shaggy sheep were spread across the road. I braked, thinking that after all I'd done to the tire it would be a perfect cartoon ending for a flock of sheep to cause the blowout.
In late afternoon, and at the advice of our host, we crossed the road and began walking a mile across Hambury Tout. This large chalk hill leads toward the coast and Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch cut by the sea, that draws a quarter-million tourists a year. As on our walk in the Cotswolds, we found ourselves alone in the countryside. But then, as we crested Hambury Tout, we saw that the Coastal Path was covered by hundreds of tourists. Some were standing on a platform above Durdle Door, some were marching like pilgrims east toward Lulworth Cove or west toward Weymouth. Foot traffic was dense, the path was packed, and it looked like a pedestrian version of a B-road. Parked on the cliff, a Typhoo Tea truck did brisk business. We merged with the flow and headed toward Durdle Door before following the pilgrims down to Lulworth Cove.
We stopped at a gas station near Heathrow to fill up the tank. Beverly went into the small market and bought a tube of Superglue. As I topped off the tank, she knelt beside the ravaged tire and glued the flaps of rubber back in place.
"I know it won't last," she said. "But I had to try. It just looked so sad."
At the Avis lot, the inspector came over to evaluate our returned vehicle. First he checked the dashboard and noted that we'd put on 1,512 miles. He asked how we enjoyed our travels and, hearing our American accents, walked directly to the front left corner of the car, bending to study the tire and wheel. He made a few notes.
"Did you hit a pothole?"
The cost wasn't as bad as we'd feared, £130. But we still haven't gotten the final bill for my visit to the doctor, once we got home, for treatment for the rhomboid spasm behind my left shoulder. Apparently, that's not only the muscle used for shifting a British car's standard transmission, it's also—according to my massage therapist and my chiropractor—where I hold my tension.
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Richmond Heights, Missouri
Editor: Richard Burgin
Managing Editor: Jessica Rogen