To begin with, let me just tell you that my husband, Steve, is a motorcycle aficionado. He finds great delight in motorcycle challenges that involve riding 10,000 miles in under 13 days. He claims it is painful and brutal, but soo much fun! I, on the other hand, cannot comprehend any situation in which those words would fit well together. And therein lies the key to understanding the difference between male and female driving instincts.
Case in point. Steve accepted a job assignment here in Germany, working for the Department of Defense. He arrived mid-September; I came a little later, arriving early November. So, it is fair to say he had the advantage of getting acclimated to his surroundings for several weeks before I arrived. I might add, due to his military training, situational awareness is one of his strengths. He can learn his way around in some of the most bizarre situations and remote areas of the world, in a matter of hours, or a day or two, at the most. I have not had the luxury (or trauma) of being thrown into the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and told to find my way back. So, I am truly lacking in that skill set. I think I would be looking for the nearest hunter’s tree stand and asking for directions. However, for a man, that is a sign of weakness and also causes you to lose some of your masculine hutzpah.
Upon my arrival in Germany I was enchanted with this fairy-tale land; I wanted to absorb and record every detail of this beautiful country, and its people. We live in the quaint little village of Edelsfeld, which is fifteen minutes from the military compound. Other than the one-hour ride from the airport, my first outing involved the drive to Rose Barracks chapel on a Sunday morning. Steve is driving and thinking: It will take us fifteen minutes to get to the Rose Barracks chapel. Period.
I’m riding along and thinking: Wow! I love that little village nestled in the hills. I wonder what kinds of trees those are. I’ve never seen trees like that before. This seems to be an agricultural community. All the houses are built pretty much in the same style, cement block with stucco siding. All the roofs are tile with lots of skylights and solar panels. There are some windmills. The Germans seem to be very energy conscious. Lots of wood stacks and piled logs. Looks like maybe some of the homes are heated with wood. I see smoke curling out of a lot of the chimneys. I would love to take that little side road just to see where it goes. I LOVE those lace curtains in everyone’s windows. I’m going to have to find out where I can buy some of those. Oooh…that looks like a nice little shop. I need to find my way back there. Oh… that looks like a good restaurant, right next door. I love how the mist drifts through the trees. I’d like to try and do a watercolor of that scene. Those old barns are just charming. Oh…there’s a horse out in the meadow wearing a blanket… and on it goes. Mind you, I’m only thinking these things quietly to myself. If I were to verbalize all of this, I would have been left by the side of the road miles back, but you get the picture.
Now, fast-forward to the week after I get my German driver’s license, approximately two months after my arrival. In case you are wondering what took me so long, I had to study a 98 page “Drivers Handbook and Examination Manual for Germany,” and learn 186 new road signs. Some of these signs have German words, such as Einbahnstrase (one way) and Ausfahrt, which identifies an exit. (That is one of the easier ones to learn!) Then of course, you need to learn how to convert Kph to Mph. There are guarded railroad crossing signs, and unguarded railroad crossing signs, distance to guarded railroad crossing signs, and distance to unguarded railroad crossing signs. Then there are posted signs letting you know you have 160 meters before the railroad crossing, etc., etc…and yes, you better remember that it is 160 meters because that will be on the test. You need to remember how many meters to stop before a crosswalk and a bus stop. You also need to learn that there are roads where POVs (Privately Owned Vehicles) are not allowed; there is the Autobahn (German version of the Indianapolis 500); there are Priority Roads; skinny roads (Steve’s term); super skinny roads; military roads (forbidden access); roads for cyclists and pedestrians only, and Rollsplitt – gravel roads. (GPS doesn’t know any difference. A road is a road.) Mind you, road signs are hard to remember when you’re cruising at 100Kph. If you ruminate too long on a passing sign, you’ll miss your turn. Well…you get the picture. It is quite overwhelming, but I study and I pass the test.
The first Sunday after claiming my driver’s license, we’re headed back to Rose Barracks for the Sunday service at the chapel. Steve says, “You’re driving.”
“OK, but you’ll remind me where to turn, right?”
“No. You’ve already been on this road 100 times. You know where to turn.” In my head I was calculating my response: That’s not possible. I’ve only been in Germany eight weeks; that is less than 100 days. Not counting round trips, that wasn’t even close, and most of those trips I was absorbed with trees, horses, and lace curtains. I didn’t say anything. It would take too long to explain myself.
“Well, maybe I should use the GPS.”
“No. Don’t ever rely on the GPS. It can lead you astray and put you on a skinny road, or a super skinny road, or a gravel road, or an off-limits military road.”
Me: Blank look on my face as I’m pulling out of the driveway.
“I want you to learn how to find your way in case you get lost some time. If you make a wrong turn, you’ll learn from your mistake.” (Somehow, I felt his military training was kicking in. I was being thrown into the wilderness to find my way out.) At any rate, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the idea, and if you’re not feeling comfortable about something, it can affect your judgment. A few miles down the road, I was pretty sure a left turn was coming up. Oops! There were three places to turn left. Rather than make a snap decision, I drove on by and found a place to turn around. I could feel the “eye-roll” from across the seat. I recalibrate and get back on the right track. A few miles down the road, a big yellow sign comes up. Yes, this is an important sign, but a little confusing. There is an arrow pointing to the town of Vilseck and another arrow pointing to the Vilseck Military Community. Somehow my brain fixates on the word “military,” and I envision myself taking a forbidden military road with live ordnance flying over our heads, and Steve screaming “Stop!” In the time it takes me to think through this scenario, I miss my turn. I must turn around and come back.
The following Sunday, I get smart and insist on using the GPS. On the way back home, Steve tells me to make an unexpected turn, not shown on the GPS. I find myself on one of the “skinny roads” – skinny road meaning it is very narrow, with little room to pass and ditches on either side. “Why did you do this to me?” I ask, just slightly irritated.
“I wanted you to learn what to do in case you ever find yourself in this situation.” (His military survival training is kicking in again, and I’m not liking it.) He smiles. “Don’t worry. It’s going to get worse.” The skinny road then turns into a super skinny road. By now, I’m praying I don’t meet another vehicle or I will have to back up to Timbuktu. I’ve always loved adventure, and I’ve always enjoyed taking the road less traveled, but by now, I’m feeling a little stressed. Then it happens. We pass a magical looking, tiny little structure on the side of the road. It looks like a gnome house right out of a Grimm Fairy Tale. As I drive by, I see an open door with two wooden benches inside, with just enough room to seat maybe four people. It appeared to be a little roadside chapel.
“Wow! Did you see that?” I exclaim.
“See! You would have never gotten that surprise if we hadn’t come this way.” He’s right, of course. I make a mental note to myself: I want to come back here someday. I’m still thinking about the magical little chapel when I miss the next turn.
“Why weren’t you paying attention to the GPS?” Steve sighs.
“You’ve told me not to depend on the GPS,” I counter. Despite everything, I manage to get us home.
Tomorrow morning I’m taking my first solo flight to Rose Barracks. Hopefully, I don’t find myself on a skinny road, but if I do, I’m going to be on the lookout for the magical little chapel by the side of the road. It’s calling me back. I’m afraid my female driving instinct is here to stay. I hope I never lose that sense of wonder and adventure, but I also need to remember my husband’s common-sense advice and driving instinct: “Stay focused. Stay alert and maintain situational awareness.” Sounds very military, doesn’t it? In retrospect, I think a nice blend of the male/female instinct is probably the ideal. Balance is the key to a safe, but adventurous life.