A five-day, 1,000 km drive surrounded by castles, highlands, cathedrals and pubs was a crash course in Scottish culture and history. After touring Edinburgh, Inverness, Isle of Skye, the Highlands and Glasgow, a short jaunt to the airport to fly home seemed little more than an afterthought. Sometimes perceptions are misleading.
It didn't matter that my wife, Joanne, and I had concierge's directions in hand mapping the 16 km route to the airport, because our flight was leaving from a destination 57 km due southwest. If not for a helpful young woman at the tourist information centre along Highway M8, we would have missed the last flight to Shannon for our connecting flight the following morning.
We drove out Great Western Road in a rented Peugeot without a care in the world. A sign reading 15 km to the airport indicated time to relax before the flight. But after 15 minutes, we looked at one another and asked, "Have you seen an airport sign lately?"
I anxiously pulled into a tourist information centre to confirm our directions. A young lady working at the counter answered my question with one of her own, "Which airport, International or Prestwick?" The "or" in that question triggered an uneasy feeling. I weakly replied Glasgow and she calmly explained that two major airports served the Glasgow area. When I pulled out the boarding passes, I noticed for the first time Glasgow (Prestwick PIK).
Typically optimistic, an undercurrent of panic pulled at me. She sensed I was about to blow a fuse, so took control and calmly wrote new directions. She pressed the paper into my hand like a baton in a relay race and shouted encouragement as I ran out the door and sped away.
We scanned the horizon for the first landmark on the revised directions, the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde. I accelerated around the entrance ramp only to jam on the brakes to avoid crashing into traffic that was moving at a snail's pace through construction. As we drifted down the other side of the bridge into the tiny town of Erskine, I estimated we still had adequate time to make our flight, barring any more surprises.
No sooner did the tension drain from my body than we hit a second round of gridlock. Jo rolled down her window and asked a driver the fastest route to Prestwick. He saw the manic look in our eyes and told us to follow him as he manoeuvred through the traffic jam with efficacy. After only a few minutes, his arm reached from the window and pointed to a sign for M77, the highway leading to the airport.
Speeding down the open highway watching the countryside fly past our window, the card started to make a thumping noise. I veered to the shoulder and climbed out to discover a front tire like a week-old pint of Scottish Ale - flat. OUr margin for error was shrinking.
I threw oepn the trunk, sprayed luggage along the roadside and unfasteneed the tool kit, car jack and a spare tire with, "MAXIMUM SPEED 50 KPH" printed on the side. As I raised the car from the ground, the jack punched a fashionable crease into the body so I lowered it, reset the jack onto the frame and pumped again. Once the tire cleared the road surface, I replaced the flat and returned the car to earth.
Oblivious to the speed limit and our safety, I pushed the pedal to the floor and counted down the kilometres. The airport exit quickly approached, however, there were no signs for our car rental return. When the attendant read the perplexed look on our faces he asked the company we rented from, "Budget," I replied.
The attendant point into the distance and said, "Glasgow."
"That's not happening, buddy," I cried. He told me to pull over and call Budget to arrange a pickup. I ran into the terminal, found a pay phone and called the car rental at Glasgow. A helpful representative was instructing me what to do when suddenly the phone died.
I sprinted across the terminal to the security office and a startled officer stared as I begged to use his phone. He reluctantly opened the door and I redialed the Budget representative who told me to co-ordinate with another rental agency to leave the car overnight. I pleaded with the security office not to hang up the phone until I returned and ran out the door.
A woman at Alamo agreed to store my car on her lot until morning under the conditionr her company would not be liable for any damage. I had no leverage to negotiate. When I went back into the security office, I noticed black fingerprints all over the officer's white phone. For the first time, I realized I was covered with grease. No wonder everyone stared at me like I was a madman.
When I finally went to park the car, the barrier to the lot would not open. I pushed the emergency button as cars honeked from behind. A guy walked up to my window and demanded I move so he wouldn't miss his flight. He looked into my manic eyes and saw the greasy hands, then meekly returned to his car. A voice over the intercom told me to enter, followed by a chuckle, "Are you that guy with the greasy hands?"
With the Peugeot safely parked, I walked back to the terminal and gave the keys to the woman from Alamo. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then got excited to find 20 minutes until boarding.
Leaning back with stout foam hanging from my beard, Jo and I looked at one another and laughed heartily. After 32 years together and raising four children, we thought we'd seen everything, but our frantic ride to Prestwick would be added to a growing list of travelling tales. As I pondered over my final pint in Scotland, I realized a journey isn't measured only in distance, but how you navigate obstacles along the way.
JUNE 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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