Having driven throughout
Europe over a number of years I preferred to drive
the smaller compact cars for a variety of reasons.
First- the smaller models actually are comfortable.
Europeans know how to make comfortable small cars.
Reasonably fast ones too, for that matter. The back
seats are large enough for a suitcase or two, your
hand carried luggage, wine, beer, bottled water,
bread and cheese, tour books, maps and the kinds of
things you gather as you travel.
The second reason I like
renting a small car has to do with the gasoline
prices that are higher in Europe than what we’re
used to in the US. At $5 to $6 a gallon the smaller
cars offer more economical incentives. Racing down
the Autobahn tends to eat up gas in a hurry and
filling and refilling the gas tank tends to eat up
Euros. I rather spend the money on better things,
like, I dunno, better food or possible bail money.
on-street parking takes some doing but it can be
done and at less expense than public car parks. The
trouble is many of the spaces are small and with a
smaller car it’s easier to maneuver in an out of the
stalls without having to try to squeeze out of the
driver’s side door while looking like an abstract
painting in the process, arm and head over here,
breast and one foot there at an unusual angle.
Ever wonder how Picasso
really got his ideas for some of his paintings? I’m
convinced he must have been working as a parking lot
attendant in Montmarte.
Winding your way through
the tight, crowded streets trying to get to the car
park takes some doing and more than a little nerve.
In the more popular destinations like London,
Amsterdam or Paris it can similar to threading a
moving needle in a beehive.
Another blessing is that
the smaller cars don’t allow you to drive like you
think you’re in the Grande Prix and makes for a more
reasonably comfortable road trip. The left or
passing lane in most countries in Europe is made for
the big Mercedes, powerful BMWs, and low flying
Exocet missiles. The right lane is for trucks and, I
On the two-lane stretch
of Autobahn it isn’t uncommon to attempt to pass a
truck or series of trucks with no one coming up from
behind only to find that after putting on your
blinker, stepping on the gas and changing there’s a
set of high beam lights of an on-coming car
screaming up behind you. The high beam blinking is
the signal for you to get out of the way.
A week out of the
Netherlands down near the Black Forest just outside
of Baden-Baden, Germany my wife did just that only
to find a fast, sleek something or other bright
lighting her. With a line of cars and trucks in the
right lane stretching out for a distance and nowhere
else to go she floored the gas pedal and white
knuckled it as the steering wheel trembled and the
speedometer climbed. She was doing 105 miles per
hour. All the while the small, faster car behind us
was right on our rented bumper flying like a bat out
“I can’t change lanes.”
“No, you can’t.”
“And there’s nowhere
else to go.”
“No, there isn’t.”
“Why aren’t you
“Don’t be a sexist,” I
said. “Besides, someone has to pray. However, I do
promise that if we’re driven off of the road, crash
horribly and explode in a huge ball of fire I’ll
somehow crawl over and die in the driver’s seat.”
“You’re not helping.”
Fortunately, a large and
I do mean large Mercedes in the right lane saw what
was happening and slowed down to let us in front of
him. Katherine pulled in the right lane and was
happy to do so. When she finally got back in the
right lane the irritated driver pulled along side of
us, swore and flipped us a universal gesture and
then pulled in front of our car and tapped his break
lights. Katherine tapped her own breaks as she eased
her foot off the gas pedal and kept an eye on the
rearview mirror as the Mercedes behind us was force
to do the same.
Behind us the big
Mercedes put on his left blinker, stepped on the gas
and when he pulled along side he looked at us,
nodded and then took off after the other car.
In no time at all he was
on the tail of the fast, sleek car and bright
lighted him. Once he got him to pull over in the
right lane the Mercedes sped past him, changed lanes
and then tapped his own breaks in front of him.
Once done he waved to
us, stepped on the gas and literally zoomed away. In
and instant he was gone while his gesture lived on.
“My knight in shining
Armor-alled Mercedes,” said my wife smiling for the
“Lothar,” I said.
“Lothar was a famous old
“Did he drive a big
“Possibly and probably
winked and nodded to damsels in driving distress as
he passed them on ye old country road.”
“It was distressing,”
she said. It was also nerve rattling but then, hey
that’s the Autobahn at times and the plight of small
cars. Of course, there’s an added expense of
ordering enough wine that evening to calm you or
your driver down.
“You handled it like a
champ,” I said to Katherine, pouring her another
glass of wine later that evening.
“Yeah, well tomorrow
“No problem,” I said,
snorting, spitting and scratching myself. “I have a
“You have a what?”
“It’s Dutch, I think for
big ego,” I said.
“No, it’s not. It means
“Huh? Is that what it
“Besides, I already know you have a big ego,”
said Katherine. “You can’t help it. You’re a man.”