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By Kregg P.J. Jorgenson
posted August 20, 2006


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.

 Finally, finding 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 dunno…sane drivers.

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 of Heilbrunn.

“I can’t change lanes.”

“No, you can’t.”

“And there’s nowhere else to go.”

“No, there isn’t.”

“Why aren’t you driving?”

“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 first time.

“Lothar,” I said.


“Lothar was a famous old German knight.”

“Did he drive a big Sedan?”

“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 you’re driving.”

“No problem,” I said, snorting, spitting and scratching myself. “I have a big kokommer.”

“You have a what?”

“It’s Dutch, I think for big ego,” I said.

“No, it’s not. It means cucumber.”

“Huh? Is that what it means?”
   “Besides, I already know you have a big ego,” said Katherine. “You can’t help it. You’re a man.”



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