I know, I know. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re already aware that I have a certain partiality towards Scotland. However, I’ve a tale to back me up.
Three years ago I took my youngest child with me to Britain. He’d always wanted to go and, as he pointed out to me several times, his older brother had already been there with me twice. This fact galled him and clearly (according to him) smacked of favoritism. Well, naturally, I felt a need to return and what better use of our mileage awards than a San Diego – New York – London – Glasgow – London – Los Angeles – San Diego series of free flights?
I should mention here that I hate flying. Hate. It scares the hell out of me.
That night as we flew, I watched our progress on the cartoon map and tried not to vomit in fear as the plane made odd “YOU WILL DIE!” sounds as we got over the deepest, darkest section of the North Atlantic. Hey, thanks for that graphic, American Airlines. I really needed to see that sea canyon at 3 in the morning!
While my panic attack sent warm and fuzzy feelings throughout my body, I envied The Boy, sound asleep, not hearing the “YOU’RE ABOUT TO PLUMMET FROM THE SKY AND DIE!” sounds the plane kept making. I was the only one awake outside of the cabin crew. I’d had 2 pints of Guinness at JFK before taking off (pre-medication), and 2 beers on the flight. As I hadn’t slept the night before (due to the “YOU’RE CERTAIN TO DIE ON THE FLIGHT!” thoughts), I was getting just a little slap-happy. But, hey, we’d almost made it over the scary SEA CANYON OF DOOM.
By the time we landed in London, I was bone-deep tired. I had been awake 40 hours straight. Tea had little effect and my patience had long since waned with people invading my space and serving me food that could best be described as flavorless gruel. The layover was an hour or maybe two. By the time we landed in Glasgow and I collected my brand new luggage, it looked like it had been dragged behind the plane. Fabulous. There was concern on the part of the rental car staff that my luggage wouldn’t fit in the trunk. By this point, there was also concern I may punch someone for no particular reason. My son, however, smiled happily beside me – well-rested and fed, looking forward to our adventure.
Ah, Glasgow. You’re a lovely, lovely place. Surely (even though it was pissing down rain) I could safely navigate our way up to Loch Lomond and our destination of Luss without incident. It had only been 43 hours without sleep… Easy peasy. I flipped on my UK cell phone (which I bought ahead of time) and took off. The Boy laughed delightedly. He was loving the scenery. I wanted to get out and randomly kick a tree…
We had decided at this point that we should eat. We traipsed down to the restaurant and presumably ate something. I say presumably because I have no clear recollection of this time. According to my son, I would burst out giggling for no reason while we were at the table. My giggles turned to guffaws. In due course, I was out of control. As tears of laughter streamed down my face, my son eyeballed my orange juice and wondered if I’d spiked it. The lack of sleep had gotten to me. People were looking…
After this humiliating event, we headed out for fresh air. At the time, my judgment may have been somewhat askew because I kept thinking surely what someone who hasn’t slept in almost 48 hours needs is a nice, long walk… And so we walked. We walked and walked and walked. I had at least stopped laughing uncontrollably by the time we got to the old cemetery.
By this point, there was a very real fear the caretakers of the cemetery would see me and think I’d crawled my way out from under one of their stones. So we headed back to our hotel and, I’m told, had dinner. This too, apparently, was such a mortifying affair that The Boy signaled for the check. Sleep deprivation. Good times!
My friend Murdo called right around this time. Murdo, as you can tell from the name, is Scottish and was born on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He’s a darling man who has always tolerated my silliness. We’d been friends for ten years by this point. He, his wife, and two children lived not very far from my hotel. His call was to make sure we’d arrived without incident. I like to think I handled myself coherently, but if I had, Murdo kept banging on about how I needed to “go to sleep” “get some sleep” and “go to bed” for no apparent reason. Clearly he’d forgotten my need to immediately acclimate to my current time zone. We didn’t go to bed until nearly 11 PM.
I called Murdo the next day and, being the kind soul that he is, he offered me his satellite navigation device. I can’t remember the name Murdo had given his sat nav, but I’m going with “Morag”…
The Boy and I set off to Murdo’s to pick up Morag. He had given me directions on how to get there – something about turning at the roundabout, but I couldn’t remember whether it was the second or third. I figured I’d better call him. In the UK, as in many US states, you’ll get a ticket for driving while talking on your mobile. I, in my infinite judgment, hadn’t purchased the hands-free gadget that goes with the phone. Therefore, I decided to pull over and call him. The road I was on, the A-82, is the main thoroughfare south to Glasgow and north to the Highlands. It didn’t seem like the smartest place to pull over. I therefore turned off on a tiny B road – the B832, which heads west to Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde. It was an empty 2-lane country road. After several miles I came to a turnout with a barely perceptible slope and a cattle gate, which led to an open field. This seemed like the best place to park. I wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. I even checked – the ground was gravel, not dirt. There was no way in hell I would be caught pulling into dirt after all the rain Scotland had that summer. Oh, no sir. I was far too clever for that…
The directions to Murdo’s house were given to me (again) in a manner tantamount to, “Hadn’t I already told you this, woman?” Ha, silly Murdo. I’ve navigated my way around Scotland, England and Wales twice before. Don’t patronize me. I got off the phone, put the sedan in reverse, stepped on the gas, and sat there. Yes, sat there. You see, my gentle slope had turned into the SLOPE OF DESPAIR and the gravel that I had congratulated myself on finding had transformed into the GRAVEL PIT FROM HELL. I got out of the car and stared at my tires. Uhhh. Sunk…in mud. The Boy gaped at me from the back seat. Well, there was nothing to be done than to call Murdo and make him come help me. I plucked up the courage and called him back.
He sat there listening for several minutes without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he’d put the phone down and run away, but no, he was there, listening intently. Finally he snorted, “Are ye sure ye’re stuck?” Now, I’m no NASCAR or F1 driver, nor (and this may come as a shock to you) am I an auto-mechanic, but I can tell when a car isn’t moving. Yes, I was sure I was stuck. I got out of the car and stared at the tires once more to tell him how many inches the front end had sunk. He sighed and made a show of what a ridiculous creature I was. By this point, any feelings of remorse I had for disturbing him had fled.
It was then, as I was plotting revenge on my dear friend, that I heard a car approaching. I was standing there, phone to my ear, vehicle in no apparent distress, when this car passed me. I barely spared it a glance. It was a small, older car – cream in color. Moments later I heard it reversing. I told Murdo as much. He perked up at this point – I’m not sure, he may have been hoping he was off the hook for my rescue. All of a sudden, out of the passenger side, came BOUNDING a man. He was around my age – wearing a black sweater and camouflage trousers. As he BOUNDED at me, I whispered to Murdo, “The car’s pulled over. There’s two men – one is BOUNDING towards me!” Murdo’s interest again skyrocketed. I think by now he was hoping I’d be butchered. The Bounder, as I’ve come to call him, shouted, “Hello! D’ye need any help?” Perhaps it was his camouflage pants that made me think serial killer, perhaps it was my inherent lack of faith in humanity, who knows? But I stood there, debating how to answer. Murdo, in the meantime, began asking me questions about The Bounder (for later recognition in a police line-up?).
I explained to The Bounder that I had intentionally chosen to pull over on this driveway because it barely sloped and was gravel. How had he known I needed assistance? Why had he bounded out to help like someone had just released the rabbit at the greyhound track? I’ll never know. He smiled at my son, surveyed the scene, and asked questions. He was handsome with dark hair and a broad smile. As I answered as truthfully as possible, I could hear Murdo’s ringing laughter screaming through the phone. The Bounder heard it as well. I explained it was my friend who just lived down the road in Balloch and who may be slightly unhinged (just to be safe). As he went back to his car and began giving instructions to the driver to park and UNHITCH THEIR BOAT, I thanked him profusely. He waved me off and set to work. By now, their car and boat were completely blocking one lane of traffic. Ugh, could this be any more humiliating than having a hot Scot rescue me? Why yes, it could…
Moments later, this heretofore empty country road became gridlocked as cars attempted to pass them and the boat. The Scots took it all in stride and continued to wave my fussing off. Murdo continued to howl with laughter. It was around this time I decided I could hang up on him. I could deal with that embarrassment later. The Boy, in the meantime, had gotten out of the car to survey my shame. He may have laughed, I’m not sure. To be honest, I hadn’t truly forgiven him for sleeping on the plane, the fiend. While The Bounder worked, and traffic piled up, other Scottish men got out of their cars to come over and chat to the red-faced, red-haired Yank who’d pulled onto a gravel drive. Oh, what a sight. I then addressed the assembled throng, explaining that I had felt gravel had been a perfectly acceptable place to park! “Oh, aye, it would be any other time but we’ve had a stupid amount of rain this year. Don’ worry yer pretty little head.” This was said by a ginger-haired man in a white Range Rover.
Soon I was told to start the engine while The Bounder and his friend stood in front of my now sloping car. They told me to put it into neutral and that they would give it a shove. Moments later I watched in horror as my car rolled forward and proceeded to crush The Bounder and his friend. They stared through the windscreen as I shrieked. Their nonchalance was daunting. Somehow they extricated themselves and The Bounder walked by my window laughing. Plainly Scots have no fear of death. Important safety tip.
Soon the car was free. The Scots waved off any offer of compensation and my undying gratitude. By now, at least 8 carloads of men had stopped to gape and/or offer assistance. I was sent on my way seconds later. As they’d completely blocked up the east-bound lane, I was too humiliated to ask them to move. Nor did I want to stick around for the next several minutes as they re-hitched their boat. I headed west, towards Helensburgh – going in the opposite direction of Murdo. The Boy, in the backseat, mewled about this. Apparently his feelings of security with mommy in a foreign country had disintegrated. I explained, still shamefaced, that I would rather chop off my own arm and beat myself senseless with it, than to drive by The Bounder as he rehitched his boat.
So to The Bounder and his friend and all the Scottish men who stopped to help the red-haired Yank in the black Mercedes 3 years ago on the B832, you’re lovely and prove to me that chivalry is alive and well, and living in Scotland!
*** UPDATE *** I have recalled the nickname of Murdo’s shrill sat nav. It was not “Morag” but “Nagging Nora.” I most humbly apologize to my readers, Murdo, and indeed, Nora.