The side of a country road in Limerick, Thursday, November 18, 3:30 a.m. -- As I sit here in the pitch dark with only the inside car light illuminating my notebook, I begin to laugh and cry and laugh again. Today has been a day from hell; a day that I hope will soon be consigned to history forever.
The day began beautifully. My good friend, James White, asked me to accompany him on the four-hour journey from Tralee to Dublin this morning.
James, 33, is practically bald. He has been since his early 20s and he was downright sick of it.
After watching an episode of the “Late Late Show,” Ireland’s longest running talk show, he discovered there was a solution to his problems. It’s called a hair system. It’s not a wig or a hair piece, but rather actual hair attached to a head. Like normal hair it needs to be cut and washed.
Anyway, Wednesday’s trip to Dublin was to purchase more hair systems and check in with the company that supplies them.
The day started off wonderfully. The rain had subsided for a few hours, the roads were clear of traffic and we had a lot of time to catch up on four and a half years of gossip.
We arrived in Dublin, following directions by Map Quest, in no time at all. In fact we were so early we took advantage of a €5.50 lunch special in a local bar in Swords.
As we walked through the doors of the hair structure company a sign advertising teeth whitening for €99 jumped out at me.
This was exceptional value I thought. In Tralee, my hometown, this would cost approximately €300.
I wondered if I could avail of such a great offer. I was in luck. They could slot me in while James was getting his new hair. Perfect timing.
After an hour of laser treatment, I came out teeth shining and James had a whole new head of hair. We were a right pair.
Delighted with our success, we grabbed some snacks for what should have been a four-hour journey home. And this is where the nightmare begins.
Because James didn’t print return directions back to Kerry we were resigned to use the satellite navigation system (sat nav) or GPS system as we call them in the U. S. As I drove my way out of Dublin in my old sports car -- James purchased my Opel Tigra six years ago when I left for New York -- I was in my element. It was lovely to be reunited with my fabulous car again.
We made a good team. The Tigra never had the same affection for James; he had experienced a lot of trouble with her in the six years they have been together.
Anyway, as I’m trying to navigate my way out of Swords and onto the M50 motorway James is toying with the sat nav.
“It’s telling me we won’t get to Tralee until 1:44 p.m. tomorrow,” said James.
Well how could that be I thought. Tralee was only four hours away and we needed to get back by then to see the Ireland vs. France soccer game.
I pulled in off the motorway to figure out what James was doing wrong. No luck. Every which way I went about it sat nav was telling us we would not reach Tralee until lunchtime Thursday.
“It must be broken,” I said getting agitated, as I knew I didn’t know my way home.
We then tried to read the Map Quest directions backwards, but one wrong turn landed us in the middle of Dublin city center. I knew if I got to Heuston Station I would be able to get us out of the city and on the right road.
After an hour stuck in city traffic we finally happened upon the train station. Now we were home free, I thought.
No such luck.
I, yet again, took the wrong exit, and before I knew it we were on the road to Galway. After several calls to friends we ended up in Celbridge in Kildare.
As I continued to drive at the advice of those who knew better James decided to have one more look at the sat nav. After a few minutes of fiddling with buttons, he turned to me as I’m driving and said, “It says it’s on BICYCLE mode.”
It took a few seconds for the penny to drop before we realized that the reason it was taking us nearly 20 hours to get to Tralee was because sat nav thought we were cycling a bike!
At this stage we couldn’t help but laugh; in fact we laughed so much I nearly rear-ended a truck in front of me. Finally, three hours after leaving Swords, we were on the right road.
Unfortunately we weren’t even close to making it back to Kerry for the big game so we pulled in at a town called Mountrath, about an hour outside Dublin.
By now all of you reading this know how gut wrenching the Irish game was. We couldn’t get our head around the result and the cheater Thierry Henry.
A quick trip to the bathroom before departure frightened the life out of me. I glanced in the mirror while washing my hands to discover, to my horror, that my lips had swollen up like balloons.
I looked like I had just undergone an aggressive session of Botox. My lips were bigger than Angelina Jolie’s at this stage.
Confused and embarrassed by the sight in the mirror, I laughed. What else was there to do at this stage? It was too late to call the place I had the teeth whitening done so I had to grin (literally as my mouth was so swollen) and bear it until tomorrow.
By this time the rain was coming down buckets, and when we left the small country bar to get back on the road home we were angry at the result, getting tired and my lips were still growing by the minute.
About 20 minutes outside Mountrath there had been a horrific accident in which six people ended up in intensive care. As a result we were diverted to back roads.
As the torrential rain came thundering down on us we discussed in detail the heartbreak of the Henry handball and how Ireland played amazing football.
About half an hour into the back roads, and about 10 minutes outside Templemore, we hit an extremely vicious pothole at a fair speed. Within seconds James, who was driving, lost control of the car and we were forced onto the side of the road. We could go no further.
Upon close inspection we realized the front wheel blew out. No big deal, there was a spare one in the back. It wasn’t until James opened the trunk that he discovered there were no tools to change the wheel with.
Panic began to set in. It was nearly midnight. We were in the middle of an Irish dirt road with no lights around us and the heavens had opened up unkindly. And both our phones were on their last legs.
After several phone calls, we decided to seek the assistance of the local Garda (police). A male and a female officer arrived in 20 minutes. They were wonderful but were unable to get the front wheel off.
A tow truck had to be called. Another half an hour passed, and by this time we were beginning to realize we were really down on our luck.
Finally, Seamus, a burly middle-aged mechanic, came to our aid. He did throw me a few funny looks -- I’m sure it was the big lips but I can’t be certain as it was pitch black.
Anyway, our new friend sorted us out and we were back in our car in no time.
However, it doesn’t end there. James tried to switch on the engine but no joy. Because we had the lights on for so long and the hazard signals, the battery died.
Thankfully Seamus and the two Garda officers had not left yet. They were kind enough to give us a push in the pouring rain, and finally we were away.
Back to the sat nav. It was telling us we would be home at 4:30 a.m. I couldn’t wait for my bed and to put something on my lips -- maybe a hat.
Everything was going okay considering the day we had, so after relaxing a bit I decided to go for a snooze. I was no longer asleep when I was awoken abruptly by a loud thud and the car dragging its tales. James, still driving the Tigra, pulled in yet again.
This time the exhaust came off in a flood of water and the car would no longer drive. And now I’m sitting here at 3:30 am in the dark while James is trying to figure out a solution.
We are about a mile outside Adare in Limerick but were advised by a passing motorist (who didn’t know anything about exhausts) that all the hotels were closed for the month of November.
What are we going to do now? My phone had gone dead. James had little battery left but who can we call?
My lips are aching, I am freezing cold and am drowned wet after going outside to see if I could somehow lift the exhaust back in place. That wasn’t possible.
We finally got home that night. A kind Samaritan stopped about a half an hour later to help us out. He had tools that removed the exhaust. We added it to the boot with the blown out wheel and prayed that we would get home in one piece.
We finally arrived in Tralee a little after 5:20 a.m. on Thursday morning.
A few days later my lips returned to normal -- thank god as my wedding is less than two weeks away -- and James’ hair is still in one piece, but one thing is for sure.
Next time my good friend James wants me to take a road trip with him the answer will be no!