Awkward Moments at the Wheel!

Believe it or not, March 18th was National Awkward Moments Day. Yes, that’s actually a thing, although why you would want to commemorate what is tantamount to ‘embarrassing situations’ is quite beyond me.

Well, I say that, but as I sat down to bash out this celebration of most awkward occurrences behind the wheel, my initial thought was to compile the typical listicle of top ten moments of mortification in your motors.
However, I couldn’t help but start to recall my own more than adequate contribution to the world of ignominy, duly accumulated over 35 years of driving cars.

So, by way of catharsis, here’s a sort of confessional of clangers in cars, by yours truly!

Who moved the steering wheel?

Having lived and work both in the UK and Middle East, I’ve been exposed to both left- and right-hand drive cars. In my younger years, having landed back in Saudi, the next morning I headed down to take the car out. Unlocking the door and getting in, I couldn’t but notice that something vital was markedly absent. Somebody had evidently swiped the steering wheel while I was away!
Either than, or I had gotten into the wrong side. Clearly it was the latter. But of course, now that I was in the car, my imagination immediately conjured up a perceived audience of thousands of pedestrians and bystanders that had just seem me get into the car – although in reality, the streets were probably deserted at the time.

Nonetheless, thinking quickly, I opened the glovebox and a spent an excessive number of minutes deliberately rummaging around, finally peeling away and loudly hurrumphing and elaborately shrugging in disappointment that I had not found what I wasn’t actually looking for.
That was many years ago, and you’d be right to assume I had wizened up. Sadly, not so, dear reader. Recently while on an international press launch, and shortly after I had been reassuring a fellow journalist in the passenger seat who had partnered with me for the drive, that I was indeed highly experienced with driving cars with wheels on either side, we turned out onto a main road and proceeded along the route.

I found myself most perplexed as to why opposing traffic appeared to coming at me on the wrong side of the road. Until I realised, thankfully just in time, that it was I, who was on the wrong side of the road. Much forced guffawing followed as I half pretended to pulling a prank, though the decidedly nervous giggle or two from the passenger seat, probably indicated I wasn’t much convincing in that regards.

Calling for help – unintentionally, and intentionally

The first time I had a Maybach on review whilst working in Dubai, I noticed a button marked SOS on the ceiling. A new feature at the time, I was telling my passenger that it was probably a dummy, and by way of proving a point, decided to give it a stab.

Within moments a man spoke from the speakers in Arabic. Uh-oh! It clearly was connected to the police. Somewhat caught by genuine surprise, I blurted back in English ‘So, sorry, I hit the button by accident’. In retrospect that probably wasn’t the best choice of expression, as the only word the police officer picked up on was ‘accident’. ‘Where?! Where accident? You are hurt?!’ All my rudimentary Arabic was then deployed to explain my mistake, and now I keep clear of buttons on roof panels.

Another time I had a beautiful Aston Martin Vanquish on test. Pulling in to get it refuelled, well a tank doesn’t last long on those things, I tugged on the fuel-filler release in the door console below the window switches.
When I reached the back of the car, I found the lid steadfastly closed. Repeated pulls confirmed the cover’s stubbornness. This being something of a sexy beast and attracting the attention of others at the petrol station, who must have been having a real giggle at a supercar ‘owner’ that couldn’t even fill up his exotic machine, it was most awkward indeed.

Especially when I had to concede defeat and call the press office for help. ‘Ah yes, it’s a bit sticky on that one,’ NOW they tell me?! I was advised to use a credit card to prise it open. Not a great look for a James Bond-wannabe I have to say. Come to think of it, this moment was as awkward for Aston as it was for me.

Sticking with petrol stations, I can’t recall the number of times I’ve pulled up at pump and not realised the fuel filler is on the other side of the car. Yes, some of the pipes are extendable, but often not sufficiently so when you’re driving wide supercars or huge SUVs!
Top tip – usually an arrow on the full gage display alerts you which side the filler is on, and on older cars that don’t have it, look carefully at the petrol pump graphic, whichever side the nozzle is on, is the side with the filler – usually!

Dude, Where’s My Car?!

Are you perchance familiar with Brent Cross Shopping Centre car park? Famously used for the car park chase sequence in the 1997 Bond movie, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, it’s local and hence finds me a fairly frequent visitor.

As you go up to the mezzanine level along a branch of the shopping mall, to the restaurants at the top, beyond are lifts and on either side entrances to two car parks. I always use the one on the left.
Returning one time, it seemed I had forgotten in which row I had parked a press car a few hours earlier. Not to worry, smugly I retrieved the key fob from my pocket and pressed open, waiting to hear it beep or unlock the doors or maybe flash its lights.

Nothing. As panic grew, I found myself frantically running along the rows of cars, blipping stabbing at the buttons on the fob. Eventually I succumbed to the growing dread that the spanking new car had been stolen. I re-entered the mall, and had one of those movie-style flashback moments. Yup, for the only time in my life, I had parked not in that car park, but in its mirrored opposite companion car park on the other side of the lifts. Doh!

Being Freddie Mercury

Okay we’ve all been caught singing aloud (when alone) in the car. In pre-smart phone days of the Nokia 8110, I once finished a call with the wife, put the phone down and continued on my merry way belting out Queen’s Greatest Hits.

I’m not sure how many renditions my wife endured, probably not many as it would have been a painful experience, but she later regaled me at length about how much she enjoyed sharing the phone around and letting others also hear what probably sounded worse than Hell’s demon’s dragging their fingernails on Beelzebub’s Blackboard! Yet another reason not to use your phone in the car!

There’s more of course, lots more

I could go on, like the time I extolled the virtues of a manual car to a friend and then immediately stalled it, or totally forgetting how to parallel park the moment you notice people watching, when passengers realise that that cheesy song that’s just come on is actually on your personal playlist, and cursing the car in front for suddenly braking, only to realise they were letting an old person cross the road.

And it’s not just me: twice I’ve had photographers take a press car out to a distant location to do some beauty shots and then leave themselves stranded after locking the keys in the boot (note – many modern cars don’t let the boot lid lock if they detect the key inside now) or when my son, returning from the shops, walked up to the car in front of me and tried to open the door – I mean it wasn’t even the same colour!

Well, this has been therapeutic indeed! Same time next week?

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