Home > Alcohol, Anxiety, Bitching, Driving, Japan, Scary, Stupidity, Worry > The Time I Drove Into a Canal

The Time I Drove Into a Canal

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


I am the first to admit that I am a piss-poor driver.

While behind the wheel, my entire body is just one big ball of anxiety. I grip the wheel with a manic focus, whispered prayers escaping from my lips. My palms and armpits immediately begin to sweat until the wheel is slick and slippery with perspiration. I’m too afraid to take my attention off the road for even a moment, even to just change the radio station. I will be stuck with twanging country music until I either pull over or reach my destination.

Though I have a driver’s license, it rarely gets used. The most I ever drove was in Japan, which means I am actually more accustomed to driving on the left side of the road than the right. Driving was an unfortunate necessity abroad since there was little public transportation in my village, and each day was fraught with horror.

First there were the treacherous mountain roads. Lacking a guard rail and only a single lane wide, cars would still pass you from the opposite direction while going about a million kilometers per hour. You would have to creep your vehicle to the edge of an abyss, nervously tapping the gas as rocks tumbled away beneath your wheels. Though most residents owned tiny K-cars because of the narrow roads, you’d occasionally run into someone trying to pass you in a station wagon. My yellow-plated 1991 Daihatsu, no more powerful than your average lawn mower, would have to reverse down winding mountain roads until we found enough space to pass each other.

A similar problem occurred whenever the single village bus decided to make its way through town. The “downtown” portion of the village was just a single winding street, full of blind corners and lined with stores on either side. There was no margin for error when passing other cars, and I would frequently use the reflections in the store windows to see what was around the corner. This did not stop the locals from hurtling around each bend with reckless abandon, honking at my car crawling slowly past. An angry line of vehicles would always pile up behind me, but I would continue to creep along, sweating all the while. When a bus had to pass through, a tiny golf cart with a large flashing light on top would be sent ahead, warning you that the bus was a-comin’, and you had better find a way to clear a path. This meant pulling into a tiny driveway (if available), or more often driving into the open gutters on each side of the street. You would wait there, your wheels wedged into a tiny ditch, while the bus came close enough to nearly take out your side mirror. If you were unable to make way, you had to reverse through town, the angry bus driver glaring at you all the while.

I lived in fear of that golf cart.

But my worst driving experience had to be the unexpected canal. I was driving to meet some friends at a bar in a neighboring town, which meant I had already been driving through mountains and rice paddies for over an hour. I finally arrived at the unfamiliar town, and the streets were uniformly unlit and lacking in signs of any sort. Perhaps the city planners figured that so few visitors ever came that labeling anything would simply be a waste of money. But this meant that I was driving blind, with only my tiny headlights to guide me. I managed to locate the bar, and made a right-hand turn into the left-hand lane. Instead of pulling smoothly into the meager parking lot, I instead tumbled into a massive black hole. My car made terrible metallic crunching sounds as the bottom scraped along the edge of the hole, and I ended up dangling over the precipice.

It was like a movie, and I started screaming my head off as my car rocked gently back and forth, balanced precariously on the edge of what I realized was a canal. Well, perhaps “sewer” is the better word for it, since that’s what it was. Rural Japan is still filled with open gutters and sewers that give off the unmistakable scent of feces. I was terrified to exit the car, worried that the shift of weight would send the car into the canal completely. So there I sat, my iPod (the most valuable thing in my car) clutched to my chest.

Luckily, I was saved from living in my car permanently by a crowd of locals pouring out from their houses. Not only my friends from the bar, but plenty of other people surrounded my car, and after the initial laughter, kindly lifted it out of the canal. I was too rattled to even park the thing, so a friend backed it expertly into a space. After thanking everyone who had interrupted their dinner to save me, I rushed into the bar and ordered booze before remembering that I would not be allowed to drink it. Japan has a zero-tolerance BAC policy, which means even a single drink hours before heading home could get me arrested.

I ended up drinking myself silly, then spending the night at a friend’s house, and picking up my car at the bar the next morning. I managed to avoid the canal on my way out of town.

  1. dashielblades
    February 23, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Did I ever tell you about the time I spun a 360 on some little paved bridge in Indian Hill and ended up bending the frame of that yellow Volks Rabbit? The g-forces produced caused several beer cans in the backseat to explode.

    I went home, parked the car in the back of the house and went to bed hoping no one would notice.

    They did.


  2. February 23, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Yes, I think you did tell me about that. How did that even happen?!

  1. January 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

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