well... that was quite possibly the most nerve-wracking two weeks of our lives. but first let me tell you about some of the arduousness that went down before we even left the country...

first of all, i had to learn how to drive a car with stick shift. yep, that's right: all of those years delivering pizzas and i'd never learned how to drive a car with manual transmission. i must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation about this undertaking. dan burke had tried to teach me seventeen years ago on the way to colorado where we were to play a couple of illusion of safety shows. "you're a drummer. you've got coordination. it'll be a breeze." nope... [dan, haven't you ever noticed HOW i play the drums? i have no four-way coordination whatsoever-- my left foot doesn't do anything-- and i look like a complete imbecile. i also happen to be more than a little "mechanically challenged" in general. i inherited this from my dad, which reminds me... here's a joke i came up with after observing my dad trying to change the light bulb on the front porch of my parents' home in palatine a few thanksgivings ago: how many wendell joneses does it take to change a light bulb? more than one!! {two sisters, two nieces, a brother in law, and mom peered through the window of the front door, laughing uncontrollably, as the housing for the porch light came crashing down on my dad's head}]...


yeah, so i never quite learned seventeen years ago... and i wasn't eager to "get back on the horse" and wrestle with this whole clutch issue in the present. however, i was even less eager to leave jeff in the lurch as the only cheer-accident member who would be able to drive us through spain, france, germany, and poland. (cars with automatic transmissions are extremely rare in europe, and renting one would have cost us double, which was out of the question.)

fortunately, my friend andrea (one of the many cheer-accident satellite members who would not be making it across the ocean with us this time around), who gave me my first clutch lesson, turned out to be the best teacher ever. not only is she extremely patient, but she really knows how to "get inside of" what it's like to not know how to do something that's been second nature for many years. empathy/memory... plus she genuinely enjoys the process of teaching, so... the re-mounting of the horse went remarkably well. i surprised myself by how quickly i caught on, and within a half hour i was driving through the streets of chicago... and then on the highway. this latter part was a bit stressful as it was nighttime and raining... and there was a gigantic truck on our ass as i entered the highway in second when i thought i was in fourth.

ealmost exactly 48 hours later, another friend of mine (who i suppose should remain nameless for legal reasons) was kind enough to give me a manual transmission "refresher course." this went extremely well (his clutch was a bit more forgiving than andrea's), so well in fact that he didn't really think that there was anything he could teach me. so... after driving around for a bit, we decided to park the car and call it a night. we were exactly a block and a half from doing so when a white mini-van pulled out right in front of us (completely ignoring a stop sign). i braked, but still barreled into the driver's side of the other vehicle. the mini-van's driver and i locked eyes for about twenty seconds and then he drove away. we thought we had the right plate number, but... it did not line up with the right vehicle when the chicago policeman put it in the computer, so... either we remembered it wrong or the van had stolen plates.

my friend's car sustained some damage to the engine, so it's a real bummer that the other driver bailed. if i had been driving my own car (with automatic transmission), would i have been able to avoid the accident? maybe. maybe my reaction time would have been just that perfectly infinitesimal amount quicker to allow me to brake in time. there's no way of knowing for sure, but the experience did leave a bad taste in my mouth: my friend tries to help me out and ends up with a biffed car. (no good deed goes unpunished!)

eso. are we in europe yet? no? oh, well since i haven't actually left my apartment yet, why don't i take you even further back in time... in june of '07 we toured a fairly good chunk of the country with our pals sleepytime gorilla museum. we started out in atlanta and ended up in santa cruz, so we became pretty well-acquainted with modern day gas prices. (although, they've pretty much doubled since that time...) anyway, i was the driver as we were heading west out of texas. (was that highway 10 that were on?) it was a perfectly sunny 3:00 in the afternoon, in the middle of the desert, when i got pulled over for going 85 in a 70. no other cars on the road. perfect weather conditions. 181 dollars. i had the "option" of going to court in some bumblefuck texas town on a date set for two days after our return back home. obviously that wasn't a very real possibility. there was a phone number on the ticket with the name of the judge, so i had this misguided notion that i would call him up when we got back to illinois and "reason with him." ha! nope: 181 dollars. i was expected to just go ahead and send that amount through the mail. so i went ahead and didn't send it.

months and months went by and everything was fine... until february rolled around and i received a notice that my license would be suspended in two weeks, due to the unpaid speeding ticket in texas... and... the cost was now $460 because... ya know... just because. even though my desire to not pay the 460 was right around 279 dollars greater than my desire to not pay the original 181, the idea of tooling around europe on a suspended license struck me as a decidedly bad one. (coincidentally, i had been planning on applying for my new passport on the very next day, so i was already in a fairly bureaucracy-phobic state of mind.)

so, as you can see, the road to europe was a rather rocky one. (and i've left out a whole lot of the logistical details which led up to our departure. booking a tour of europe for the first time-- mostly by myself-- was not an easy task...) for those of you who have hung in there to read all of this drivel, i thank you. i guess i'll go ahead and spare you the specifics of our actual stay in europe. i think i've bored you enough, and-- really-- it's the "getting there" that's important, right? just know that we did, indeed, get there. thanks so much for the read. take care!