Podunk on Location: Australia, Part 2

Growing up in Podunk, the yellow school bus was our only public transportation. So when I travel to places that have options like light rail, I’m reminded of my first trip to Disneyland in the 70s and the magic of the PeopleMover taking me to TomorrowLand.

Australia’s public transportation system is extensive, convenient and highly affordable. We’ve traveled by light rail to many of Sydney’s neighborhoods, caught ferries to beaches like that of Manly Wharf, and even hopped between cities.

To encourage people to use public transportation, Aussies have made regular automobile transportation utterly terrifying by insisting people drive in the wrong direction. We experienced this ill-begotten notion first as pedestrians. One becomes accustomed to looking for traffic in a certain pattern and when that pattern is reversed, one quickly finds oneself in a Frogger simulation. To counter this challenge, I devised a certain Linda-Blair-in-the-Exorcist tic, swiveling my head in a panoramic fashion, narrowly avoiding death but straining my neck muscles, potentially beyond repair.

Mixed messages in Oz.

But life as an anxiety ridden pedestrian was nothing compared to the horrors of riding in a car. A helpful local from Newcastle counseled Iron Chef about driving on the left while steering from the right, “Just think — Passenger in the gutter.” This was not as comforting to me. The thrill of oncoming traffic careening towards us in the wrong lane never wore off, and I like to think of my move to the backseat of the car (head positioned between my knees in the crash preparation position) as a mutual agreement between Iron Chef and I, while he bravely continued to steer from the passenger seat.

And while diligent in warning frequently about the dangers of wanton wombat crossings, Australians conveniently omitted mention of death defying hairpin turns adjacent to cliffs overhangs. This did make me somewhat nostalgic for the country mountain roads of Podunk.

The rental car company said no off-roading. Technically, there was a road.

To calm my nerves, I asked Chef to stop in Hunter Valley wine country for several days.

Next stop, Part 3 in our series Podunk on Location: Australia, we’ll visit the nerve calming Hunter Valley.

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