[Guest post by Jennifer’s husband, A.J., written on Tuesday, Aug. 17.]
A.J. here. We’re on the flight back from Amsterdam, having taken the train yesterday from Münster. Jennifer will be posting additional blog entries and photos from the competition and the CAA’s trip to the 2009 World Pony Championships throughout the week, so tune in later for those. But how could I pass up the opportunity to share with you my German “driving” experiences with the infamous “Green Machine”? (Remembering the primary audience for this blog – we’re talking automobile – I myself am not a carriage driver – I have taken a class in it; but for the most part – I’m “carriage by marriage.”)
With only a smallish CAA group attending the World Pony Championships, Jill and Jennifer had asked if I would mind “driving” the group. It would give us more flexibility and at a smaller cost; besides, for me, it would be my first opportunity to drive outside the United States or Canada. After agreeing, I was then told what I would be driving …
The picture below is not what I was driving. Mine was far less sporty … no, this was the red Ferrari being test-driven at Vischering Castle, which Jennifer and I visited before we picked up the CAA group at the Münster Hauptbahnhof (main train station). Not enough seats for the whole group … I guess I could have traded up and simply made plenty of (fast … very fast) trips back and forth between the hotel and the competition site – though luggage space would have been a problem.…
the fabulous-looking Ferrari that A.J. wanted to trade for the mini-bus; the hood in back is open as potential test-drivers admire the engine
And the picture below is also not what I was driving. Mine was far less classic … no, this classic Ford roadster was at the competition site. This was reminiscent of the various classic cars used by the teams in the medal ceremony. Jennifer’s certain to show you some photos of those later in the week. But as for this Ford, no luggage room either – more seats though less speed than the Ferrari … but far more stylish than the “Green Machine.”….
a beautiful old Ford roadster, standing with all the other, “regular” cars in the championship’s parking lot
No … after all that build up of raw European sports-car power and classic American car style, THIS … is what I was driving … my Mercedes mini-bus. Diesel, six-speed manual transmission, with a sliding passenger door. Seats for nine. Sporty – no. Stylish – no. Utilitarian – most definitely.
this is the mini-bus affectionately dubbed the “Green Machine”
Now, I don’t want to be disrespectful to the “Green Machine.” Like a good hound dog, it was dependable and loyal. It got us … all of us … everywhere we wanted to go. After a half day of bonding, it and I became one … without hesitation, we were successfully navigating the tight streets of downtown Münster and the glorious country lanes of Westphalian horse-country. We conquered narrow parking garages and numerous traffic circles like we were coasting penalty-free through a cones course. Together, in Münster rush-hour traffic, we courageously rescued the incoming CAA crew from the Münster train station to whisk them away to the safety of Saerbeck. (Bear with me, it’s hard to be surrounded by such historic churches and castles and not envision a more chivalrous time than our own.)
German traffic signs and driving rules took a little getting used to, but not much. The speed limit signs were easily understood and, quite simply, made sense. I also liked the way the stop lights worked.. Sitting at the red light, you wait until the light goes both red and yellow. This lets you know that “green is coming.” And with traffic circles, you simply yield to the cars in the circle … and always yield to pedestrians (and bicycles, especially in Münster and the surrounding environs … they are EVERYWHERE).
The “Green Machine” and I also knew our limits. We did not venture onto the famous Autobahn. I’d seen the speeds at which even the “smartest” of cars drove on the Autobahn. I had no doubt that once the “Machine” got up to speed, it would have no problem at least keeping pace in the right-hand lane; however, I also knew that you could clock us going 0 to 60 with a sundial. You see, it was the “getting up to speed” – first and second gear – that caused me pause. And so, we wrote a haiku by which to remember the experience:
Six gears and nine seats.
Do I dare try the Autobahn?
The hamsters say no.
And yes, I did pass a couple of vehicles … plenty of bicycles (this is Germany’s bicycle capital … it was inevitable); a couple of service vehicles and fellow mini-buses; and mopeds were no match for the power of the “Machine.”
But what looked to be our greatest triumph quickly became our worst defeat. On Friday of the competition, two of us had to sprint back to the hotel for a change of clothes for the dressage awards ceremony. Time was short and we were (relatively speaking) booking it. On the return trip, we were at a stop light – first in line on the left. To my right, a service vehicle. Behind it, another mini-bus. Red light turned to red and yellow. Clutch in. First gear. Red and yellow to green. Clutch out, gas down. Away we sped, easily besting both the service vehicle and the mini-bus. It was time to finish off the two. Looking back to make sure I was clear, I started to edge over.
Then I saw her in my rear view mirror. She was silver. She was fast – very fast. New Porsche 911. No sooner had I spotted her, than with a VROOOMMMHHHH, she smoked past me in flash. And before I knew it, she was gone. I was going about 100 km/hr at the time. I can only guess she was easily going about 160 km/hr. Even now, I don’t know what was more impressive – the sight of something moving that fast or the sound it made when it smoked past.