Picture a 4 day road trip. Picture doing it with somebody you’ve never met. Now picture doing it in a SmartCar.
That’s how these things work. As I hopped off a plane in Kelowna B.C., ready to embark on a press trip to Whitehorse in the Yukon (where I would hand off the keys to editor Mark Richardson for the next leg), I scanned the crowd wondering who else was here for this reason.
The dead giveaway is always the footwear. Auto journalists wear really ugly hiking boots.
If you eavesdrop closely enough, you can always hear a couple of pros discussing their last trip. You gravitate towards them, hoping the rest of the herd will do the same. Then you start furtively making eye contact, trying to size up total strangers and deciding who you want to learn intimate details about for the coming week.
As I took into account the size of the car, I homed in on a French journalist. I had ten years and ten pounds on him, which made me decide I could take up more space and decide when the pee stops would be. It also occurred to me he was standing there with just a backpack – a considerable factor.
We cemented our driving partnership with a handshake. I breathed a sigh of relief that the first question had been answered.
“We can go in the first truck to the hotel,” I told him, gesturing toward the door.
“You go, I have to wait for my bag,” he told me. As he said it, a large suitcase came along the conveyor belt and he grabbed it. The case was bigger than I was.
The following morning, I was the first out to the cars. Sylvain wandered out 20 minutes later. I could see we had different approaches to this, but I decided to be quiet.
“Bon jour, Sylvain!” I greeted him.
“Hi. Is this our car?” he asked. As we determined the best way to get all of our stuff in, I asked him why he wasn’t driving with another French journalist.
“I thought it would be good to practice my English,” he told me. “And you can practice your French!” I told him he’d already heard all of my French.
The next question is always crucial. It sets the tone for the entire trip.
“You drive, or me drive?” I asked him.
“Whatever you like,” he responded.
Within the first hour, I’d smacked him on the shoulder and asked him to open my water bottle. When I was done, he took it back and put it away. He’d found my iPhone charger for his iPod. We’d exchanged information on spouses and children – we both have two boys.
I discovered that everything he ate had chocolate in it. He discovered that I carry everything – everything – in my purse. We shared KitKats and TicTacs. He translated the French that came over the walkie for me, and we ended up sitting at meals together. This is a big sign on a junket which drivers are getting along. If they avoid each other whenever they’re not in the car, something’s up.
Others teased us. I laughed. I had a co-driver who was a gentleman, wasn’t a wheel hog, automatically reached for my camera as well as his own, and didn’t tailgate. In this world, this is bliss.
As we left the lunch stop on Day One, I came around the back of our car.
Two bells were expertly drawn in the muck, along with a pretty little heart. JUST MARRIED ran beneath our licence plate.
5 hours down, 108 to go.