This is going to run a little long, so I will use some cut-tags, for ease of access.
For the non rally fans, a little perspective. This rally was the final round in the World Rally Championship. It was the last event one of my favorite drivers was going to be doing, since he's retiring. Walking in, my favorite driver had a reasonable shot at winning the title in the Driver's Championship (though it hadn't necessarily looked that way when we first made the plans!) He did win -- not only the Championship, but also the rally itself! I did not expect that last part, but it was cool nonetheless. (Yes, it is possible to win the Championship title without winning a given event -- or, possibly, any events. It has to do with a points system, which I will not explain here. Ask me if you are curious and not afraid of a lot of fangirling!) The retiring driver came in third -- one of his best results with the team, and his best ever result on this particular rally. What a wonderful way to go out!
I got autographs from many of my favorite folks in the sport. There are several of my secondary favorites that I didn't get (largely because they either weren't there, or retired out of the race so early.) But I got all the ones that I said "I will be really disappointed if I don't get [fill in the blank's] autograph. And the way I got them were all little happy, personalized, memorable moments. One of them even got broadcast on international TV. (I'm still a little in shock on that part...)
My flight was fine, no problems. Unfortunately, the people I was to meet there had difficulties due to weather, so we didn't meet up until over 12 hours later than planned. That was very unfortunate, since it meant that we didn't get to our B&B until 4AM -- and more importantly, we missed the driver's autograph session! *sniff* (Though in retrospect, how things eventually worked out was cooler -- more on that later.) Since I had to wait, I saw no point in hanging out in Heathrow airport for 12 hours. So I picked up our rental car, and headed out to Windsor, to see the castle there.
Driving in England is an interesting experience. Being on the wrong side of the road was a less disturbing experience than I would have thought. Sure, there were a couple of times where I ended up on the wrong side of the road. And for the first day it was very frustrating downshifting, since I kept trying to do it with my right hand. (And kept smacking my door as a side result!) The roads are narrower than they are here. But I found that not to be too much of a problem, since I'm used to driving in cramped spaces as a side result of driving in SF for so long. We were careful to avoid traffic for the most part, and so didn't end up with any experience that was as heinous as driving in downtown at rush hour can be.
One really strange thing I found about driving on the wrong side of the road is that the brain seems to map "direction across traffic" as "left" and "direction not across traffic" as "right" -- completely irregardless of whether it was actually left or right. So there were several times when I would say "turn left" (meaning, "turn across traffic") when the direction to turn would really be right. Fortunately, this strange effect extended to the driver, who always turned the direction I meant, rather than the one I said.
I didn't get to see much of Windsor Castle, since it was dusk by the time I got there (due to a combination of taking a while to leave the airport, getting lost, and the sun setting early in the late autumn.) What I did see was wonderfully impressive. I have a couple of pictures that I like, which I will post later.
By the way, I've learned from driving in England that anyone who rides with me while I'm driving in Japan better either be very used to me driving in the City, be of a naturally calm disposition, or might want to just keep their eyes closed. I consider British clearances to be normal, and Japanese ones to be slightly cramped!
Roundabouts are probably the thing that confused us the most, for the longest time. You would be trucking along happily in a straight line when all of a sudden, ack! Slow down for the roundabout!! And then you go back to trucking along. It was really annoying most of the time. The only time I ever really appreciated the roundabouts was when we needed to turn around. They are excellent for turning around!
In retrospect I probably should have taken a picture of some of the roundabout signs. At first they were just too baffling. Then they were so normal that I didn't think there was anything remarkable about them. Now that I'm home, I think otherwise. Ah well, next Wales Rally GB. (Yes, I will go to another one. Though at this point, I'm really not sure when it will be.)
Overall, despite (and maybe even because of) the shakey start, it was an amazingly cool experience. Once we got over the initial frustration with the flights, we all spent the entire weekend saying "I'm so glad we came!" We also learned two interesting life's lessons.
The Reader's Digest version of this is "things not going the way you want sometimes lead to an even better outcome than you could possibly have imagined."
This trip had so many examples of it, I'm not sure I can recount them all. The trip itself is an example of this. There were two major factors that prompted us to go for this particular rally: the governing body of the sport has made some decrees on changes for next year that we really did not like; and one of our favorite drivers was retiring, so this would be the last chance to see him in action. Neither of these are particularly positive. But the end result -- actually being there for the rally -- was awesome far beyond my wildest dreams. And I was dreaming pretty high.
Another example: We were trying to get to the first stage of the rally. The directions on how to get there weren't terribly good, and we got lost. After driving around for fourty-five minutes, we gave up trying since the stage had already started, and we weren't close to where we needed to be. Grumpy and disappointed, we headed back to our B&B. On the way there, we spotted a computer store. This was fortunate, since we needed to find a computer store in order to get a card reader so that lucifie could off-load the photos from her camera onto my laptop. In the end this proved to be quite a good thing, since she was able to shoot away with wild abandon, and got some wonderful shots, both on the "film" side, and using the camera's movie mode. If we had gotten to the stage the way we had planned, the computer store would have been closed by the time we went past, and Lucifie would have been restricted on how much stuff she could photograph.
But the incident that really showed to us how things not going according to our plan worked out for the best was how we got our autographs.
Since we had missed the autograph session, our only hope of getting autographs was to hang around the Service area and pray for a stroke of luck. We hung around outside the Subaru area from the time the drivers left Service until they came back, a couple of hours later. For most of this time, we were the only ones there. It was cold, but we were determined, and it ended up being really neat. We got to chatting with several marshalls who were there to do crowd control -- which was not terribly necessary at the time, since we were the only crowd to control! They were really sweet, and we had a great time just chatting with them.
But it gets better from there. The drivers came into Service, and as usual, disappeared right after they got out of the cars. While watching the cars being worked on and waiting for the drivers to leave, something completely unexpected happened. The driver who was retiring came out, and gave us autographs. We were shocked -- we hadn't even seen him coming until he was right in front of us, signing Lucifie's Subaru flag. I have no idea how on earth he could have snuck up on us like that -- particularly since he was surrounded by a horde of cameramen with lights glaring and cameras rolling. I cannot describe how incredible that experience was.
But afterward it struck us: That moment was completely due to the delays with the planes. If things had gone as planned, we would have already gotten our autographs as just a few more sheep herded along in the line, back at the official autograph session. If it hadn't been for the frustration with the plane delays, during that Service we would have been down in Cardiff, 30 miles to the south. But because of the airline screw-ups, we got a personalized autograph -- and we have copies of it on tape!
I can't say that I'm glad that the FIA is screwing around with the rules, and while I think that it's time, I can't say that I'm happy to see Tommi retiring. I can't even say that I'm glad we had the whole flight problems. But I wouldn't trade what happened as a result of all those "bad" things for the world. Just because things are screwed up right now doesn't mean that it isn't leading you to something better than you had originally planned -- or even could possibly have hoped for!
I think the short version of this one is "Being nobody doesn't get you anywhere. Abandon dignity, and follow your passion."
We started out the rally being very quiet, not sticking out at all. We just went along with what everyone else did.
Well, one of the things everyone else did was keep quiet when the drivers came into Service, or when they drove by. It didn't take too long before we decided that no, they should be cheered. And so we started cheering. We cheered our favorite drivers. We cheered other popular drivers. We cheered one relatively unknown driver, and were highly amused to realize that we seem to have startled him by doing so! (He needs to get used to it, he's going to go far in the sport.)
I think getting Tommi's autograph was due largely to our cheering, and being so enthusiastic. I know that my getting my favorite driver and co-driver's autographs was entirely due to our sticking out. I only got them because one of the nice marshalls helped us out. If we hadn't caught the marshalls' attention the day before by being so loud and friendly and enthusiastic, then I would not have my signed hat now. The hat, and the memory of getting it signed is enough to cheer me up even through some of the nasty stuff that has been going on in my life recently. Anyone wants to get me to smile, just ask about that hat.
Those marshalls were cool. I can't describe enough how cool they were. They made an already awesome weekend just that much more incredible.
I can recount a lot of other cases where being willing to be a freak brought about something really cool and memorable, but I think I won't bore everyone. But the bottom line is, if you want to be nobody, you're nobody. Not standing out does not get you anything. But if you're willing to abandon self-consciousness and go with your passion, the results you get will be far better than you would expect.