Avoiding the Boot by
(94 Stories)

Prompted By Parking

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1989: the year of Khati and Sally’s excellent adventure–the sabbatical, the three-month “Africa on a Shoestring” trip, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “Pretty Big One” California earthquake.  The stopover in England.

The traffic going into London for the morning commute is insane.  The roads in London are impossible (and no GPS then).  Finding the cute little hotel in the Bloomsbury District would have been a challenge if we were awake and oriented; we were not. 

The consolidator’s airline ticket (do they even have those open-ended gems any more?) got us first to England.  Great idea.  Layover for a few days, see London, and drive around southern England before the long plane ride south to Botswana.   The red-eye from San Francisco arrived just as morning broke, so we could make the most of the day.  Ha ha.

Subsequent note to self:  it may be morning, but your brain is still at O dark hundred.   Further note:  they drive on the left side of the road.  It takes a village chanting, “left, left, left” at every turn to avoid disaster.  Further: the traffic going into London for the morning commute is insane.  The roads in London are impossible (and no GPS then).  Finding the cute little hotel in the Bloomsbury District would have been a challenge if we were awake and oriented; we were not.

London traffic

London sights

So British!

It was clear there would be no on-street parking, and no hotel parking.  Infractions would likely earn the car “the boot”, which we observed in action as we fruitlessly maneuvered the tiny streets.  Urban parking design was lacking—no lots thoughtfully tucked under plazas or pedestrian malls, and streets were jammed. Finally, salvation.  Before us, not too far from our hotel, arose a car park.  We didn’t care what it cost.  We found a spot, deposited the car, and didn’t go near it until we ransomed it a few days later to head out of town.

Leaving the hotel in our ransomed car

Another note to self:  don’t even think of driving or parking in London. Just one of oh, so many lessons learned.

(PS: In searching for old pictures, I found one with the famous Turkish haircut at the end of the trip, and added it to the “Haircut in Istanbul” story, for those seeking amusement.)



Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Marian says:

    I was lucky enough to live in London for three weeks as a college student, so no need for driving, and I’ll take your advice to heart, Khati. I’m spatially challenged, so I wouldn’t dream of driving anywhere where things are “reversed,” like the UK. Wouldn’t last a minute! That parking issue sounds like it could have been a disaster–glad you found the car park.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Not to mention that there is no grid, streets meander and change names at crooked intersections etc etc. Lucky you to live in London for a bit, and without a car. Of course, as a pedestrian you get disoriented and have to look RIGHT for oncoming traffic first—they even have that written on the crosswalks in heavily touristed areas so people don’t step out in front of cars. We almost got run over more than once.

      • Marian says:

        I remember having to re-orient as a pedestrian, Khati. You learn from those close calls. Even worse was our time in Paris, in its own way. Many of my classmates on the trip were native Californians, and they expected Parisian drivers to stop for them. I yanked more than one of them back onto the curb as a car screeched by.

        • Khati Hendry says:

          California is one of those few places cars do (often) stop for pedestrians—we get so spoiled! Even worse—try crossing Tahrir Square in Cairo—you need to link arms and find a mass of other brave pedestrians to ally with!

  2. Suzy says:

    Khati, you were brave to even think of driving in London! And jetlagged, no less! Congrats for avoiding an accident. We have rented cars in other countries, but never in countries that drive on the left. Much too scary! Great that you found a “car park” (which I think is such a funny term for a parking lot, it makes me imagine that the cars are going there to play).

    • Khati Hendry says:

      We have driven in some crazy places (Istanbul! Nairobi! New York City!), including many on the “wrong” side of the road. It helped that Sally drove taxi in SF for seven years, and I am a vigilant navigator. But definitely not for the faint of heart. The “car park”is amusing, as are so many other differences between English English and American English (note the hospital sign in the picture with “please go quietly”)You just have to laugh.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Except for driving on the wrong side of the road, your story could just as easily have taken place in downtown Boston – also meandering, one way streets, few places to leave a car, insane traffic, etc. And the notorious boot on the hubcap. We have them here too. This all felt very familiar.

    Even in the countryside, it isn’t easy driving on the left-hand side. We attended a cousin’s wedding 5 years ago, had to pick our son up at the train station in Brighton and get him back to the hotel. Dan managed to clip quite a few side-view mirrors on his way to the hotel and actually got a flat tire driving into a boulder on the side of the road leaving the hotel to pick David up (we got to the train station late). Not fun 5 years ago. You and Sally were young in 1989, even if disoriented and sleepy. Glad you lived to tell us the tale!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      You are so right about Boston! When I lived there, I only had a bicycle and the MTA, but have driven there in later years—and it was crazy. We have become less intrepid over the years, but are still likely to rent a car if we get to England next year for a WWII commemoration at an old airfield in East Anglia, from which Sally’s dad flew over 30 bomber missions. Fingers crossed. (Stay left, left, left….)

  4. John Shutkin says:

    I know all about how terrible (and expensive) London parking is from years of business travel there. But, happily, on such travel, I never had need of a car, so it was only a problem that I heard about — particularly from my London colleagues.

    And, of course, there is that old “drive on the left” deal, too. Compounded by the near-infinite number of “roundabouts” in the UK — which then must be navigated clockwise, which makes things even more complicated.

    But I particularly keep in mind the danger to pedestrians of left side driving, ever since I was lightly clipped by a car while looking the wrong way crossing a street near Regent’s Park when I was twelve. The concierge at the hotel where we were staying, upon hearing about it, told me, “first look right and then look left,” and I have reminded myself of that rule every trip since.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I agree that it is probably more
      dangerous for pedestrians than in the car. I certainly had my close calls and had to be yanked back more than once. I suppose visitors coming to drive-on-the-right countries have a similar problem only backwards. Mantras do help (look right, then left, then right).

    • Yes John, when crossing in London I tell myself Look right, then left.

      I remember waiting to cross a busy intersection in Dublin and my American friend said, Let’s cross with the Irish. So we followed a few redheads!

  5. Great story Khati!
    We had the fun of living in London all too briefly when my husband was transferred there in the early 70s.
    We didn’t have a car, or really need one for that year. But I remember the first time we rented one for a trip, my husband got behind the wheel and after a few blocks declared that driving on the left side was a piece of cake!

    That was until he had to make a turn and of course turned into the oncoming traffic!

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Only once have I driven in a place where they drive on the left, and I found it so terrifying that when I finally got to England I did not even CONSIDER driving. Crossing streets was bad enough, but the British, considerate people that they are, mark the curbs with arrows and the words “LOOK RIGHT” to keep us tourists from needing to sample the NHS.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, that is so thoughtful (necessary?)of them to mark the crosswalks! All our instincts are “backwards” there, so when a quick reaction is needed, the default is likely to be wrong. Must be very careful. We were lucky we made it to the car park on one piece.

  7. It’s little wonder that everyone takes “the tewb.” What a nightmare — hunting for parking and learning to drive lefty. Yikes!

  8. No… no Ferrari. I’ll stick with the Prius. 😎

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    It is really tough to drive in another country. Once in Italy, where road signs were infrequent and (of course) in Italian when they were posted, we got majorly lost. Getting directions was a hoot, as no one spoke English. We had to rely on sign language and drove in circles. Parking was a nightmare. As to the boot, my city is rather fond of it.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I feel your pain! I think the EU has made a big difference in better road signage overall, but there is still nothing like driving about in another country to get a new perspective, and to keep those adaptive abilities sharp.

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