Great West Life was magnanimous in renting out Glenn Chudley to help RGA Life Reinsurance Company assess the claims processes and procedures of one of Australia’s largest financial institutions. Getting Glenn to say yes to 3 weeks in the sun and fun of Australia was easy. Getting Great West to say yes was slightly harder but they saw the inherent benefit in Glenn learning the intricacies of a mature critical illness market and a claims market not unlike Canada. It was going to be a win for all parties to have Glenn on the team since he is recognized as one of the best at his trade in North America.
I was to understand later that he should adhere to claims since driving for a living is not a viable option.
Left I Say, Left!
The first week of the assignment went exceedingly well as Glenn’s depth and scope of claims expertise was more than we had imagined (we did have limited imaginations). The team quickly delved into the intricacies of a very large organization and uncovered many an aspect that could be changed or at least amended. Glenn worked diligently at the task putting in long hours and avoiding the attractions of nearby Bondi Beach. We made sure he was too exhausted at days end to want to attend the midnight Fringe Festival which featured nude surf boarders.
At the end of week one, in recognition of his days of toil and suffering through sunny 32 Degrees Celsius we decided he could have Saturday off and Ross would take Glenn and his dear wife Carol off to see the Hinter Valley and it’s hundreds of vineyards. Renting a car was the logical choice at the time although on hindsight a bus ride may have been more relaxing. If only Ross had not conceded to let Glenn drive! You could sense an excitement in Glenn as he spoke more passionately about driving in a country that has right hand steering and uses the left side of the road. We picked up the car and without much investigation or prescreening allowed Glenn to take the wheel out of the parking lot.
Glenn’s immediate right turn into the right lane (wrong lane) was a precursor of things to come. For the first 3 kilometers through city streets with turns and stops Glenn practiced corrective measure after corrective measure as he perpetually was recovering from right turns into right lanes (wrong) or left turns into right lanes (wrong again). Glenn would get better I assured myself sitting immobile and strapped in the front passenger seat. I later realized why Carol preferred the safety and the oblivion of the rear passenger seat. What you cannot see cannot hurt you mentally.
Next we were on the rather major city street with its four lanes — two of which I assured Glenn were for cars coming in the other direction. Was it I or was Glenn really able to drive that close to cars on his left without losing his left side mirror. Wow I thought, Glenn is a great driver since he can come as close as a millimeter without harm to either car. Yes I checked and seat belt was done up and I was sitting ready for any eventuality.
Fifteen kilometers of Glenn playing chicken with cars on our left going in the same direction was about all I could stand and thus I was thankful to see the freeway entrance. Surely Glenn will drive differently at 110 Kms per hour there than his left leanings on city streets.
Wrong! I have never been on a freeway for 70 minutes where the driver could for 90% of the time drive on the corrugated warning strip and not move the car back into the center of the lane. I guess I should be thankful that he at least chose the left lane of the two and spared scrapping cars. We were so far from cars on the right we created new tracks on the soft shoulder. Did Glenn not feel the clicking of the warning corrugation or the pot holes that occasionally sprang out of nowhere in the dirt? Carol, bless her, remained silent in the rear of the vehicle probably deep in prayer. The M4 freeway running out from Sydney now has a third lane thanks to Glenn’s driving.
Off the freeway and into a parking lot where I grabbed as politically and diplomatically as possible the car keys. It was my turn to take the wheel. While we visited the tourist information office not a word was said other than “Gee Glenn you drive a little too far left.” Uneventful visits to a couple of vineyards and I continued to drive in a proper fashion but I have done this before many times. The question was would Glenn ask to drive again?
It happened sooner than expected. Like a kid in a candy store Glenn wanted the adrenalin rush of being behind the wheel again. Thankfully Carol spoke up in her soft manner and said “Glenn do you realize how much you drive too far to the left?” This was my cue to reinforce the remark by adding “Glenn you are really driving dangerously close to the side of the road and didn’t the clicking of the corrugation or the pot holes tell you anything?” Glenn acknowledged our concerns, said he would correct his error and got behind the wheel.
No more than 2 kms late the adventuresome Glenn was at it again. I swear he hit every pot hole possible on the soft shoulder (left side) and oh we came so close to wiping out the poor cyclist that I can still see the look of sheer terror in her eyes at a car so close! DO I say something or wait for Carol to break the silence once more? Into the laneway and a chance to relax from the tension of being Glenn’s passenger. The serenity lasted mere seconds as Glenn decided to trim the tree that was well over on the left side of the laneway with the rental car. I rarely drink but it was getting close to finding a distillery and a tall glass for nerve soothing.
Okay he can have one more turn behind the wheel but I will drive the majority of the afternoon. After all Carol and I can outvote Glenn 2 to 1. His last session behind the wheel and he still struggled with getting out of the parking lot after consuming an Australian hamburger (lots of pickled beats please). Stay left Glenn but not the soft shoulder please. Paved roads over pleasant countryside with little or no traffic to scare out of their minds. If anything happened I was going to revoke Glenn’s Canadian citizenship. For about 10 kms Glenn actually steered the car correctly about 50% of the time. He was improving I foolishly thought to myself.
That is a bend in the road up there I said to myself. A slow easy bend to the left over a modest bridge spanning a small gorge was all Glenn had to face. Sitting in the front left passenger seat gave me a first hand picture of the curb that also accompanied the bridgework. “Glenn surely sees the curb”, I thought. “He must see it now!” kept entering my thoughts as we sped towards collision with an immovable object. The only remaining question was would he mound the sidewalk or hit the abatement straight on?
With a thunderous clatter hubcaps went flying, tire exploded and steering became even more erratic than Glenn’s usual driving. As we coasted to a stop some 100 metres along Glenn’s favorite place, the soft shoulder, I asked Glenn if he saw the curb or did it jump out of nowhere. Friend or no friend Glenn you drive too far to the left. I left most of the superlatives to Carol who said she had never thought hubcaps could fly so far.
It was 2:05 PM on a Saturday outside of Wilton Australia where all we had to turn to for help was a church (to late to pray) and a variety store turned movie rental shop. No there was no service station near by to fix the two tires. No there was no near by rental agency and all rental shops close at noon. To make a long story shorter Glenn put the spare tire on and basked in the 35-degree temperatures. When help was impossible we agreed to chance the drive back to Sydney on the spare plus the other tire whose rim was distorted but tire held air. I drove.
It was a slow drive back as every kilometer was full of the expectation our other tire would explode. Silence ruled after all the “Didn’t you see the curb Glenn?” statements by Carol and I. It was an adventure not to be forgotten. For the rest of the period in Australia Glenn was banned by all from driving, sitting in the drivers seat even for practice, or talking about the curb that attacked him in the Hunter Valley. The rental agency was glad to see us back and they immediately revoked Glenn’s
preferred status and took sufficient cash to pay for two rims, two tires and a major front-end alignment.
Glenn remains a friend but I will not ever lend him my car. Glenn still has my appreciation for his claims leadership but I do not want to be in a car in Winnipeg when he is on the road. Glenn contributed greatly to the review and benchmarking of the major financial institution but I will never refer to his driving as being the benchmark for anyone to achieve. Glenn is fortunate to have an understanding wife for mine would have clobbered me for such a harrowing experience.
In the end I have another story for my book. Without the fun and excitement created by Glenn it would have been a ho hum day. The remaining question is “Does Glenn vote left as well?”