Kennesaw is about thirty-one miles from downtown Atlanta, where my meetings were taking place at the Georgia World Congress Center. The plan was for me to drive myself to and from the meetings daily. The road system is complex, and most Atlanta drivers seem notorious for wanting to get there first, by whatever means, even during the intensity of the rush hour.
Having visited different US cities over several years, I had long concluded that I would drive there only if my life depended on it.
“It’s not that complicated,” Cege said over the phone. “You can do it, David.”
“How long did it take you to learn to drive in downtown Atlanta?” I asked, needing some reassurance.
“A little over a year, I think.”
A little over a year!
“I am visiting for a little over a week,” I reminded him. He turned the phone over to Nimo.
“One day of practice will be enough for you.”
“Please cancel your hotel accommodation,” Nimo added. “You’ll enjoy the experience.”
After two months of haggling over the phone on-and-off, I gave in and reluctantly cancelled my hotel reservation. Then came the distressing news.
“We forgot to say that we will be leaving for St. Louis, Missouri, the day after you arrive,” Cege said during our final telephone conversation before my travel.
“Is this a joke?” I asked.
“We’ll travel to attend the wedding of a close friend,” he said. “We will leave on Friday morning.”
“The plan is to help you drive around on Thursday, so you get your bearings.”
“I must try to get a hotel room,” I insisted.
“It isn’t necessary, David, you’ll manage.” He delivered the words like a well-rehearsed actor.
What was I getting myself into?
I left Nairobi for the UK, where I had a three-day stopover. For the first time in all my years of travel, I did not read my ticket correctly. On the day of my departure for the US, I arrived at Gatwick Airport at 3:00 p.m., in “time” to catch my 6:00 p.m. flight, so I thought to myself. I got a rude shock — that wasn’t my flight; mine was somewhere over the Atlantic, having left two hours earlier. The next KLM flight would be due at 1:00 p.m. the following day.
I reserved a seat on the flight and booked a hotel room not far from the airport. I called my friends in Kennesaw and informed them of the unfortunate delay. I finally arrived in Atlanta past midnight on Thursday, the day I should have been making my familiarization drives. I got to their house at 1:00 a.m. There was no time to put my feet up or take a cup of coffee, which I was thirsty for. We had to make up for lost time.
Two trips to downtown Atlanta and back would have to be sufficient practice. My confidence may have been shaky, but one thing was on my side – the well-organized road system, clear signage and, no matter how bad the reputation of motorists in this area, the Kenyan matatu driver had not yet spawned here.
I had an overwhelming sinking feeling as I got into bed that Thursday night, nay, Friday morning. While appreciating my host’s generosity, I regretted my decision to accept the invitation and cancel my downtown Atlanta hotel reservation. I was mad at myself for the mistake in London, how could I misread a ticket? And what if, I wondered, I blundered on the road and caused an accident?