Australian 8-ball and a couple of hosers
"How is it possible to get lost within 25 minutes of driving somewhere?!" I shouted in my head.
The radio stopped crackling, and more cars appeared on the road, thankfully all heading in the same direction that I was. Driving back towards the airport, I kept an eye out for the turnoff to the I-5, finally stopping at a gas station to ask directions.
"Ya just head up the road a little, then you'll sign the sign". The man looked at me curiously, and I realized how nervous and suspicious I probably looked. Instead of explaining that I'd almost wound up lost in the Oregon foothills, I opted for mystery and dashed back to the car, feeling very relieved. The relief disappeared 20 minutes later when I saw the sign for the Portland Airport ahead and realized that I may never find the interstate in the dark. Stopping at yet another gas station, I gave the story to another attendant, who laughed and told me that the turnoff isn't well marked and that it's only a "coupla miles" up the road. Thanking him, I hopped back into my Toyota and said a little prayer that the highway would stop playing hide-and-seek with me.
5 minutes later I was on the interstate, singing at the top of my lungs along with Destiny's Child, and feeling elated that things were finally looking up. I was 90 minutes later than expected, and knew that it was only going to get darker and probably wetter. Transport trucks whizzed past me, and I found myself driving much more conservatively than I do when traveling through Ontario. The rain was a constant nuisance, pouring in sheets over the roads, causing poor visibility and large puddles. Gripping the steering wheel, I kept reminding myself to stay calm, drive sensibly, and that things would be just fine now that I was actually going in the right direction. The world felt like it had become a dark, wet bubble - everything was black, grey, and dark green, with the only lights coming from the cars around me and the service stations on the side of the highway.
By the time I saw the turnoff for Salem, I was a bundle of nerves and spent the last half hour of the drive counting the minutes until it was over. Corvallis didn't look like much in the dark and rain that night - very few lights, and a pretty little bridge to travel over the river. Luckily I remembered an overhead photograph of the area and knew where to turn to find the hotel. After a quick check-in and lugging heavy bags into my little room, I collapsed on the bed and burst into tears.
I had made it safely...
The next day was overcast but warm, and I enjoyed the beauty of the river on my way to the HP site, knowing there would be a friendly welcome waiting for me.
Walking into the conference room, I was greeted by the sight of people from all over the world, and quickly learned that I was the only Canadian attending. Together we represented 14 different countries, and spent most of the breaks and non-working hours talking about where we'd come from.
I loved every minute of that week, and the memory of my scary drive through rainy Oregon became a funny story (that I was hoping would have a happy sequel).
Everybody was friendly, but I spent most of my time with an Australian named Neil, an Indian named Raj, and a Korean girl who's named I won't even try to spell, so I'll just call her L. We decided to try out small-town Oregon hospitality at a pub nearby the hotel, spending several hours drinking beer, over-exaggerating our cultural stereotypes, and whipping a group of cocky American college kids at "Australian rules" 8-ball. Neil pulled on his best Crocodile Dundee smile and accent, and proceeded to describe an outrageous set of rules that seemed to predict a 2-hour game of pool. The Americans were fascinated and decided that they could beat us no matter what rules we used, even offering to "make it interesting" halfway through the first game.
What they didn't realize is that Neil had made up several of the rules off the top of his head, many of which he forgot as each beer was emptied. We still managed to win every game, and draw quite a crowd of locals to watch the "foreigners" kick butt at pool. I said "eh" as often as possible, and made a point of talking about hockey, great coffee and donuts, and even managing to call Raj a "hoser" when he didn't make a shot. Neil was really in his element though, shouting "CRIKEY" and threatening that people who "potted the cue ball had to run around the table three times in their underwear". We must have been quite the show.
It wasn't until the end of the week that I realized how much of a show we could actually put on. We'd been given early release from work on Friday, and a large group of trainees decided to take a 90 minute drive from Corvallis to Newport, a coastal town known for it's gorgeous scenery and delicious clam chowder.
"More winding roads through hills", I thought as we made our way out of town. "Well, at least I'm not driving this time".
Neil's panicked voice interrupted my thoughts "RAJ! Look out mate!! THAT'S A BLOODY RED LIGHT! LISTEN MATE - YOU'RE NOT IN INDIA RIGHT NOW!"
As it turns out, India does not have a traffic system like those in North America, and our fiesty Indian friend was the one behind the wheel, having just blown through a red light, and speeding quickly towards the switchback roads.
"It's okay, Neil - calm down! I haven't had the chance to drive in 4 years. Just chill out!"
Neil turned around to check on me and L. We were both thinking the same thing - "how do we get Raj into the passenger seat?"
"Oh well, it'll be an adventure", I grinned as we came up to the first turn. "Let's just hope we survive to tell the story later"
It was the most nerve-wracking car ride ever...