“Account Services, how may I help you?” Through the back of the phone, I could hear the hold music go silent and the account services professional join us live for the fourth time now. This is the pinnacle of our trip, the raison d’etre, the whole purpose of the plan.
To hang out with a bank teller via international collect calling?
No, to challenge ourselves with daily discomfort and irritation: i.e. trudge our way through tasks that would take 5 minutes if we were at home. This weekend’s lesson in patience: acquiring the purchase power to buy a 16 year old used van.
We could do this one of two ways: Pay 5% off the top to use our credit card adding $330 to our purchase price straight away or transfer $4,000 US into $6,600NZ in cash. (HEY! That is like 11 bottles of delicious New Zealand wine we have planned!) We knew our bank would be monitoring large withdrawals, so before we tried anything, we gave them a call to confirm (1) yes, we are in New Zealand; (2) yes we need a pile of cash; and (3) no, we are not masked bandits or kidnapped by Pirates. After confirming each of these finer points, the person on the line confirmed she would raise the one time withdrawal limit to the number we needed and allow the transaction to go through.
We approach the ANZ teller (pronounced “Aye” “Ehn” “Zed”) and request that he withdraw the requisite funds from our account. He pushes up his perfectly round glasses on his nose and taps away on the keyboard. “Blocked”. He tries again in a different denomination. “Blocked”. And again, “Blocked.” “Maybe try the ATM?” He suggests.
We try the ATM. “This account has been locked. Contact your bank for assistance.”
Sigh. We call back, go through the same rigamarole, and we are told that the account will work. Back to the ANZ teller…..and “blocked”. Blocked, blocked. “Maybe try the ATM?” this new teller suggests. Yeah, unlikely. But we try it anyway only to find the account has been locked again.
By this time, it is 2:00 p.m. and we are both starving for lunch. So, we pack up the rental car and head back home for lunch. We spend another half hour on the phone with the bank, unlocking everything and confirming limits. This time they tell us no matter what, our withdrawal limit is only about 1/3 of what we actually need per day. We do the math and realize we will need to do two withdrawals over the course of two days from this account and either wait a third day or pull money out of a different account that only has a little bit in it.
We walk down to the nearest ATM and pull out our first two withdrawals from two different accounts. I keep watch for nefarious characters in the cleanest, safest looking suburb I have ever been in. Nefarious Character:
Andrew pulls money out of the ATM, and we have half of what we need. Now, we just have to wait until the next day. We pack little packs of money into various different pockets just in case: Andrew’s wallet, the water pouch of my camelback, the water pouch of his camelback, some in the cargo pockets of his pants - then walk back home. We are scheduled to pick up the van at 2:00 p.m. the next day.
We spend the next morning on a Farmers' Market odyssey. First, we head into Auckland for crisp greens, fresh avocados, ruby ripe tomatoes, rich organic whole milk, olive oil, honey, and "the worlds best strawberries".
Next, on to Matakana where Andrew read that a Farmer’s Market with wine tasting would proceed. Andrew nominated me as the driver to "help me get used to driving on the left" while he was still in the car to help. (We were going to have to split up this afternoon to get the van and the rental car back home. ) Though, in hindsight I suspect he just wanted free reign to taste wine.
Just getting into the car required me to disengage 19 years worth of driving muscle memory and walk around to the other side of the car. I get settled in behind the wheel. The key is on the right hand side, the gas pedal is on the right - just like normal. But, the transmission stick is on the left and the windshield wiper/turn signals are flipped. Slowly, I back out of the driveway and onto the road. “Death comes from the right, death comes from the right.”
Driving is so natural, that unless I am constantly talking to myself aloud I slip into the trance of automatic reactions we all have built into our driving psyche. In fact, even when I am talking to myself, if we are about to make a turn my left index finger reaches down and flicks on the windshield wiper. “Whap, slide, whap, slide…” I develop a strategy whereupon I grip the wheel tightly with my left and keep my right index and pinky finger resting on the turn signal. But even that doesn’t work, so I end up sitting on my left hand and steering with my right unless I really need two hands.
My ears feel funny, stuffy even. You must use your inner ear to balance where the car goes in a given lane? When I am in the US, there is a whole half of a car extending to my right. Here, there is no car on my right, and instead the rest of my car is on the left. But, just like a person who has lost their leg, my brain inserts a ghost car to my right. As a result, I tend to drive too far toward the left side of the lane trying to make space on the right for the ghost side of my car. To solve this problem, I try to envision my body riding over the dotted lane line on the right. It helps, until I have to make a lane change and I turn my taxed attention span to using the blinker.
There are hundreds of New Zealanders posting videos of a crazy person driving approximately 25% lower than the posted speed limit, straddling the left line of any given lane, and driving down the street with her windshield wipers going on a perfectly dry day. Yes, that driver is me.
“DEATH COMES FROM THE RIGHT!”
Miraculously, we make it to the farmers market. Where, despite having difficulty obtaining cash and just confirming we are over budget, Andrew runs over to the wine tasting table and purchases $150 of funny-wine-money with $150 of our NZ cash we took such pains to remove from the ATM.
“What are you doing!?” I ask him.
“I’m going to buy some New Zealand wine!” He looks at me incredulously, with fire of enthusiasm in his eyes.
“But, we need that cash to buy the car! We are still short.” He shrugs and heads off to the wine tasting booths.
Driving on the left hand side leaves me with little desire to dull my senses, so I watch Andrew taste the wine. He unrolls a bag from his camelback and starts filling it with new bottles he purchases. Oy-vey.
Andrew finishes his circuit with 5 bottles of wine and several invitations to come visit the wineries themselves. Then, we peruse arts and crafts with wooly plush animals, teacup bird seed feeders and all sorts of antique jewelry for sale until it is time to drive the hour back to Auckland and pick up the van.
We reverse the order of our transit and end up back in Auckland in front of the ATM where this post started. Andrew bounces up to the ATM, ready to finish collecting money for our transaction. “Blocked.”
“What?” He says. “Ohhhuughhh.” He tries again.
“Blocked. This amount exceeds your daily limit.” But we haven’t taken anything out today!
He changes the amount requested to only $100. “Blocked”.
Resigned, he calls the bank again. Hold music. Bank representative. The representative says there should be no problem. Andrew keeps the guy on the line while we try again. “Blocked.” The bank representative is now puzzled. “It says it should work.”
Andrew stares at the uncooperative ATM and sits silently on the phone. I look around and spy another ATM. “Lets try that one?” So, we do. We take our bank representative on a walk across the street via telephone, insert the card and all three of us cross our fingers. The ATM starts spitting out our cash. “Sweet as!” as a New Zealander would say.
We thank the banker, hang up and hide away our stash. We walk over to Backpacker’s Car World and find our little mini van ready and waiting for us. Andrew signs his life away, then we hand over several stacks of colorful bills. It’s all there! And the van is ours.
Andrew and I split up. He takes the van and I walk over to our rental car. I open the door, sit down on the left side of the car, and shut my door. I am alone, keys in my right hand, planning to drive away. The back of my neck tingles with that feeling you get when something is just not right. My spidey senses are all confused.
“Oh jeeze.” There is no steering wheel in front of me. No pedals. I groan, laugh at myself and get out of the car to walk around to real driver’s side. Maybe all this switcho-chango will prevent Alzheimers one day.