One thing I’d been excited for on my trip was the fact that Route 1, my car rental company, had told me they’d have someone at the airport waiting for me with my name on a placard, to take me to the rental place. Awesome! I am so special! My name on a placard! (I know, I’m easily impressed.) I weave and wind my way through the somewhat confusing airport, generally following the other passengers and hoping we’ll all eventually end up at the right place. Finally, we walk through a door and ... there they are! Ten or fifteen people, mostly men, looking excruciatingly bored, holding up signs with people’s names on them.
So it’s not just me, then. I’m not all that special after all.
Especially since none of the signs has my name on it.
I look again.
Nope, still no “Pam Stucky.”
Try as I might, I cannot make my name appear on a sign simply by using the Power Of My Mind. (I try this often, actually, try to make things happen simply by using the Power Of My Mind. It never works, but I persist.)
Where are they? Where’s my rental company? Where’s my guy? How do I get a hold of them? I can’t call as I don’t have a local phone yet, and it hadn’t occurred to me to bring their phone number anyway. I brought my iPhone along with me, but have all cellular data turned off because I don’t want to accidentally have my phone start roaming and run up a thousand-dollar phone bill. But I should be able to email them, right? Would they even be checking email at 7:15 a.m.? I’d told them to pick me up at 8, but I said it with the caveat that my flight was coming in at 6:45, and if they had a better idea of what time I’d be emptying out into the pick-up zone, they should use their judgment over mine. Were they just planning to come at 8? Holding my phone out in front of me, I drift through the Placard Zone until my phone gets the slightest WiFi signal. I send an email to Route 1, Whatsapp my parents to let them know I’ve arrived safely, and wait.
I wander the small area where the men with the placards are and watch, green with envy, as one by one they pair up with their placard-mates. I go to the nearby ATM and withdraw money, chatting with other travelers about the fact that one machine has no cash in it, while my mind fuzzes as I try to figure out whether I want to withdraw 40,000 ISK or 80,000 ISK. The huge numbers confuse me until I remember I’ve printed out a currency conversion chart. 40,000 ISK (Icelandic krona) is around $340. That should get me through for a while. I go to an airport store and buy an Iceland map and a north Iceland map. And I wait.
I roam the room some more, waving my phone around, trying to get a signal. I check to see whether the car rental company has returned my email.
And I wait.
And finally, I see a young man coming through the door, looking rushed, a placard in hand. Is that my name on it? … YES! My Route 1 knight in shining armor. He has arrived.
He is a lovely young man, dark haired and bright eyed, but when he tells me his name I am still flushed with the excitement that he’s arrived at all, and it doesn’t register in my brain. I can’t guess his age, either, other than “young.” I’m not good at guessing ages anymore. I always assume everyone is about my age, but I keep getting younger (don’t you?), so it’s hard to tell. People my age look so old! I don’t look that old, surely. Neither does he. He just finished his first year in law school, that’s about all I know.
When he drives me from the Placard Zone to the Route 1 office, Car Rental Guy (as I shall now call him) explains that “We don’t have an office, really. We have a WAN.”
Really? They have a wide area network? I am confused.
“You have a what?”
And then, it dawns on me. A VAN. V for van, pronounced like a W by some Icelanders. I know this because in preparation for my interview with Reykjavík’s mayor, Jón Gnarr, I watched several videos of other interviews he’d given previously. In one, he talked about the “Wikings” that came to Iceland. And I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing I heard him say “Wikings” before meeting him, because I am certain I wouldn’t have been able to suppress a giggle if I’d first heard him say it in my interview.
So Route 1 does not have an office but a wan. Car Rental Guy and I go to the wan, sort of a camper wan, really, where he gets me all hooked up. When I made my reservation online, I had declined all the extra types of insurance a person can get — gravel insurance, ash insurance, Super Duper Extra Insurance, etc. — but in my weary state, Car Rental Guy talks me into gravel and Super Duper. Who knows. He does say he doesn’t really think ash insurance is necessary, although I swear to you instead of saying “ash,” he said “ass.” At any rate, my ass is uninsured for the duration of the trip.
Car Rental Guy gives me a very thorough rundown of the car and the insurance and my rental, and then he pulls out the Big Map. (This is not a euphemism; it’s really a map. It’s a big map, and right on the front, it says, “Big Map.”) He then suggests places to see, circling them on the map as he goes: Grindavík, Fimmvörðuháls, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón. In the north, he circles Dettifoss, Húsavík, Ásbyrgi, Mývatn. On a scrap piece of paper, he writes “Places: Silfra at Þingvellir, Kerið.”
He mentions Lagarfljót in the east, to which I reply, “home of the worm!” Car Rental Guy looks at me with a bit of surprise and a bit of delight.
“Not many people know about the worm,” he says with what I’m sure was a touch of admiration. The Lagarfljót Worm is Iceland’s Loch Ness Monster; it’s said to be a football field long, with many humps. It’s been noted in literature since the 1300s. So it must be real! Supposedly sightings of The Worm portend natural disaster, so I guess I’m hoping not to see it. But I’ll drive by on my route. I nod as he writes down: Lagarfljót.
And then, with no great hug or anything to commemorate the intimate time we’d just spent together, the thoughts on Iceland we’d shared, the moments we’ll always cherish, we parted ways.
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