Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ride 'em, Cowboy!


So here’s the joke about Skodas: Why is the rear windshield of a Skoda heated? To keep your hands from freezing when you push it.

The Skoda used to be a Czech joke. Not as funny as the Romanian Dacia. But definitely in the POS (see previous post) category. Then VW bought into the company and finally, probably doubled over in laughter, took over the plant and introduced classes in quality control and assembly.

Now Romania is full of them. Romanians think of them as cheap Volkswagens, which may be redundant.

My company has a contract for Skodas. It’s a perk of employment in a society where, before, there were hardly any decent jobs. But with the onset of the tsunami of multi-national, and expanding national companies, the perks are the price of entry for luring workers with IQ’s above a ripe cantaloupe (pepene galban) (melon – yellow) (hmmm. Should have been pepene portocalo – melon orange) (You guessed it, watermelons are pepene rossu – melon-red) (or sometimes pepene verde (green))), phew, sorry, long aside and a new record for ending )'s, where was I? Oh, yes, perks are requirements to draw and keep decent workers. So the parking lot at work is full of Skodas.

In the US, I still have my Jeep Grand Cherokee Ltd with heated leather seats. Sitting somewhere in Virginia wondering where I’ve gone to. I’ll sell it when I return in 5 more months on my quick trip home. But for now I have a Skoda alb (white) to drive.

All I can say about driving in Bucuresti is that it is a very good thing that I grew up in Los Angeles where they don’t issue you real feet when you are born. They give you training feet. You use them to get to the car. (“Hey, mom, can I have the keys to the car? I need it to go to the bathroom”) And that I kept a car in New York City.

Living in the LA car culture, you learn everything you need to know about machinae (cars). Living in New York, you learn everything you need to know about getting out of the way of all the other machinae aimed at your machina. Not to mention several words used commonly by sailors. And, of course, living in San Francisco for some later formative years, you learn how to keep one foot on the clutch, one on the gas, one hand on the parking break, and, looking up at the sky on a 30 degree grade, how to keep from rolling backwards into the Bay, and, most importantly for here, how to dodge errant cable cars and cars rolling backwards into the bay.

Perfect for driving here. The number of cars, when I got here, in mid summer, was five times the number back in 2003, when it was only medium scary to drive here. Then September. Everything got serious, and the other thirty percent of machinas came back to Buca from their holidays at the Seaside. Oy.

Here’s the Romanian concept of Right-of-Way: “Hey, you see that piece of pavement in front of me? IT’S MINE! and “Hey, you see that piece of pavement in front of YOU. IT’S MINE!” and Hey, you see that piece of pavement I’m thinking of that you can’t see, but it will appear at sometime in the road ahead? MINE! MINE! MINE!"

Every morning the 8km (a kilometer is 6/10ths of a mile) to work is an adventure in cowboy driving. Drivers everywhere occupying every inch of asphalt and cobble. Yee haw! Add to that the all the pot holes, cobblestones that regularly pop out of their neatly symmetrical but incredibly bumpy beds, and every day, it’s “Head ‘em and ride ‘em out!”

Oh, yeah, and the parking. “IT’S MINE!” Parking is anywhere on a piece of open pavement, which could mean dead center of the street leaving one tiny car width open for other cars to pass through. Or up on the entire sidewalk, which also means climbing 5" curbstones while parallel parking backwards. I’ll bring the camera to work with me tomorrow to show you. It means I’ll have to drive no-handed. But around here, that will not surprise anyone. Every corner and every empty space, every curb and every sidewalk is taken.

If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money into importing dent pullers, tires and replacement axles. Available credit for buying cars here is relatively new here. Only a few years. So are the cars. The surprise is that so few are dented or side scraped.

They’ve banned the wonderful old wooden wagons from the city because they slowed the traffic down too much – (Hah! My ten minute ride to the Bucharest Arch of Triumph, which normally takes 10 minutes, took an hour because of traffic, and not a horse-drawn in sight.) But I think that the Romanians can thank the horses that more cars aren’t banged and dented. Horses work hard at not running into each other. And I think that must have taught the drivers here some necessary, instinctive horse-sense.

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