The Mobile Billboard

I was passed one day, on the inside, in rainy weather and heavy traffic, on a notoriously busy road by a person who used the old ploy of zooming up the road shoulder and then lurching into the lane. You’ve all had that at some stage of the game and cursed the fool who did it.

In this case the fool had an advertising screen attached to the back of her hatchback car – the type that are see-through but can carry signs and telephone numbers on the outside. I observed that it was one of the belly dancers that I take pictures of at dance shows.

I’m afraid this is probably another case of  the first-day-of-wet-weather syndrome in Perth. Edmonton and Calgary used to have a first-snow-day show of about the same sort. It paid to leave the car at home and take the bus that day.

Perhaps I can persuade this lady to take up driving in Alberta instead of here.

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You Look Pretty When You Smile

But smiling doesn’t get you through the morning traffic on the Mitchell freeway, does it? Not even when you are driving a large silver car with LED lights gleaming at the front.

Mind you, snarling doesn’t seem to do it either – even if those LED lights are arranged in the form of a boar’s tusks or a glaring demon’s eyebrows, that righthand lane is still not going to magically clear for you. You could try a bout of horn-blowing or smashing your hands on the steering wheel to see if that helps.

I have sympathy for you. You’ve done all you could to let the foolish person in the large silver car ahead of you ( the one with the LED lights and the snarling driver ) know that a very important person is behind them. Goodness, if they had bothered to see you flashing your lights or driving half a metre behind them they should have taken the hint. I mean, it’s not like you are driving a poor person’s car, is it?

Look, would it help if I waved? I could put my book down and wave to you…or to the person in front of you…at least as long as the train keeps pace with your car. I’ve got both hands free. Actually everything about the train is free – I have a seniors card and it doesn’t cost a cent to ride all…Oops. Sorry, the train just pulled away from you and you’re disappearing back down into the line of cars.

Have you ever considered working from home? You could still have the big silver car to go to the Supa -Valu.

Fast And Furious

The Fast And Furious  title seems to appear on a number of things – motion pictures, toys, models, appearances, etc. It heralds motor car chases, firearms, and gasoline explosions. I should imagine that a number of the participants will wear revealing clothing – which may be offered for sale at licensed establishments. I don’t know whether it is associated with a snack food or chain of restaurants, but it is still early days.

I do encounter F&F enthusiasts on the streets and freeways of Perth, however. They are distinctive in their grey and black cars that look all alike and their driving style: Zoom up behind someone, flash the high beams, honk, and dive around them…to then slow down to the same speed as the rest of the slow lane.

I don’t think that they have road rage. I think they just have rage, and it is probably evident everywhere they go and in everything they do. They are probably fast and furious in the grocery store, at the post office, and in the toilet. That would explain the sounds of the explosions in there…

What I’m really hoping for is a series of popular movies and commercial spin-offs entitled The Slow And Considerate. It could still have very small explosions but the motor cars need not tumble end over end. No-one need be covered in oil. They get to wear comfortable garments and use thee air conditioner. And the behaviour of the S&C fans on the freeway would take place mostly in the left lane, but not during rush hour. There would be courteous merging.

 

The Last Half Century On The Road

It is always a shock to the system to realise how old you are. I don’t mean when you are very young – a little kid knows exactly how old they are because they count the time in months and years. They have a great deal more time between the events of their lives – the birthdays, Christmases, and school years – and they feel it acutely.

As a retired coot, I feel it as well, but the sense of disconnection is not present. I go from one year to the next with hardly a blink. I went to a post-Christmas barbeque with three friends…two of whom I had not seen since last Boxing Day, and I could still recall the conversations around the table 2 or three years prior to that on similar occasions.

All this as lead-up to the speculation that I have been driving steadily in a private capacity for over half a century . I started at 17, I’m 69 now. I hope to be competent and licensed for driving for at least another decade, as I have places I want to go and people I want to see. I agree that I will need to stop driving some day, but hope to have gotten all the dirty deeds done by then.

Note that currently I am allowed to use public transport in my home city free of charge on account of age. I’m close to a bus route, and it is close to the train system. I’ve been exploring the use of these facilities in the last two years and am pleased with the efficiency. If you keep out of rush hours and off the lines that run to horrible suburbs it really is pleasant.

On the road, I have long passed the boy racer stage. I also seem to have passed the suburban tank and/or ute stage as well, though I do long for a good old station wagon sometimes. But that longing goes away when I pull up at the petrol pump – my hatchback is just perfect for city travel.

The really interesting thing I note is the disappearance of the need for intensive service and maintenance on the average little car. Mine’s 7 years old now, and bids fair to go another 7 if I am careful. The first five years only saw service for it at the dealer’s once a year. Even now, it is only every 6 months. The constant oil, grease, and fluid maintenance of the 50’s and 60’s cars is now sealed in. Even the battery just sits there for most of its long life and charges and discharges without asking for much.

I wish the laissez-faire attitude to design would come inside the modern car – particularly onto the instrument panel. My car has as much in the way of tits and clocks as I ever want to deal with, but I notice that newer and more prestigious vehicles owned by other members of the family are tricked out with video, LED, screens, sensors, and music players that frankly defy understanding. When I travel with them I keep fingers off the buttons and try to concentrate on the outside world.

I hope that we do not see further silliness on the roads like driverless car stunts and cameras snooping from every vehicle – and that we gain a little relief from the traffic congestion. I suppose my best way of aiding this is to use the bus and train or just stay home. Or take to doing my driving after midnight.

Old Coot On The Road

Old Coot here. How ya going?

I’m the maddening character in the little car at the front of the traffic queue going very slightly less than the sign-posted speed limit. The one in the hat with both hands on the wheel. If you’re polite to me I’ll be in the left-hand lane for most of the journey.

Note: I write from Perth, in Western Australia, where the left-hand lane is the curb-side slow lane. The middle and right-hand lanes are for the people who wish to go faster and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them as they do.

My little car is bright hi-vis green so that you can see it and dodge round it when you are racing toward your next amphetamine delivery. Don’t worry about me racing you for it…I hate to wear rubber off the tyres needlessly. And there is no need to flip fingers or scream obscenities out of the windows. I am perfectly willing to regard you as obscene under any circumstances.

No good looming up behind me to terrify me. I’ve worked retail for years – I can stand a looming that would crush a battlecruiser. I won’t speed up at all for tyrants, whether they are at a counter or a steering wheel. Being retired, I rarely need to get anywhere on my own time, let alone anyone else’s. And I like to use the exercise of driving to give me time to think. Time to think of my Super-Power…Old Coot Super Power.

Old Coots have been here before – sometimes here was better before, and sometimes it was worse – we have a comparison to go by. If it is worse now we are prepared to do something to make it better, and if it is better now we are prepared to take the time to be grateful.

We have seen better people than you do worse things, and as we are still here driving, we know how to cope with it. As conceited as you may want to be, you are not our worst nightmare. In fact a lot of us have taken up the nightmare business ourselves and we know how to do a lot with very small resources. And we are always looking for something to fill the day in between the morning radio serial and the cocktail hour.

Old Coots know that one day it is all going to end. And we’ve generally racked up enough time already to free us from regret if the one day turns out to be next Tuesday. Threatening us may seem all gangsta until you find out that we don’t care – and the man who doesn’t care is a floating sea mine with one bent horn. Steer clear.

Old Coots also can be very kind. We will change tyres for the helpless, guide the lost, and provide lunch for anyone. There is a price – we will talk while we do it. And the topic may not be apposite to the problem at hand. Don’t feel that you can ignore us – there will be a quiz later, and half your year’s marks will depend upon it.

Old Coots will rarely cuss you out, and if they do the terms they use will most likely sound quaint. They’re not. If an Old Coot calls you cowardly son of a bitch, he means it, and you are. Old Coots operate on simpler vocabularies.

If an Old Coot thanks you or praises you they also mean that sincerely.

 

Park Between The Mercedes And The BMW

I am a pragmatic man. I used to be pragmanual, but I got tired of downshifting and double de-clutching. Particularly when it was a question of one argument or another in the middle of winter and you had to put on tyre chains.

But back to the pragmatism. I have long realised that the neighbourhood I live in has a high percentage of emigrants as residents. I am one of them. Many others are people of my own age who have come to Australia on business visas, and have the requisite skills and abilities to succeed. They also have the requisite finances…this is something that the Australian government makes sure of before they arrive.

In their native lands a great deal is attached socially to the possession of wealth. Part of this possession is the ownership of motor cars. In some places the price of even a small car is astronomical, and the more expensive cars proportionally more. It is a real staus symbol.

Not so here in Australia, unless the car is indeed expensive. Thus, to carry over their status here, they purchase large and expensive cars – Mercedes, Audis, BMW’s etc. Unfortunately there may be a disparity between the wealth necessary to purchase this status and the ability to drive it. Or to put it in crude terms, they drive like newbies.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. A careful learner or cautious probationary driver can be as safe as anyone else on the road – perhaps more so if they are not inclined to be entitled or domineering.

On the road unfortunately also includes in the carpark; next to other people, and dodging down small lanes to get into the parking spots. Many things can be taught by feel – reading, sex, and a pot-throwing come to mind. It would appear that parking may also be one of the skills.

I have learned not to park next to maroon Nissans, old Commodores, and Chery cars. The problem is not the cars – it is the drivers. I do not think that they mean to be savage and  destructive, but it comes upon them unbidden. I shudder to think what they could do with a Kenworth and a wet road…

I’ve learned to slot in between the Mercedes and the BMW. The owners may be arrogant and entitled, but they are also protective of their own door edges, and that protects me. Short of bolting a length of 5-inch channel iron on the outside of the Suzuki ( And don’t think that I haven’t considered it…) This is the only way to protect the paint.

The bumpers have to take their own chances…

Too Slow…Too Old…Too Cheap…Too Bad

My stated purpose with this column is generally to entertain, not offend. But I am forced to the latter rather than the former when it comes to the subject of driving in Perth. Or, rather, whatever I say is going to be offensive…so I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and at my age there is a lot more about me that suggests mutton.

I am guilty of several sins when it comes to driving:

a. I drive at a little bit less than the speed limit, if I can.

b. I drive with one car length between me and the car in front for every 10 Kph on the speedo. 80 Kph…8 car lengths.

c. I frequently drive with the headlights on and the radio off.

d. I wear a hat in the car.

e. The car is a little 5-year-old Suzuki Swift hatchback with no pretensions to glory or prestige. No personalised number plate. It is bright green.

In my defence, I keep to the left hand lane. I attempt to merge smoothly. I do not talk or text while driving.

But I will not be bullied into going faster than the speed limit to cater to the tray-top tradie or Daimler despot. If I am in the right hand lane going over the Narrows bridge and interchange – with an 80 Kph posted limit – I will stay there at that very speed rather than dive off to let some scofflaw past.

I have frequently raised the ire of the desperate and entitled when trying to negotiate unfamiliar suburban streets at dusk – the drivers returning home have had to cope with me seeking my way while they know theirs. No-one has mercy at 6:00 PM…particularly when they feel they are near home territory and can be anonymously aggressive. I avoid dusk trips for just this reason.

I am also not at all shy about calling out impatient or aggressive drivers who bully their way through car parks – these are hard enough to navigate when you drive a small car and must cope with being hemmed in by SUV’s on all sides. My car is highly visible, and there is no excuse for taking your half of the narrow lanes in the middle.

As you can imagine, all of the above is a red rag to a motoring bull as far as many other younger drivers go. You can read their snarls on Facebook every day. Fortunately I cannot read Facebook whilst driving and so they can snarl as much as they like.