On Deadly Roads

On Deadly Roads

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On Deadly Roads

On Deadly Roads

I’ve never felt so close to pounding someone’s face with my knuckles. How has road behaviour degenerated to such mindlessness, following a flowchart championing illogic leading to the opposite end of reason? Luckily, my wife and two young daughters were onboard at the time, so I couldn’t dismount to go Tai Chi on the miscreant’s car. Dang! While bemoaning others’ deficiencies, I’ve just described myself as one who packs his brood on a motorbike while prone to fits of road rage. Explanations might be needed.

I once worked in Casablanca; one of the least nice cities I’ve ever experienced. Of its many irritants was the traffic. Though not Jakarta-congested or Beijing-polluted or Rome-erratic, it still offended daily. Whenever lights changed to green, vehicles honked as if the front row had fallen asleep in the interim. I dreamt of returning to Makassar, where the traffic was dumb as a dog, but never bit and growled like its North African counterpart.

Well, time’s moved on and this little city trying to become the port hub of Indonesia is home to a right collection of honkers. Nothin’ gets my serotonin sluicing like a bunch of honkers at the lights when it’s hissing with rain and my crapped out engine stalls. But I can take that. I know then it’s a bit my fault, and I should have kept a cover over the engine during downpours. What I can’t take, however, is…

…The teenagers Mr. Poor but Cools on their customized bikes who deem the road their personal drag strip. One such helmetless grease factory buzzed us at the limit of his two-stroke’s capacity on the lakeside road to our complex. As he faded into the Doppler Effect, I tried using mind over matter to induce a fatal accident. It would have brought me warm contentment to see his flayed, mangled body on the roadside and his parents tottering over the edge of disbelief into a chasm of grief. Harsh but fair.

And then yesterday, on the same road while taking daughter to school and wife and baby shopping, there was a bend and an oncoming taxi which forced me to swerve. I had to drive through the last remaining puddle, except this puddle was the entrance to Hades. Our bike pitched and the shocks clanged. There was some faffing to get us out, a tussle to keep upright. We may have even stopped briefly. Alas, all I remember is the honker in the car behind continually at his horn. It vexed me. Clearly I would have moved if I could. The honker only delayed his onward journey by having to endure my determined middle finger and a stream of mother-related insults. As he passed he responded, so I yelled more because I wanted him out of his car to beat essential questions into his head, and the answers out the other side: How is incessant honking supposed to clear the road? How is your belligerent, self-indulgent impatience supposed to help anyone, Honker?

So, I’m still the villain. Who in any sensible country wouldn’t honk a twerp packing children on a motorbike? But, is this a sensible place? Many people with cars have them on credit for a while, before repossession; people of the burgeoning middle class with enough money to make a show of having more than they have. Those that actually own cars are the elite, and everything they are and do is bought. The other ninety five percent only have money to putter around on bikes. So in my defence, if I’m to get daughters to school and so on, I must take my chances in traffic upon deadly roads. What choice? Multitudes depend on this affront to our proud health and safety standards.

There are barroom theories about the way people drive in Asia and such places. To understand them you should take this quick driving test, yourself:

If you want to pass your test you should:
a. STUDY b. PRACTICE c. HAVE Rp.400,000 IN YOUR WALLET

When manoeuvring, concentrate on:
a. MIRRORS, b. SIGNALS c. GUESS WORK FROM OUTSIDE HONKING

When transporting goods think about:
a. WEIGHT LIMITS b. SECURING CARGO c. HOW MUCH MORE YOU CAN PILE ON BEFORE DEPARTING

At a junction:
a. STOP AND CHECK EACH WAY b. SLOW AND CHECK RIGHT c. DON’T CHECK, DON’T STOP

The condition of your vehicle is:
a. LEGAL REQUIREMENT b. IMPORTANT c. NO ONE’S CONCERN AS LONG AS IT STARTS

Road signs are:
a. WARNINGS b. SUGGESTIONS c. DECOR

Traffic lights are for:
a. SAFETY b. ORDER c. PROVING MANHOOD BY BEING FIRST OFF

When lights turn green it is customary to:
a. WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THOSE IN FRONT TO MOVE b. HONK IN THE BELIEF THAT YOUR BEATING HEART DEPENDS ON IT

The amount of passengers you can carry is restricted by:
a. LAW b. CAPACITY c. IF YOU CRASH

You can travel the wrong way:
a. IN MEDICAL EMERGENCIES b. WITH POLICE ESCORT c. WHENEVER YOU WANT – EVEN ON FREEWAYS

When in doubt:
a. PULL OVER AND TAKE A MINUTE b. HONK

How did you do? The right answers were Bs and Cs. Only this way can you negotiate the ‘the traffic’ – a game of leapfrog while slaloming around potholes – a system of tipping instructors, iffy issuing of licenses, no law enforcement, broken infrastructure and necessity of everyday folk transporting goods and families.

And this is just a sample of road lore in such cultures; just too many anecdotes to expound. All I know is, not long ago, things were crazy/nice, lawless/civilized, chaotic/free. Recently, however, overcrowding, crumbling streets and middleclass boofheads in cars make the experience a recipe for road rage, and the other day, I truly almost succumbed.

In answer, I’m using my bicycle more. It’s not only healthier but I’m also getting around faster. The only drawback is I cannot get all the family onboard with the shopping, too. Placid driving.

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Simon J. Still is based in Makassar. Visit his websites: Indonesia-truly-easier.webnode.com and cptsjkirk.wordpress.com