An Innocent Abroad – Chapter V


Yes, I know I have spilled a great deal of ink on these pages with my observations of Romanian drivers and the canvas on which they practice their, um, art.  Some might say I was being unfair, and they would be correct; but, nobody ever promised an unbiased point of view, even if that was possible.  However, in a (probably vain) attempt to balance the scorecard (you Dilbert readers will love that one!  Let me say it again: “balanced scorecard”  You non-Dilbert readers don’t want to know.) I offer the following:

Imagine, if you will, that you are motoring along on a “roadway” (not to be confused with a “road”) that has two lanes northbound, and three lanes southbound (of course using the term “lane” in the Romanian sense, not in the American sense), separated by a double line of white paint.  And let’s also say that you wish to make a left turn, across three lanes of traffic at an intersection that has a sign big enough for yours truly to see that clearly prohibits a left turn (why ever for?).  You may be able to think of people from some cultures that would see such a situation and would rather die than turn left (the Japanese and Germans come to mind); you may also be able to think of some people from other cultures that would never see the sign and blithely turn left under any circumstances.  You might put Romanians into this latter category; and, for the most part, I would agree with you.

But, neither you nor I, Gentle Reader, are very well versed in the thinking of the Romanian; yes, sad to say.  As a consequence you might have been as unprepared as me for the scene that unfolded one recent morning.

Our intrepid motorist, driving the ubiquitous Dacia (to paraphrase an assessment about Brussels and Paris, the Dacia is like a Renault, but without the charm), needing to turn left, but not wanting to violate the sacrosanct sign, does indeed turn left – but not at the intersection.  Oh no!  He (or maybe she) turns left, across three lanes of traffic hell-bent for leather (whatever that means), but before the intersection!  Yes, before the intersection.  He (or she) then proceeds to drive upon the sidewalk (remember: they merely have smaller potholes than the “roads”) for about 50 meters (or yards, if you prefer), until s/he gets to the desired byway, and then turns left.  There was no noticeable reduction in forward momentum, and no violation of the sign the prohibits left turns.  Such a creative solution to such a pesky problem, wouldn’t you say?

Another example of ingenuity:

After about six weeks of driving thru all weathers, you might begin to think about washing your car, wouldn’t you?  Well, wouldn’t you?  Think about it: rain, snow, wind, dust; think dirty, dirty, dirty.  Ok, fine, you really would think about it, if you hadn’t already washed it half a dozen times by now.  But, what if it was a rental car, then what?  No, I have never washed a rental car, and I am not going to start now.  But, clearly, not all the cars on the road are rentals; so, why are almost all of them (ok, some; well, all right, a few) cleaner than mine?  Do the owners spend their weekends with hose and pail?  I don’t think so.  Therein lies the rub (where’s Shakespeare when we need him to explain these little curiosities he’s left us?).

This morning, I discovered one of Bucharest’s best hidden secrets: the moving municipal car wash.  Yep, and you thought ‘Merica had the latest and greatest in technology and convenience!  What could be more convenient than driving your car to work and having the city wash it for you?  No charge!  No delay!  No mess, no fuss, no runs, no drips…well you get the picture.  How is this possible??  And you should ask, too.

It would seem, to the casual observer, that this situation might be a matter of happenstance (sorry for using such big words, but I don’t get out much).  It would seem that, in an effort to try to attempt to make a plausible effort at cleaning the city streets, Bucharest has tank trucks that spew – yes, I said “spew” – water upon the city streets.  These Big Berthas of the Byways, carrying untold liters (or gallons, does it matter?) of water in their cavernous tanks, convey said contents to nozzles that spew – yes, I said it again – water in front (or behind) up, out, and away, from the vehicle, whereupon it comes crashing down to the “roadway” (I almost said “pavement,” but then I never lie about anything so easily checked).  A veritable Niagara Falls on wheels!

On my way into work this morning, I happened upon one of the cleanest trucks I have ever seen, drenching everything on either side of it – yes, that includes cars, busses, pedestrians, second-story flower boxes, you name it, and what-have-you, besides.  Being rather more half, than quick (that would be in reference to my wit), I drove thru the torrent, and lo and behold, I now have a car that is relatively much, much cleaner on one side than the other.  Pretty clever huh?  That’s using the old kidney, yashurubetcha!  Of course, the driver’s side of the car still looks like it was on the receiving end of a political campaign….(Robert Mugabe on the left, Morgan Tsvangirai on the right)
Bran Castle

My mission this past Saturday was to find the home of our infamous tourguide, Vlad Tepes, aka The Impaler, aka, Dracula.  Well, I got closer than Bram Stoker ever did (although he is credited with making “Dracula” a household name with his novel, he never did set foot in Transylvania – coward).  I set out on the northbound road out of Bucharest, never once thinking that maybe the Carpathian Mountains might have weather similar to mountains in every other country in the world.  For those of you that are curious, there is a marker by the road  on the way at the 45th parallel – or line of latitude (Seattle – King County Airport is at 47.5 degrees).

I got as far as Predeal (that is not pronounced like something you might do before the card game starts; it is pronounced “pre” as in predator, and “dal” as in Dali), which is about half an hour south of Brasov (sounds amazingly similar to “brush-off”), when it finally occurred to me that the other vehicles on the road didn’t seem to notice the snow.

Unlike in Puget Sound where a single raindrop can bring I-5 grinding to a halt, the rain-mixed-with-sleet-mixed-with-snow didn’t slow traffic on the mountain hairpin turns in the least.  If you thought three abreast on a one lane (remember, this is the Romanian sense of the word “lane”) mountain road was, uh, “exhilarating” on dry pavement, with visibility obstructed only by granite, or whatever the mountains over here are made from, you really ought to try snow and slush and no visible granite at all.  Call me a chicken, but don’t call me late for dinner.  I bailed.

Actually, Predeal was a nice consolation prize: a very stunning new church is being built, of which a future edition of this foolscap should contain a photo, or two.  And, being in the mountains, it really is a nice-looking little town.  But, Bran Castle, which is not on the Bucharest-Brasov road (minor detail, being on the wrong road, and all), will have to wait for another day…sue me.

By the way, after my excursion into the mountains, I no longer have a car that is embarrassingly much cleaner on one side than the other.  The entire vehicle is a much more uniform “yuck.”
Water, water

Nope, not everywhere.  At least, not the drinking kind.  This is a new thing for this innocent; or, rather, an old thing, re-learned.  Although, honestly, I can’t remember what life abroad was like before the ubiquitous PET bottle (think plastic, soft-drink bottle).  Yes, even more common around here than traffic cops.  It isn’t so much a matter of having to buy drinking water, as it is to think far enough ahead to bring it with you to places where it can’t be bought, like the office.

Fortunately, food is really very cheap here.  A half-a-liter of plain ol’ water, bought in the hotel restaurant (talk about big spender) runs slightly more than $2 – or the same price as a cappuccino.  But, from my lofty corner office with the large mahogany desk, there is no place to buy water.  So, I have to remember to bring it from the hotel.  And since I have to bring water to make coffee with, forgetting to bring the stuff can be tragic, indeed.

I do have something to say about taxis, from the passenger’s point of view; but, I have come up with a tease so you’ll read Chapter VI, whenever it comes out.

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