Sunday, September 12, 2010

On the run from Johnny Law

'Guys? Is this the autobahn? Are we on the autobahn now?'

'Yeah man, this is the autobahn. We're driving on the autobahn right now.'

'I hadn't realised, I mean... It's a lot bigger than I thought you know? I'd thougt I guess that it was just maybe one road by like Berlin or somewhere.'

'Nah, it's bigger than that, man. A lot bigger. It's more like a state of mind.'

'Yeah, that's it - I hadn't realised that it was a state of mind.'

It's a state of mind, apparently.

This was on the road from Hamburg to Berlin, which is a hell of an address. At the time, the second biggest city in New Zealand had been pretty much obliterated as a consequence of it having been built on a swamp next to a big pile of volcanoes, but we didn't know that yet. We had to get back to the Beartown by noon to return the A-Class Mercedes to the people at the rental place and convince them that we'd driven it around Europe for exactly one calendar month without damaging it, so I was distracted. I was also thinking about a story a guy had told us in Botzingen about a mate of his who'd been booked in Switzerland at 250 ks an hour, and been given a ticket for seven hundred thousand Euros. I was hoping it was a lie.

4493.4 kilometers of mindless drivel.

'Do you think Johnny Law can catch up to us on the autobahn?'

'I doubt it. He's probably a couple of towns back still. Offenbach?'

'Saw him in Hamburg on the Reeperbahn I think. He wasn't ready to take me in though.'

'Bigger fish to fry do you reckon?'

'Could be that.'

'Hope it's that.'

Driving around in a whole lot of countries on very similar-looking roads, we'd sometimes lost track of the local customs around things like speed limits and the conventions to do with who should give way to whom. There was a good chance that there would be a pile of infringement notices in a range of languages waiting for us at the rental place, and I was trying to figure out how much it might cost if it turned out that we'd accidentally driven the wrong way round a roundabout in Paris or collided with a civilian in a country lane south of London.

'You know Offenbach?'

'Yeah I remember Offenbach.'

'Where was it again?'

'Not sure. By a river I think.'

'Was it the Rhine?'

'Nah that was the other place. With the swans and those ducks with the funny noses. Beaks.'

'Don't remember the ducks.'

'I remember the ducks.'

'You like ducks, eh?'

'Yeah, I'm pretty fond of ducks. Wrote a song about them actually. Wanna hear it?'

'Again? Nah I'm OK thanks.'

Ducks with funny noses, Offenbach

The other river. That's France over there. The swans are German swans.

Part of the problem was that we had one of those ipod radio things that the Devil designed as a way of causing road-rage incidents. We kept on trying to play Led Zep tunes to see if the stereo could handle the power of John Bonham, but interference from two hundred identical European radio stations playing that song about how it's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk and I just wrote a really annoying song would always spoil the listening experience right when Plant really starts to wail. The only other options were my CD, Tim's CDs, and a bunch of World Jazz cuts that Nigel had had thrust upon him at some trade fair. It's important to at least once in your life listen to your own record in an A-class Mercedes at a good rate of knots on the autobahn, but you don't want to do it more than a couple of times in a trip. The world jazz CDs were really only good for beer coasters, and option three was conversation. A month of tour conversation is a special kind of torment and I reproduce excerpts here only as a cautionary example of what might happen if you fail to bring a good range of Led Zeppelin records in a playable format on your next tour.

'How much more gas do you think we'll have to put in this thing?'

'There's a good chance it won't be more than a hundred Euros.'

'No way, it'll be heaps more than that. Closer to two hundred I'd say.'

'Why did you ask then?'

'I was just trying to make conversation, man.'

'I bet Mavis knows' from the nest in the back seat.


'What was that man?'

'I just said I bet Mavis knows. How much the petrol would be.'

'Yeah well maybe she does man, but she's not talking to us anymore since you swore at her in Paris.'

'Look I said already I was sorry about that. I'm not proud of it.'

'Yeah, he did say he was sorry man.'

'Well it's not working, whatever he said. She's still not talking and I'm missing turnoffs now.'

For hours and hours this goes on, and there is nothing in the end to distinguish this sort of conversation from the mindless barking of baboons.

Fortunatlely the autobahn provides plenty of stimulus all by itself. If you're into wind turbines and really big skies, you'll certainly have a good time. If you like trucks, a real treat awaits you, because there are certainly trucks. The autobahn also plays a valuable role in holding together the social fabric, however, in that it is the place where Germans are allowed to vent whatever feelings of frustration and tension might arise in their workaday lives by driving expensive cars very very fast. Much as Londoners are able to work out their stress by poking tourists in the ribs with umbrellas on the tube, many Germans maintain their legendary affability by taking their cars out to the autobahn once in a while and winding them up to respectable fractions of the speed of sound. It is very important not to get in the way when they are doing this, because that spoils it for everyone. The unsuspecting antipodean driver tooling along in the left lane at a speed that would get him ostracised from decent society back home is liable to be surprised by a sudden flashing of headlights and a horn blaring in Teutonic major thirds, demanding that he either accelerate to mach 0.3 or move to the right lane where the trucks and foreigners drive. I read recently that the government here is considering authorising the drivers of German-registered cars to carry high-powered handguns for the purpose of firing warning shots through the rear windscreens of cars travelling at less than 160 kilometers per hour in the fast lane, on the grounds that this would reduce accidents in the long run. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

This is what I look like when I'm blogging. The deer is called Reichstag, which is probably a lot
funnier if you've been travelling for a while with your brain turned off.

1 comment:

  1. Man, the autobahn sounds SCARY. If I ever go there I hope they have a "drive like a nana lane" for people like me who don't like going over 90.

    Your apartment looks choice, is that a crocheted unicorn sitting behind you in the photo?