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.'
'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.'
'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.