Here's what I was doing last midnight.
I'm standing beside my car in a middle of a dirt road that's cutting through a cornfield. I don't dare go further as my car has sporty, quite low-suspension and I'm afraid one of the holes in the bumpy dirt track ahead of me will prove too deep for it. My wife is trying to figure out how could I safely turn the car back. What are we doing in the middle of the nowhere at this hour anyway? Why aren't we at least on some regular road, if not safely tucked away in bed?
The problem is, few minutes earlier we came across a wreck of a blown-up car blocking the normal road, lying on its roof (or what remained of it), surrounded by one fire truck, several police cars, and a slew of firemen and policemen, impossible to drive past it. On advice of one of the by-standing villagers, we tried to get around it on a "back road", which turned out to be the aforementioned dirt track through a corn field. When it proved unpassable for my Mazda, we scrambled back to the road, to wait for the firemen to eventually clean up the wreck from the road.
My biggest problem though is that when we came upon this roadblock, we were only ten short kilometers away from our beds at my parents' house, after I spent my last thirteen hours behind the wheel (only stopping for gas), covering nine hundred kilometers. I'm exhausted beyond belief. I can't actually believe this is happening to me.
(Not too relevant to the story: the car blew up because its fuel tank was leaky. The kid driving it, his driving license only four days old, miraculously survived it with only burns to his legs, as bystanders told me.)
I was royally pissed off after all other things that happened to us earlier that day leading up to this. You might have noticed it took me thirteen hours to cover nine hundred kilometers. It's a very bad average speed, considering I drove most of it on highways. Short explanation for it is two words.
We spent our vacation this year near Rimini in Italy. The people were kind, the sea warm, the food great. Everything was perfect, except for italian highways. We run into a congestion because of an accident, both ways. Took us more than an hour each time to get out of it, driving in lockstep. You'd say it's no fault of the highway system itself - accidents happen. That's true. However, there's also one 100% predictable, huge congestion that's coded into the system - the tollbooths near Venice. The idea is that you pay as you leave the section of the highway built and operated by one particular company. They do however have a throughput problem, which manifests itself in a nine kilometers long queue of cars before it. Yes, nine kilometers. In rows of three. Unfortunately, their business model completely defeats the function of the highway. The function, to me at least, being efficient road transportation. It took us an hour and a half of driving in lockstep from reaching the end of the queue to clearing the tollbooth. Together with the one-hour accident-caused congestion between Rimini and Bologna, this resulted in four and a half hours to cover the first two hundred and seventy kilometers of our trip back home. On a highway. Do the math.
By the time we reached the tollbooth, both me and my wife (and our seven-year old son, too) were red with fury. The poor clerk at the booth got on its receiving end. It isn't his fault, but he was the closest human representative of the company that operated the highway, the company we by that time hated fiercely for operating a highway where you stand in a queue by design with thousands of other cars for an hour and a half, or more if you're unlucky enough to run into an accident. And then you pay fourteen euros for the privilege. We told the clerk how this isn't a highway, this is an inhumane joke, a horror, not something belonging to western civilization, how even Balkans are better, and we know because we were to Balkans earlier. He had a look telling us he hears this kind of testimony of customer satisfaction regularly.
So, I won't make any service to that highway, as it didn't really do me any service either: I'm telling anyone reading this that if you can avoid using higways going through Venice-Mestre tollbooths, avoid them. You can't go any worse on secondary roads - they're free, and you'll probably have a far, and I mean far-far better average speed and fuel economy. You certainly won't get two and a half hours behind your travel schedule. And this isn't an isolated event - I drove on that highway five years ago, and it was the very same experience back then as well.
Those +150 minutes then led to me standing with my car in the middle of the night in a cornfield, exhausted, ten kilometers away from a bed I should've instead been in at that time.
Update: To be completely honest, we did acquire some more delay after we left Italy, while driving through Slovenia, due to one case of bad signage (in Maribor), a blindingly pouring rain, one case of detour (near Murska Sobota), and a general disagreement between our road atlas and the physical reality regarding existence of certain roads. The exploded car wreck and the cornfield were really just the finishing touches in that day's demonstration of God's sense of humour.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Here's what I was doing last midnight.