Friday, March 9, 2012


When I went down to the store this morning I saw that a car had crashed into a power pole near the corner of my bloc. There was a whole crowd of people around just looking. The front end of the car was gone, practically, and I'm still not sure how the driver managed it. It happened in sort of an awkward part of the street with a sort-of intersection, one where you can't really build up much speed.

For all that people say about driving here, driving in cities in this part of Europe (or South America, New York City, lots of other places), I actually feel way safer here. People drive crazier, maybe more risky, sure, but most of the time it seems to me they're more in control, are more aware of what their car can do and where it is in relation to other cars. Even if that means there's a foot between you and the next one versus a car's length.

This past weekend I spent a grand total of about forty hours in the car and actually that's probably a conservative estimate. I love car trips, though, and for me they're rarely dull. So I thought I'd share some of the more interesting things that happened, like hitchhiking and bootlegging the car back together.

--First, we didn't think they were going to let me into Bulgaria (leaving Romania). I think I have a suspicious face or something because it's not uncommon for me to get stopped when I go through security at the airports (not interrogated or anything), but never anything like this. The guy stared for ten minutes at me and my passport (after he'd given back the other two) and asked a bunch of weird questions. The worst part is that when I get nervous about something like that I start to laugh--not haha laugh, more like snickering, so I seem even more suspicious. Anyway, in the end he let us through.

--Got to cross the blue Danube on a ferry! Warning: the fun of this is canceled out by the fact that you will spend your life savings to do it.

--Nearly flipped the car after going over some, for lack of better word, waves in the road at something like 120 km/h. We couldn't see them before we were right on top of them and you can imagine, backseat with no seat belt, went bouncing/flying all over the backseat, car starts fishtailing and somehow in the end we end up straight, still on the road, mostly in one piece. Something started dragging behind the front wheel though so our innovative general secretary pulled pliers and wire out of the trunk and rigged the whole thing back together.

--Somewhere along the way what was supposed to have been an eleven hour trip turned into twenty hours, and the engine also started overheating. Actually I'm not sure what was happening, at first they thought it was the radiator but it wasn't, and we had to stop every twenty minutes or so to add water. Think: lots of conversations in usually at least three languages at once. Communication and its various forms blow my mind. So cool.

--When we finally got to Albania we made a wrong turn and went north instead of south and finally stopped to ask for directions. We talked to some police and what I remember is the man pointing to a map, waving around saying 'you: here! Vlore: here! One four zero kilometer!'

--Lots of the same with the overheating on the way back. But we made it in once piece after lots of praying and lots of water.

--We dropped one of our people off in Bucuresti and after that picked up two hitchhikers hanging out near Pacii. Have never done that before and always wanted to. This one's worth its own post altogether.

--And last but not least. I drove between Bucuresti and Pitesti! It should be said that before then, I hadn't driven in more than a year (since I was last in the States). And that I'd only driven a stick once about eight years ago. So I knew in theory how to do it, sort of, but it wasn't reflex yet, still required lots of thinking. Also, I should say that we think it's legal that I drove. My license is still valid in the States and... anyway, we think it's legal. But I drove! Well! On a stick shift!

And hey, still alive.

Oh! And just for fun, nothing to do with driving but it happened over that weekend, I sat square in the middle of this, after one person tastes the raki/tuica pulled out of someone's bookbag:

"It's Albanian water! Do you want to taste it?"
"Is that like Turkish viagra, then?"
First dude starts hyperventilating.
Second dude continues, "Lokum, that's what they call it."
A lot of sputtering and laughing and shenanigans.
First dude says with a wink, "You know, it is like the Bible says: test everything."

Once again, with the assurance that this was a g-rated and Christian conference, still alive :)

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