kolmapäev, juuni 06, 2007

Highway to Hell

Last week I had to ferry a car load of passengers to Tallinn from Tartu and back. To get there I had to take the dreaded road that winds north through Põltsamaa, past Paide, and eventually into the belly of the beast, Tallinn.

I was afraid of this road, having been exposed to cover after cover of SL Õhtuleht, the daily tabloid that enjoys featuring pictures of burned out car wrecks on the front page. Because most of my passengers were well liked, I had a hunch that God had no motive to remove us all in one fell swoop. Still, it was raining and misty and the desire not to die was extremely strong as I set out on the journey.

The road to Tallinn is not in bad condition. However, the first problem you encounter is other Estonian drivers. Estonian drivers don't drive to get places. Theirs is not a destination-based travel. Instead, Estonian drivers drive to go fast in their new cars. They also drive to pass other people, which is a way of showing off their Finnic machismo. Even if you are doing 70 miles per hour on the road, the Estonian driver will speed up to do 90 miles per hour, just so he can pass you and resume doing 70 miles per hour in front of you.

The second biggest problem is that the Tallinn-Tartu road is clogged with truckers hauling goods back and forth between Estonia's two largest cities. That means you have to pass these gigantic vehicles that may be lugging such hazardous, life threatening materials as timber, which could fall off the back, crushing your car to pieces, gas, which could explode, barbequeing your body, not to mention the awful smell of burnt hair, and leib, which could fly out the back of the truck, break through your windshield, and slice your head clean off.

The final problem with the Tallinn-Tartu road is that it is a two lane road. This means that on a wet, misty, rainy day, you might get stuck behind a leib truck and be barely able to see if you are able to pass the truck or if any attempt to move ahead will be met with a head-on collision, which would, for lack of better terms, really suck.

Driving in all three conditions the other day, I have to say there were a few times I held my breath, my focus trained on the road ahead of me like Luke Skywalker's focus when he blew up the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie. At one point on the way back in rained so hard that visibility was basically reduced to making out the tail lights of the car in front of you and gauging the distance. And remember, you're traveling at 65 miles per hour on slick roads surrounded by jerk-off Estonian drivers who insist on passing you in the least savory of weather conditions.

In that moment I didn't think we would die, but I also wasn't entirely convinced we were going to live either. Then just as I thought we were done for, we saw a bright light. It wasn't raining up ahead. There were blue skies, and sunshine. Birds were singing in the trees. It wasn't heaven. It was Järvamaa. As we headed into safety we stopped at Sämmi Grill and had lunch/dinner. Then continued, me blissfully unaware that we were out of gas. I drove farther south until I saw the read [empty] light, then asked where we were.

"Laeva Vald" was the answer. "Good" I thought," just a few more kilometers and we'll be in civilization where they have toilets and gas stations." But we drove. And drove. And drove. And I began to curse this blasted country where there is one house every five miles and having a gas station denotes a spot on the map. We drove for 22 kilometers until I was able to fill up the gas tank and take a leak. At one point we had to wait, my gas tank empty and bladder full, because half of the road was closed for construction.

Then a little farther down the road we had to stop. The whole road was backed up. The sun was going down in the distance, and thick mist hung in the fields alongside the highway. People began getting out of their cars. Young women ambled by in their high heels, talking on their cellphones. I also stopped and we got out of the car to see what kind of Stephen King book we had stumbled into.

It had happened that two huge trucks had collided. One was lying in the road where a small crowd of onlookers had gathered to take pictures with their mobile phones. The other was strewn across one of the fields. I am not sure if anyone was killed, but I am glad I wasn't there when it happened. Slowly they pulled the truck from the road and reopened traffic. We all got back in our cars, ended our conversations, and drove on.

I didn't look in the news though to read about what happened. When you live through something, somehow the news isn't as interesting anymore.

22 kommentaari:

Andres Sehr ütles ...

Just wait until it starts snowing again and the sun sets at 3pm. Driving in Eesti sure is exciting.

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

The way you should look at it, Justin, is that now you know what it feels to be ALIVE!

In america you just commuted and the whole experience was one big yawn. You learned nothing deep and existential about life while spending time behind the wheel. There was nothing to be gained, nothing to be lost - it was meaningless. Arriving somewhere was no big accomplishment. You did not have to reflect upon afterlife and people who've come and gone before you.

In Estonia, on the other hand, you live. Living is surviving. Each day you earn your spot under the Sun for that particular day. And then you earn it all over again. That's called being alive.
Doesn't it feel good to feel alive?

(I do 2 hrs every day here on the beltway and the last time I felt alive when I was doing 95 mph rushing for the Muhu ferryboat)

Live like this for years and you too shall become an adrealine junkie.

Our roads for keeping our herd thin and healthy.

Vincent ütles ...

They also drive to pass other people: I agree 200%, the stupidity of the Estonian driver is without limit. They will pass you, taking so many risks, and not get any earlier at destination.

The most silly thing is that on the two lane dangereous part, they will drive at 110 km/h and pass, and close to Tallinn where it is a safe 4 lane part everybody drives at 90 km/h! No kidding!

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, I would have a fervent wish, please, do make it a four-lane road... Quite an exiting route indeed, with lots of colourful passings amidst the trucks. Makes one think of Italy.

karLos ütles ...

In Estonia, on the other hand, you live. Living is surviving.

i'm not sure this fits in with the boric nordic image the government wants to portray.

although, perhaps "extreme driving" could be marketed to tourists?

Kristopher ütles ...

I have been doing some driving the last three days. I have averaged 80 mph from Des Moines to Gillette, WY. I must say I haven't missed the Tartu-Tallinn hwy for a minute.
The camber is beautiful, the lanes are marked, and even the trucks seem not to tailgate you if you don't make room for them on long downhills.

The strangest thing that has happened so far was that a car drove side by side with us for about 6 miles without any apparent manipulation by either driver or attempt to outpace the other. We both seemed to lock into the same speed and together we went. After a bit it started to seem embarrassing -- there we were, the only cars in sight, driving in apparent formation -- but neither seemed to mind. Very Zen.

Besides the driving culture, the single big fixable problem I have with Estonian streets and roads is lane markings. They seem to be done in whitewash or watercolour. And why not use yellow paint? I would think that opposite directions of traffic are an important distinction that would merit...I dunno, perhaps a different colour of paint? Statistically, that should save some lives, and it would be cheap.

Kristopher ütles ...

PS I have been doing 80 mph not because I hate the environment or anything like that -- it is actually pretty close to the posted speed limit and we needed to get across some mountains before some unsettled weather.

Giustino ütles ...

i'm not sure this fits in with the boric nordic image the government wants to portray.

although, perhaps "extreme driving" could be marketed to tourists?


Wasn't the Bronze Soldier controversy like that though? The government decided to play with fire and came out on top with a bit of an adrenaline rush?

Before the removal happened I thought that Ansip was being a bit arrogant and, well, nuts. But afterwards it made me actually trust guys like Jüri Pihl and Jaak Aaviksoo more. They came off looking like cold-hearted bastards. The kind of people you want running your country in times of manufactured crisis.

Lauri ütles ...

Are you familiar with rullnokad and autopeded?

Mait ütles ...

Just wait until you drive in nighttime snowstorm and meet your first 'tont' ;)

david h jones ütles ...

... sound like dricing in Wales!

Out of purely blokeish, anorak-wearing interest, how long does it take to drive from Tallinn to Tartu and what's the distance in miles/km?

karLos ütles ...

Giustino - totally and definitely :)

McMad ütles ...

Well Giustino, its obvious that you havent seen that much of the world. While driving in Estonia seems pretty bad when compared to the squeaky clean driving culture in the Scandinavian countries, its actually not so bad when compared to some other European countries. Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, all a LOT worse that Estonia. Same goes for the metropolitan areas in every country in "Latin" part of Europe.

May i suggest the next holiday destination for you: Take a cheap flight to Paris. Hire a car, but not from an expensive, reputable company. For the maximum authenticity you want the smallest, most unsafe car available. I can heartily recommend a Renault Twingo, preferably with clapped out suspension and bent steering column. Now wait till 4-5PM and head for the Peripherique. If you survive that then you are ready for Level 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9DLlMMXhKg&mode=related&search=

Giustino ütles ...

Same goes for the metropolitan areas in every country in "Latin" part of Europe.

Do metropolitan areas in every "Latin" part of New York City count?

Andres ütles ...

Out of purely blokeish, anorak-wearing interest, how long does it take to drive from Tallinn to Tartu and what's the distance in miles/km?

185km.. and well probably about 2 hours or less.

McMad ütles ...

Giustino zei...

Do metropolitan areas in every "Latin" part of New York City count?


Nah, New York, probably thanks to the orderly grid pattern and plenty of one way streets, never gets as chaotic (and psychotic) as Naples, Marseille, Madrid etc.

karLos ütles ...

the worst driving i have seen was in china. four lanes of traffic at 60kmh merging into one lane without slowing. and no seat belts.

the worst i have personally seen in estonia was two guys going opposite ways down a very narrow street beeping each other. i thought it was something they did to amuse tourists at the time. :)

Martasmimi ütles ...

Rome ...on a Monday morning. The city is packed with Smart (1/2 Mini
Cooper) cars and scooters.
I encountered a Vespa Scooter driver & a Smart car (oxymoron) driver.
They beating one another and the police officer over a fender bender.
No one stopped to do a thing It was like New York except the cops

Martasmimi ütles ...

sorry...

The cops would have arrested you or probably shot you.
Oh, and the Smart car driver
hitting everyone was a very
well dressed woman..

Love the Italians

Flasher T ütles ...

185km.. and well probably about 2 hours or less.

Tartu-Tallinn in less than two hours is doable, but not comfortable.

I expect Wales doesn't have quite such a visibility problem. The kicker isn't just that the road is twisty, but that it goes through a lot of forest. Blind corners galore.

Sam ütles ...

"But we drove. And drove. And drove. And I began to curse this blasted country where there is one house every five miles and having a gas station denotes a spot on the map."

Not every place on earth has to be as crammed full of people as the East Coast. :)

Try the Canadian prairies. Here you can drive 40 km without seeing anything but roadside signs informing you about various businesses you can patronize in the next town. These signs usually start about 30 km before said population center, or, in the case of northern Ontario, above the Great Lakes, where you'll get a sign like "Best dining in Thunder Bay - just 142 more km!".

Architectse ütles ...

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