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.