Sunday, April 5, 2015

Driving to Be First

Last weekend was spectacular in Wuhan: sunshine and warm temps. Finally! After weeks of rain and chill! I was so excited for my outing, only the fourth since I've been back in China. And only to grocery shop. Nothing fancy. But I had run out of food, even staples like rice and oil and flour. It was high time to go and there is no better person to enjoy an outing with than my good friend, Gary. Being as I'm still lame, he graciously volunteered to drive me.

Apparently everyone else in Wuhan had the same idea: not shopping perhaps, but getting out and enjoying the fine day. Traffic was gridlocked at all key intersections and hotspots, including in front of the train station that we had to drive past in order to get into town. No big deal. Chatting away with my friend and not being in control of the car, I could enjoy just sitting there, smelling the carbon monoxide through the open window my arm hung out of.

Besides everyone having a car or two these days, and that phenomenon unique to China that dictates that everyone do the same thing at roughly the same time – eat, work, shop, see sights, drive; one reason for such traffic snarls is that roads split, diverge, converge or shrink down to just 2 lanes where before there were 4. Some drivers don't know where they're going and slow or stop in the middle of the road. Some take up 2 lanes. Some drivers are courteous and others not so much. Some drivers act like their life depends on getting ahead of everyone else and others, like Gary, don't mind letting a car in.

It just happened that that particular junction we were stuck at saw the road go from 4 lanes to 2, and it was right at the outlet of the train station parking lot. All the cars from that parking lot that wanted to go straight had to cut across the 2 right lanes to merge into the third. That was where we had been sitting for about 5 minutes. Immediately to our right, a black Camry cut its wheels and got as close as he dared to our front quarter panel. To the right of it, a Honda SUV, piloted by a man in  a black suit and tie also cut its wheels, needing to merge into our lane.

As soon as traffic inched forward, Gary let the Camry in and closed the gap behind it. It wasn't much of a gap; maybe only 2 meters. Radio playing, we're chatting away... And then, CRUNCH!!!

Apparently the SUV did not feel like waiting for a courteous driver or – even more unlikely, a break in traffic. He just plowed in, expecting the oncoming car – the car that had been right behind us to permit him access or otherwise get out of the way. It did not. End result: the 4  lane road, by design cut down to 2 lanes was now further restricted to only one lane. 

Gary and I laughed. We couldn't help it! There but for one car-length, it could have been us stuck behind a wreck, or even worse: we could have had a wreck! Sun beaming through the open roof, a gentle breeze and having narrowly avoided a collision. It wasn't mean-spirited laughter. It was relief at not being caught.

And there were plenty that were caught out yesterday. In all, I counted 9 wrecks.

I've lived here for going on 5 years and have been out and about for most of it. This last year I've taken to the pavement by bike and never, on any of my outings have I seen so many wrecks in one day. Was it spring fever or are drivers getting more demanding of their privilege to drive unimpeded?  

Even though it took longer to make the 35km round trip than it took for me to actually shop, I enjoyed my outing. After all, it was only the fourth time in a month that I've been off-campus. I wonder if others, stranded in stopped cars, perhaps in the company of an impatient, angry driver, enjoyed their day as much?

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