The normally mundane task of getting from point A to point B has been upgraded to a thrill ride. On my pre-birthday weekend adventure, I went on car trips that would put the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland to shame.
One of the sweet benefits of being married to an astronomer (and there are many) is that you get to tour telescopes. Telescopes, which need to be located in high, dark places, are often on mountains. Mountains have very windy roads.
Winding mountain roads in the States are feats of civil engineering. Often two lanes, well signed, and with reasonable visibility, these roads present the average American driver with a safe (though sometimes nail-biting) route up steep slopes and untamed lands.
India’s civil engineers, not to be outdone, have upped the ante. Mountain roads have 1.25 lanes, hidden signs, and overgrown trees that provide the average Indian driver with challenges not seen outside of a video game.
Our expert driver handled these hazards with a cool head. We passed buses on hairpin turns, trucks on mudflats, and slower cars at every opportunity. The diesel and constant whipping back and forth made some of our crew nauseous and we had to stop occasionally. No shame in that; just a fact. What got me about this whole experience was that pulling crazy maneuvers and working through the associated nausea did actually save us time. Up until the point when the driver’s phone rang.
He pulled over and took the call.
The buses, trucks filled with bricks, slow cars, and minivans full of tourists all passed us while our professional diver took a call on the job.
Well, I have to hand it to him; he was safe and pulled over. But taking a call while you’re in the middle of serving your clients? Yikes…
This was reasonably understandable in light of the ride we had back from the airport the next night. This diver obviously hated his job because not only did he take multiple phone calls while driving, but he stopped to refuel without turning the car off. I know this isn’t the most dangerous thing in the world, but it’s still a risk you don’t have to take with a volatile organic chemical. Having refueled, we took the weirdest route back to our guest house. I couldn’t figure it out until we pulled off to the side of the freeway and the driver took a fat envelope from some random guy he obviously knew. No one said anything. My “Seriously?!?” meter had pegged at WTF, but the rational part of my brain reminded me that shutting up and sitting tight when this level of sketch was going down would probably get me home.
Since I’m writing this now, that plan seems to have worked. To be fair, these experiences are noteworthy only because they are out of the ordinary. Many of our drivers have been very courteous and professional. I also know that several of the taxis I’ve taken in the States have had similar levels of sketch/unprofessionalism. But those are for another time.
+1 more story for Mike.