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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Bottleneck

Last Friday, I took the regular route to go home from work, via a bottleneck two-way carriage road where cars are sometimes parked on the footpath, hard against the buildings on the street, which create serious problems for traffic flow. Generally speaking, the locals' driving behaviour has become less aggressive and less arrogant as time goes by - there is even less honking than there used to be. But on this occassion, I was surprised at how arrogant it was.

The Koumbes crossroads - I was waiting for the traffic lights to turn green outside the white apartment buildings (you can see a black car there waiting at the traffic lights).

I approached the traffic lights, which were red, and stopped behind another car. The driver of the car in front of me could not stop directly at the traffic lights because a man had blocked the road by stopping right in front of the traffic lights, half on the footpath (which is practically non-existent, as there is a taverna located right on the corner, which brings out its tables and chairs there), half on the road. The driver of the parked car was, you guessed it, waiting for his BBQ chicken order. And right across the road, virtually next to me, sat another driver in her parked car. She was waiting for her son who was, yes, waiting for his souvlaki order. The lights turn green for the drivers on the intersecting road, and they start driving into the bottleneck. Along comes one car and waits to see when the taverna customers would budge. Nothing. Along comes another car, and he stops too. The son rushes out of the taverna and gets into the parked car mext to me, and the woman drives off. Finally, the road opens, and the cars that waited patiently - not even a single honk - drive off too. The other parked car remained where it was.

Koumbes, 100 years ago. The bottleneck road is on the right hand side of the Ottoman cenotaph in the above picture. The main road in the photo below leads from Hania to the Souda ferry port. 

I felt a bit of relief when the one car left because the traffic lights at the point where I was waiting don't stay green for too long, only just enough for 4-5 cars to pass. But because it is a bottleneck, and it leads onto a main arterial route, it gets busy. It was hot, and I had rolled down the driver's window. Just when I think that it's nearly time for the red light at my end to turn green, I get prepared to leave without too much delay. At this point (the light was still red), a SUV (the kind of car that will have a minimum €800 road tax bill for 2014, as well as a minimum €500 luxury tax added to it) turns into the road... very slowly... and then stops, in the middle of the road. Just like that. The woman driver was looking out of the driver's window which was rolled down, and she was smiling... she had just seen a good friend across the road... in the taverna, one of the waitresses, in fact... and then... the driver of the SUV... reverses... by just a metre or two... and stops again... still in the middle of the road... in order to be able to talk to her friend more directly. She continued to look out the window absentmindedly, smiling, laughing, looking as happy as a clam, and now, with that completely oblivious look on her face, she began... chatting... to the waitress on the other side of the street.

The parked car had stopped on the tiles in front of the open door. The pot plants are there to prevent cars from parkingon the tiles. I recall the building in its former state too as shown below. 

I could sense the lights about to change any minute now... so... I honked... continuously... with my hand firmly down on the horn. The woman in the SUV did not respond to the horn; she simply strained her head out of the window... in order to try to understand what her friend across the street was saying to her. The honking was interpreted as a nuisance, not as a signal to stop blocking the road. She hardly put it in her mind that it was intended for her; she simply carried on trying to have a conversation with her friend in the middle of the tight squeeze. I've been driving for 16 years in Hania. It's the first time I have ever used the horn in this way. I usually drive as if the fact that I do in fact hate driving does not bother me: patiently, defensively and above all, legally.

The driver of the SUV turned the corner (from where you see a white pick-up truck) into this road - she stopped right outside the door you see in the photo. This is located across the road from the taverna, which recently took over this former cafe and converted it for extra seating. The waiting staff walks back and forth with orders. 

And then the light turns green for me... and the SUV is still in the middle of the road... and I am stuck motionless behind the other car, who cannot drive across the junction because now not just one parked car in front of her, but another stopped car beside her had blocked the whole road... and no one seemed ot give a toss. There were now more cars behind me too, making the bottleneck even worse. So I kept honking (incessantly, without a single break), and suddenly... the miracle happens... and the driver of the SUV realises that she is in fact that dipstick on the road. So she looks away from her friend and begins to stare hard at the windscreen in front of her... and slowly... very slowly... gets her car going... at which point she passes my car.

A close up of the bottleneck on a day when the taverna caught fire...

"YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" I screamed out to her as she went by. (Another first for me: it's the first time I have cursed another driver on the road.) She continued staring in front of her. Perhaps she did not understand what I meant because I spoke in English, not Greek. You know what language dominates in a person's psyche when they swear or count (including the language they use to write shopping lists).

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