Mother Superior, Fort Police Station
Transportation is the single worst thing about Sri Lanka. I spent all day on the road today and it is just shit from top to bottom. Driving is expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it can cause serious damage to life and limb. The only thing worse is not driving. Driving can be liberating, but the only time I feel remotely free while driving is on Poya days, or when you round the corner from hotel row and hit Galle Road, with the ocean shining on your right hand side. You can tap the gas up to 60 and you feel OK. Everywhere else during the workaday is just chaos and some days it gets to you. People act like fools, and I start acting like a fool just cause you have to in order to survive. I think this reads like a rant, but I’ve been out all day and someone way too close to home was just killed on the road and I’m honestly a little shook.
As Wijitha says, everyone driving a Corolla here is really driving a Beamer. The tax on automobiles is 100% meaning you pay literally double what you should. The new Corollas are like $20,000 base (not that we get those) and here you’d have to pay $40,000 plus. For that much you could buy an entry level Beamer. Basically, for every car you buy, you have to buy one for a Deputy Minister. It is cock.
I don’t know metric, but petrol (or gas, as it were) is more expensive here that in the Etats or anywhere. I do hear that Europe is pretty expensive. Filling up the Vitz costs Rs 2,000 (more like 3/4 really) and the Hyundai is like 4,000. Gas is expensive everywhere, but it is somehow more expensive here. All in all, buying and operating a car here costs more than it does in America.
Galle Road, in parts, is literally smaller than a driveway in Ohio. It is, at best, the size of a suburban road. I have been down Thimbirigasrarrrrrrya and it is literally impossible to fit two cars abreast. There is some transmutation of time and space there because I tell you, it is not physically possible. The roads are not big enough and you can’t expand them without displacing the thousands of people living alongside. They are simply too small for the amount of traffic, and local and intracity traffic isn’t seperated, which just creates bottlenecks and suck. And there are potholes. And dogs sleeping in potholes, and cows, and people just hanging out, and bicycles, and horses, and elephants, and people waving crabs in my face and arrrrrrr.
Everyone gets in dingers, it almost can’t be helped. You’re always parking or backing out in such tight spots that sides and stuff always get scraped. There is also a lot of drunk driving and some serious mess ups where people, like, die. At one end it’s annoying, and at another it is really, really life-changingly bad.
I drove for two years in America and never got a ticket. I’ve only been pulled over like once, that in the Baltimore ghetto where I was glad to see a cop. Over the last year here I’ve gotten two tickets and I get pulled over, I shit you not, at least twice a week. Most of those times are checkpoints, but I have way way too much contact with cops, and I suspect everyone does. I’ll start with tickets. When you get a ticket they take your license and give you a ticket. From there you can’t mail in a check, you have to physically go to City Traffic (Fort Station) and pay the fine. That is, you send the driver to pretend he’s you and go through it. Last time I did it myself and it sucks.
First you go to Fort, but you can’t go at noon cause you’re having lunch, and the counter closes at like 3, so you have to wedge in there somehow. I’m there on literally the last day before the ticket expires. You go in, present your ticket and then they give you a yellow receipt. Then you have to leave the police office, and go to the Post Office. At the Post Office you (I?) pay an extra Rs 100 along with the fine. Note that the rap sheet says my ‘crossing the solid line’ costs Rs 150, but the guy writes in Rs 1000 and I have to pay that. Whatever. Then I have to go back to the Police Station, stand in line, watch an old Hindi film on TV, sweat, and finally Mother Superior finds my license and calls my name. Then I’m free. I spend like an hour getting to Fort, and hour running around, and I now look soggy and decrepit. Huge waste of time and money. I’d rather pay a bribe.
There are so many freaking cops and army in this country and I have to meet at least two a week. I don’t feel any more safe cause it’s not like anyone analyzes the data. It’s just annoying. Plus, the answer to intelligent security has simply been to close Buller’s Road and the area behind Crescat, so now I got to do this convoluted shit and no I don’t feel safe. Whatever VIPs you have there, just move them to freaking Kotte so Colombo can go back to being a city.
It takes me like half an hour to get to Colombo in the morning, but then it takes me 30 minutes to get from point to point in Colombo during the day. I spend so much of the work day just travelling that I can burn out an iPod in one day. It is basically not poss to do business between 7:30 and 8:30 and 5-7, and 2-3 (schooltime). That is when all the business needs to be done.
Aaaaaah, just go to boarding school. In England. School time is hell on earth with all the vans full of kiddies. Plus I have that ‘School Time, Na Na School Time’ shoe song stuck in my head and it makes me chew the steering wheel. Why does the whole city have to stop when kids get out of school, why?
Politicians. With their convoys. Make me angry. I really hate when the jeeps full of army come at me with gloved hands out as if there’s anywhere I can go. I’m stuck between a bus, a trishaw, and a fucking man in a wheelchair turning the axle with his hand. What do you want from me? Who are you? Did I pay for that car? Take all of you and go to Kotte and be secure and wave gloved palms at each other.
My latest policy is to just park and run. If the security guard can’t catch me he can’t give me shit, as they inevitably do. Everywhere I go I have somebody in a paratrooper uniform telling me what to do. They tell me where I can park, they tell me if I can go in the door, they make me sign things, they want receipts. It drives me crazy. I was parking in the Barista lot and the guy asked me to park nose-out in case there was a bomb. Dude, I just want to go to Inn on the Green and have a pint without thinking about this shit. If there is a bomb this just means I can join the traffic jam five seconds earlier. Sweet.
And then when you do get out, the paratroopers stand two feet behind your car, as if that helps. Then they’ll haplessly tell you to pull out into oncoming traffic. Just stand there waving like it’s fine. I’m not begrudging people their jobs, but I just hate being late for a meeting, parking in an open spot, and then having to explain myself. Now I just run away.
This could be a treatise, but I just want to highlight a few points. Number One is please pick a fucking lane. Left or right, I don’t care, but don’t hover in the middle and take up both. Trishaws are the worst at this. Number Two is that flashing your lights or giving me a stiff arm does not magically clear space in traffic. It just blinds and angers me. Stop it. Number Three is to please turn the freaking brights off. Sometimes I really cannot see. I flip my brights to try and show them, but no one can see, and the people blinding me in the review can’t get any message at all. Sometimes I wish I had another level of brights, one that would cause oncoming drivers to see God and spontaneously evacuate their bowels. Of course, knowing Sri Lanka, people would just drive with those lights on all the time.
Vehicle wise, trishaws and buses are a menace. I like them when I am in them, but as street comrades they are shit. Buses are just fk huge and scary, their lights are directly in my eyes and their horns are loud. Sometimes they press up really close on the side and they spook me. Trishaws are the fk worst cause they’re often slow and they can cause terrible bottlenecks in traffic.
However, the very worst are motorcyclists. They drive like banshees and they always seem to come and nestle in my blindspot. And they overtake me on the left or right or whatever feels good. Plus they often have a wife and fourteen babies packed precariously on a freaking motorbike so I’d feel really bad hitting them.
And omigod I almost forgot, those Learners with the big loser ‘L’ on their car need to get the fuck out of Colombo. Go train around Millenium IT, I really don’t care. It is just as dangerous to drive 10km per hour on a busy street as it is to speed. It is not normal, that is not how to drive. Leave.
Anyways, all I’m saying is that transportation really sucks here. I’ve had a long day and someone with kids and people that need her just died in an accident and I’m kinda scared and generally pissed off at the same time. We’d never met, but I think of the equivalent person leaving my life and it just feels gaspingly bad. And it’s systematic, it’s just something waiting to happen. That chaos is just life in the city. When I think of Colombo I can’t even picture buildings. I just see a giant tangle of vans and trishaws and shattered glass and it’s not right.